The Trail Smoke Eaters did just enough to eke out a win over the Merritt Centennials Tuesday night at the Cominco Arena.
Kelowna native Max Kryski had a two-goal night and Owen Ozar tallied a goal and two assists for the Smoke Eaters in a 6-4 victory over the Cents.
Trail carried the play from the opening face off, but lacked intensity and allowed the Centennials to stick around, twice giving up two-goal leads.
“I’ll always take two points, I’ll never complain about two points,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “Overall it was one of our poorest performances of sticking to the game plan and that’s where our team still needs to mature and do the things we need to have success.”
Smokies forward Walker Erickson scored the eventual game winner, tallying his fifth goal of the season with 5:05 to play. An aggressive forecheck by Erickson, Chase Dafoe and Connor Sweeney forced the puck to the front of the Centennials net, and Erickson slipped it past Cents goalie Tanner Marshall to give the Smoke Eaters a 5-3 lead.
“Merritt’s playing a style right now that is just trying to get through games,” said Tambellini. “They are playing a trap, defensive style, and you have to break down teams to have success against that trap. We did it when it was 2-0, but the minute we had offensive success we played right into their hands and gave them a chance to comeback in the game.”
The Smoke Eaters regained the lead when Philippe Lapointe flew down the right side, and sent a high pass from the far wall towards the net. Incredibly, Kryski batted the puck out of mid-air and past Marshall for a 4-3 Trail lead.
“That one kinda went by without me even thinking,” said Kryski. “Lapointe was driving down the wall and I saw an opportunity to get to the net, so I kept my feet moving, and luckily I got my stick on the puck and it went in the back of the net.”
After Erickson’s goal, Trail seemed to have the game in hand, but Merritt’s Jerzy Orchard wired a shot top shelf on Paler-Chow to cut the lead to 5-4 with 4:30 left to play.
The Smoke Eaters, however, weathered a late flurry and Matt Osadick scored into an empty net in the last 10 seconds for the 6-4 final.
“We started the game a little sluggish, a little bit light,” said Kryski. “I don’t know we were fully ready to play the game against Merritt, maybe underestimated them a bit there, but overall we got two points from them and that was huge, so hopefully we’ll learn our lesson from them and move forward.”
A positive for Trail of late is the secondary scoring from depth forwards like Osadick, Kryski, Costello and Erickson. Costello had a two-goal night against Penticton Friday, and Tuesday night was Kryski’s and Osadick’s turn.
“That’s huge four our depth right now,” said Kryski postgame. “Getting close to playoff time, we need all four lines, all the deep players to step up. It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone can contribute some goals, and everyone can contribute to the defensive side of things too.”
Tambellini was particularly pleased with Trail’s most recent addition, who was acquired just prior to the Jan. 10 deadline.
“We’re really happy that Matt (Osadick) had a big night against his former team, and if they don’t step up, we might be in trouble tonight. We need night’s like that where depth guys make big plays, and tonight we got that.”
Trail outshot the Cents 44-32 and were 0-for-4 on the power play, and 2-for-3 on the penalty kill. Kryski earned first star, Merrit’s Orchard second star, and Torzsok third star.
The win lifts the Smoke Eaters 10 points clear of third-place Vernon in the Interior Division standings and eight points back of Penticton. However, the Vipers have three games in hand and play Trail on Friday, so the Smoke Eaters can’t get too comfortable yet.
“They picked up a good player in Max Bulawka (from West Kelowna), so we’re going to have a great test against them and this is a big game for them trying to chase us, and us trying to put them in the middle group of the Interior Division,” added Tambellini.
Trail hosts Vernon on Friday at 7 p.m. and will play the Centennials in their final meeting of the season on Hockey Day in Trail Saturday at 7 p.m.