A Cominco Arena crowd of close to 1,300 fans was hoping the Trail Smoke Eaters game against the Vernon Vipers on Saturday would be a repeat of Trail’s 5-3 victory in Vernon Friday, but the Vipers gained a measure of revenge winning 5-2 to earn a split.
“Knowing that if we go and win a game on the road against Vernon in their home opener, I think we would have liked to finish it off tonight, take care of our home ice and establish kind of that dominance on Vernon early in the year,” said Trail assistant coach Craig Clare following the game. “But they came out with a better effort than us tonight and for whatever reason we didn’t have the legs we had yesterday.”
Vernon captain Colton McCarthy netted what proved to be the winner on the power play midway through the first period on a setup from Bo Pellah and Trail native Riley Brandt. Smokie goalie Bailey MacBurnie stopped Pellah’s point shot, but McCarthy jumped on the rebound and fire it into the open net to give Vernon a 3-1 lead, as the Vipers outshot the Smokies 13-12 in the period.
“I thought coming in tonight, our first period was a lot better and more business-like with our group,” said Viper’s coach Mark Ferner. “It’s a tough game to play, especially when there’s so many penalties, and it’s early in the year. You hope your power play can take advantage, and I thought our penalty kill did a pretty good job, and our goaltending was good too.”
The Vipers caught the Smokies flat-footed in the first, scoring twice in the first six minutes. Michael Roberts took a pass from Joe Cipollone in the slot and beat MacBurnie on a quick wrist shot to the top corner at 3:44, before Cipollone benefitted from a Trail turnover and wired one off the post to give the Vipers a 2-0 lead.
“They were playing catch up on us all last night,” said Clare. “But tonight they got the early ones and we didn’t seem to have an answer or didn’t have the jump or legs or whatever it is; maybe the home opener jitters, but we’re right back at it on Tuesday and hopefully we’ll rebound.”
Trail struck back when forward Kurt Black banged in a rebound off a Jake Kaupilla drive to the net at 8:25 of the first, and clawed to within one goal five minutes into the second period when Black broke in on a breakaway but was stopped by Viper goalie Andrew Shortridge. The Smokie forward quickly regained possession of the puck and fed Kaupilla in front to make it 3-2.
Trail continued to press in the second period, firing 15 shots on the Vernon goal including a breakaway try by Halloran, who made a highlight-reel move around the Vipers defence but was stoned by Shortridge.
The Quinnipiac-bound goaltender kept the door closed in the third as Finlay tallied the insurance marker 5:43 in, and Brandt would ice it, scoring into an empty net with 3:15 remaining.
Brandt, a fierce competitor and skilled forward, was named assistant captain for the Vipers in his second full year with the team, and had a goal and assist Saturday.
“We did a vote, so it was pretty cool that all the guys voted me as assistant captain,” said the 18-year-old forward. “I’m honoured and there’s no better feeling in the world.”
Brandt played in 33 games for the Smoke Eaters in 2013 before joining the Beaver Valley Nitehawks for their run to the 2014 Keystone Cup title.
“It always feels good to comeback to my hometown and play in front of friends and family,” said Brandt.
Vernon outshot Trail 39-37 with Finlay taking first star honours, Black was named second star for Trail, and Michael Roberts was the game’s third star. Trail was 0-for-5 on the power play while Vernon went 1-for-7.
Despite the loss, solid goaltending, exciting moments up front, and great individual efforts bode well for the Smoke Eaters.
“We’ve been playing pretty well so hopefully tonight’s game wasn’t an indication of how we’re going to play, and the previous five games show what kind of team we are,” added Clare.
In Friday’s match, Vernon native and Smokies assistant captain, Harlan Orr, scored the winning goal in Trail’s 5-3 victory on what was a triumphant return to his hometown.
With the teams playing four-on-four, Black feathered a pretty pass to Orr, who fired a wrist shot past goalie Jarrod Schamerhorn for the game-winning goal midway through the third period at the regular-season opener at Kal Tire Place.
“I came off the bench, was fortunate to get the puck right away when I was open and luckily enough I got it over the goalie,” Orr told the Vernon Morningstar. “It’s pretty exciting.”
“The win is really big, especially for our confidence this year. We never got a win in this rink last year, so starting the season off on a good note is going to help us.”
Trail’s Rhett Wilcox scored two goals and was named first star, but had to leave the game in the third period after sustaining a concussion on a hit-to-the-head from Vipers’ defenceman Mac Ferner, who received a five minute major and a game misconduct on the play. Max Newton would also suffer a foot injury, taking a shot off the skate, and would be out for Saturday’s game in Trail. While Newton is day-to-day, Wilcox won’t return to the lineup for two-to-three weeks after undergoing concussion protocol.
“Those two guys are our grittier forwards, and they bring a different element to our team, and losing both of them showed tonight,” said Clare. “We didn’t have the same pushback we had yesterday, and hopefully both will be back in the line up soon.”
Nick Halloran and Kienan Scott’s empty netter rounded out the scoring for the Smoke Eaters, while Hunter Zandee, Steven Zandric, and Liam Finlay scored for Vernon. Trail outshot the Vipers 40-39 with MacBurnie earning his first BCHL win in goal for Trail.
Trail’s next game goes in West Kelowna tonight against the Warriors before returning home Saturday for a game against Merritt on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.