Trail Smoke Eaters succumb to SilverBacks and Kings

The Smoke Eaters dropped both ends of a home-and-home series with the Salmon Arm SilverBacks.

The Trail Smoke Eaters second period comeback came up just a little short on Thanksgiving Sunday, as the Powell River Kings defeated the home team 3-2.

The Smoke Eaters dropped both ends of a home-and-home series with the Salmon Arm SilverBacks, losing 7-2 in Salmon Arm on Thursday and suffering a 5-1 loss at the Cominco Arena Friday, before falling to the Kings, in a much better showing on Sunday.

“That was one of our better efforts all year actually,” said Smokies assistant coach Barry Zanier. “If the boys give that type of effort every night we’ll definitely get some wins.”

Yet, the three losses contribute to a slide that has seen the Smokies put up just one point in their last six games, a potentially crushing blow to a team that began the season full of optimism and hopes for a playoff berth.

The Kings went up 2-0 in the first period on a break away goal by Stephen Hiff and a goalcrease scramble tap in by by Ryan Scarfo, his eighth goal of the season. However, Trail fought back in the second tying it at 2-2 on a pair of power-play goals by Michigan native Brian Basilico, his first as a Smoke Eater.

However, after a Smoke Eater giveaway, Luke Nogard would convert a Jared Lukosevicius pass to net the eventual winner at 14:28 of the middle frame.

Trail’s player of the month, goaltender Dustin Nikkel, played well stopping 36 shots, while the Smokies directed 19 shots on the Kings’ goalie Jeff Smith.

On Friday, Trail fell behind 3-1 in the first period and couldn’t find the back of the net after that, as the SilverBacks skated to a 5-1 win. Landon Smith, Taylor Maruya, Evan Anderson, Alex Gillies, and Thomas Plese scored for Salmon Arm while Curtis Toneff’s power-play goal was the only reply from the Smokies, who were outshot 30-26 on the night.

“It seems to be we play well for most of the game and there’s a shift or a couple of shifts where there’s a lapse and the other team capitalizes on it,” said Zanier. “It seems like it’s been like that all year.”

On Thursday, the Backs erupted for five goals in the third period, with former Beaver Valley Nitehawks Connor Browne-Maloski netting a goal and an assist to lead Salmon Arm to a 7-2 victory over the Smoke Eaters. Joel Webb and Scott Davidson scored for Trail and Adam Wheeldon counted two assists.

The losses leave the Smokies in last place in the Interior division four points behind Merritt who lost to the Coquitlam Express 4-2 Saturday. Particularly troubling for the Smokies was the way Salmon Arm dominated their two games, propelling the Gorillas into a tie for third place in the division with Vernon Vipers at 15 points.

“It’s so important to grab some points off of teams in our division and we’ve got some games coming up and we really need to get some points here, otherwise the separation is starting to happen and then it’s tough.”

The Smokies look to get back on track when they travel to Vernon tonight to take on the Vipers at Kal Tire Place. The Vipers have won three in a row including  both ends of a home-and-home in a 4-1 victory Friday and a 5-4 overtime win against the Chilliwack Chiefs and former Smokie goaltender Lyndon Stanwood on Saturday.

The Vipers stormed back from a 4-1 deficit, scoring three times in the third period, including two by Vipers’ leading scorer Mason Blacklock, to force extra time.

The Smoke Eaters will need to neutralize the BCHL’s fifth leading scorer and the rest of the Snakes, as every match becomes more and more meaningful for the Smokies.

“The Vernons, the Merritts, the Salmon Arms, those are crucial games, and unfortunately we’ve given up enough points to them already, so we have to get it going.”

Trail returns home Friday night for a game against the Coquitlam Express at 7:30 p.m.