A confident Trail Smoke Eaters team heads to West Kelowna with a head of steam after winning Games 1 and 2 of the first round BCHL series against the Warriors at the Cominco Arena on the weekend.
Trail opened its Interior Division quarter-final series with a 6-5 overtime win on Friday, then skated to a convincing 7-2 victory in front of 1,851 fans on Saturday to take a 2-0 series lead in the best-of-seven series.
Smokies rookie forward Levi Glasman led Trail with a pair of goals in Satuday’s match, with singles going to Braeden Tuck, Spencer McLean, Mack Byers, Ryan Murphy and Blaine Caton.
Trail netminder Adam Marcoux stopped 23 of 25 shots, giving up two goals in the third period, while Nik Amundrud faced a 44-shot barrage in the West Kelowna goal.
Unlike Friday night’s Game 1, which saw the momentum swing back and forth and eventually decided in overtime, Trail took control from the opening faceoff and never let West Kelowna get close.
The Smokies jumped out to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes and upped it to 5-0 after two periods.
Special teams were key on Saturday, and staying out of the penalty box made the going a lot easier for the Smoke Eaters. On Friday, West Kelowna scored on four-of-eight power-play opportunities, while Saturday’s game saw a much more disciplined Trail team hold the Warriors to a single power-play goal on three chances, while scoring four of their own on 11 power plays.
Trail meanwhile held the offensive edge in shots firing a total of 99 shots over the two games at starter Nik Amundrud, including 55 in Friday’s OT win.
Smokies forward Kale Howarth scored the game-winning goal in OT, plus another tally in regulation. Howarth’s overtime goal was the first winning goal in extra time in the playoffs for Trail since Sam Mellor scored against West Kelowna on Feb. 28, 2011 in a 5-4 overtime win.
Caton, Jeremy Lucchini, Andre Ghantous and Tyler Ghirardosi added singles in the game for the Smokies while Marcoux stopped 23 of the 28 shots he faced in the game for his first career playoff victory.
Trail was perfect at Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna this season winning all three of its road games against the Warriors. Trail outscored the Warriors 16-8 in their own barn, with Tuck having the hot hand in the three wins with five goals and six points. Smokies forward Carter Jones scored his first BCHL hat trick in a 5-3 victory against the Warriors on Dec. 9, but will miss the next three games after receiving a four-game suspension from the league for a hit-to-the-head on Friday.
The Smokies will have to stay disciplined and try to neutralize Warriors’ explosive forwards Chase Dubois, who tallied two goals and five points in Friday’s loss, and Ryan Steel whose 14-game point streak, in which he scored 13 goals and 26 points, came to an end on Saturday. The Warriors also reinforced its back end with the return of six-foot-six defenceman Cody Paivarinta, who hadn’t played since Jan. 20 when he was injured in a game against Salmon Arm.
All the top seeds in the Interior Division went up 2-0 on the weekend with the Penticton Vees defeating Coquitlam Express 2-1 and 9-2, the Vernon Vipers beating the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 5-2 and 6-4, and the Wenatchee Wild winning 4-0 and 6-4 over the Merritt Centennials.
In the Mainland Division, the Prince George Spruce Kings evened their series with the Chilliwack Chiefs with a 2-0 win Saturday, while Surrey took a 2-0 series lead over the Langley Rivermen with a 5-3 victory. In the Island Division, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs surprised the top-seeded Victoria Grizzlies with back-to-back 5-4 OT wins, and the Nanaimo Clippers beat the Powell River Kings 4-3 to tie up their series at a game apiece.
Trail played Game 3 on Monday night but the score was unavailable at press time, with Game 4 scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. in West K. If Game 5 is necessary, it’s set for Trail on Thursday at 7 p.m.