The Trail Smoke Eaters had some jump in the opening period, but the Merritt Centennials withstood early pressure and took control as they skated to a 5-0 shutout victory over the Smokies at the Cominco Arena on Tuesday.
The Cents’ Scott Patterson netted a hat trick and rookie goaltender Devin Kero blocked 28 shots to pace the visitors to their second win of the young BCHL season.
“I think it’s huge,” said Cents coach Luke Pierce. “I mean we’ve had a lot of teaching points that have been negative, and I think today we did a lot of positive things that we can build from. It wasn’t easy for sure and I think our guys learned the difference between winning hockey games and losing close ones takes a lot extra effort.”
Patterson knocked in three of the first four goals as Merritt scored once in the first and three times in the middle frame to take a commanding 4-0 lead into the third. The 20-year-old Cents’ forward scored what proved to be the winner, jumping on a rebound and firing it off the cross-bar to make it 1-0 Centennials at 8:25 of the first. The next two tallies were both redirections from Patterson and Jeff Wight respectively, giving Smokies goalie Adam Todd little chance on either, and even less on Patterson’s third of the game, a tap in on a pretty cross-crease pass from rookie Jake Clifford at 14:41 of the second.
As in the 7-0 loss on Saturday to Penticton, the Smokies had difficulty generating quality chances, with the majority or their 28 shots from the perimeter. And despite coming on in the third, the team could not beat Kero who registered his first BCHL win.
“The effort was there,” said Smokies assistant coach Barry Zanier. “Goal scoring is an issue obviously, and that’s something we have to work on, and in the defensive end you make a mistake and it ends up in our net.
“But we are going to stick together as a group, we’re not dying, we’re ready to work again tomorrow and look forward to the weekend.”
The Smokies best line Tuesday night may have been that of West Kootenay connection Scott Davidson, Jesse Knowler, and Jake Lucchini who generated numerous opportunities, especially in the third period, but could not finish.
The Smoke Eaters have managed just one goal in their last three games. Still, the team has shown glimmers of promise, yet, bad luck, unfavourable bounces, and good goaltending has thwarted any offensive pressure the Smokies might muster.
“If we can get it going again like we did at the showcase, we’ll be happy,” said Zanier. “The guys are working hard in practice and like I say goal scoring is a problem, 90 shots, one goal, I believe it is, and that’s something we’re going to continue to work on.”
Gavin Gould rounded out the scoring for the Cents, stripping the puck from the Smokies d-man and driving to the net and banging it by Todd midway through the third. Twenty-year-old forward Sebastien Pare added two assists playing on the right wing, with centreman Wight, 17, and Patterson on the left. The veteran players will play a big role in whether Merritt makes it into the postseason.
“We really challenged them,” said Peirce. “I don’t think they got off to a good start, they had a tough time adjusting, and we put the challenge on them coming right into this game, and I think they stepped up and were outstanding today.”
After a promising start at the Bauer-BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack, where the Smokies claimed three of four points in the two games to begin the season, the following three-games at the Cominco Arena have been anything but a happy homecoming.
“I think we just got to work as a group,” said team captain Adam Wheeldon. “We’re just as good as any team in the league if not better, and we just have to put it together and work for 60 minutes straight.”
Wheeldon provided possibly the highlight of the night for the Smokies in a spirited battle against six-foot-two Merritt d-man Malik Kaila with just over five minutes to go in regulation. It’s that grit and determination that has to become part of the culture of the Smokies dressing room if they are to succeed this year.
“The fans definitely deserve better than they have seen the past three games and we are going to work as hard as we can to do that,” added Zanier.
In other action Tuesday, the West Kelowna Warriors defeated the Vernon Vipers 5-3. Trail native Dallas Calvin got an assist in the losing cause while Mason Blacklock accounted for all three Viper goals.