The Trail Smoke Eaters to a man put in a gritty and truly inspiring performance on the ice at the Cominco Arena Tuesday night as the ailing team defeated the Merritt Centennials 4-2.
The game did not bode well for a Smokies team that has seven players sitting out with injuries, including two of the top-line forwards in Scott Davidson and Brent Baltus, not to mention the team dressed four affiliate players to go up against the second best team in the Interior division, a team that the Smokies have yet to beat in four outings this season.
But as the saying goes, “When the going gets tough…”
Smokies captain Garrett McMullen scored the winning goal 1:33 into the third period, when he deftly deflected an Austin Adduono shot through the pads of Merritt goalie Russell Sanderson to give the Smokies a 3-1 lead.
Led by McMullen, but also character guys like first star Adam Wheeldon, AP Riley Brandt, and Connor Collett who threw their bodies around with reckless abandon in a grinding physical game, that the Smoke Eaters dominated for much of it the contest.
Trail opened the scoring 21 seconds into the first period, when Riley McDougall pounced on a loose puck and beat Sanderson to go up 1-0. Trail kept up the pressure and was eventually rewarded when Bryce Knapp forced a turnover in the Merritt end and Jake Lucchini blasted home the loose puck at 11:54 of the second period.
Merrit however, would pressure the Smokies and despite several good saves by Trail starter Lyndon Stanwood, Tyler Martin eventually beat him on a 2-on-1, taking a cross-ice pass and wristing it over the glove of the Trail goalie to make it 2-1.
Following McMullen’s goal, the Cent’s Bennett Huber scored a funny one that slipped by Stanwood to make it 3-2 just over a minute later.
But the Smokies did not relax the pressure, and generated many scoring opportunities including breakaways for McMullen and Lucchini that would go unrewarded midway through the third.
It was only fitting then that Adam Wheeldon would jump on a Valik Chichkin rebound, and outwait a sprawling Cent’s goalie, depositing it upstairs for the insurance marker at 15:18 of the third.
Stanwood was very good between the pipes stopping 35 shots for his 13th victory of the season.
The team now breaks for the holidays and will return to action Jan. 4.
Check out Thursday’s edition of the Times for more Smoke Eater news.