The Trail Smoke Eaters came away with a split in a home-and-home with the Vernon Vipers on the weekend winning the first match in Vernon 4-3 before dropping a close 2-1 game on Saturday at the Cominco Arena.
Trail managed to comeback from a 2-0 deficit in Game 1 of the two-game series, but couldn’t find their scoring touch in a tight 2-1 contest in the second match.
“It’s safe to say that it was an off night for the guys,” assistant coach and GM Curtis Toneff said on the Smokies website. “You’ve got to feel for Zach Dyment, who was unreal in net for us again.”
Newcomer Keith Anderson tallied the winning goal at 13:06 of the second period, deflecting a point shot from Michael Ufberg to put the Vipers up 2-1. The Vipers had just added Anderson to their roster on Friday, picking up the rugged forward from the Victoria Royals after being released from the WHL team. Anderson, a six-foot-four, 205-pound Oregon native, played in 33 games with the Royals last season.
The win restored the Vipers’ three-point cushion on the Smokies in the Interior Division after Trail drew within a point of the Snakes with the victory the previous night.
Kale Howarth scored the Smokies’ lone goal when he took a pass from Ethan Martini, skated down the left wing and snapped a laser under the bar in the first three minutes of play. The Vipers rallied and threw everything they had at the Trail net, but couldn’t beat Zach Dyment in the first 20 minutes and found themselves behind 1-0 despite outshooting the Smokies 15-6.
The Vipers continued to press and Trail native and former Beaver Valley Nitehawk Riley Brandt notched his fifth of the season on a Viper power play when he finished off a nice passing play from Jesse Lansdell and Jagger Williamson to make it 1-1.
The Smokies tried to push back in the third period, but the Vipers shut down the offence and limited quality chances as Vernon outshot the Smokies 18-8 in the period and 47-24 in the game.
Goaltending was a huge factor for the Smoke Eaters on the weekend as the Vipers fired 95 shots at the Smoke Eater net in the two matches. Trail will have to reduce the shot total and capitalize on their chances if they hope to win the close ones at home. Trail has managed just two wins in six games on Cominco Ice so far this season.
“Hopefully the pace of these divisional games is a bit of a wake up call for some of our guys to show them what it’s going to be like down the stretch,” said Toneff.
Ty Taylor earned the win in net for the Vipers and received the first-star nod, with Dyment getting second star, and Trail forward Luke Santerno the third star.
In the opening match of the home-and-home, Jimmy Lambert and Brandt put the Vipers up 2-0 in the first period but Trail stormed back in the middle frame scoring three times to seize a 3-2 lead on goals from Howarth, Kyle Chernenkoff and Josh Laframboise. The Vipers’ Williamson tied it early in the final frame, but Howarth’s second goal of the game put Trail up for good 5:21 into the third.
“Falling behind 2-0 after the first period in this building is very tough to come back from,” Toneff told the Vernon Morning Star. “We’ve done it a few times this year against some pretty good hockey clubs. We just got back to Smoke Eater hockey in the second, crawled back into the game, and it could have gone either way. Our goalie made some key saves at key times and our guys blocked a few more shots than normal.”
The line of Howarth, Laframboise, and Santerno continues to lead the Smoke Eaters combining for six points in Friday’s match, while goalie Linden Marshall was outstanding in net for Trail stopping 45 of 48 shots and getting third-star honours. Cole Demers blocked 34 shots in goal for Vernon. Howarth earned first star on the night, and Ufberg was named second star.
“The division is going to be tight all year,” Howarth told the Morning Star after the game. “They’re all good teams in this division.”
Trail’s next home games go on Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Salmon Arm and on Sunday at 3 p.m. against the Victoria Grizzlies. The Smokies host a special Halloween costume contest during Sunday’s match, with free candy and special prices at the Spud Shack.