The Trail Smoke Eaters thrilled close to 1,000 fans at the Cominco Arena Saturday with one of their best games of the season as they skated to a 5-2 win over the Penticton Vees.
After a wild 8-7 overtime triumph over the Prince George Spruce Kings on Friday night, the Smokies shut down the Vees offence limiting chances and pressuring the Penticton D with a relentless forecheck all night.
“It’s a coin flip every night, every game, there’s no weak teams,” said Smoke Eater coach and G.M. Bill Birks. “They’ve got confidence in there, they know they’re a good team.”
Adam Todd started the game against the Vees after a solid performance in his two periods of relief for starter Lyndon Stanwood against the Spruce Kings.
“He’s been real good in practice the last week for sure, and he’s been getting lots of extra work with (Smokies’ goalie coach) Alex Evin, who really deserves a pat on the back for his work with him . . . he played good tonight, nothing fancy, he just stopped pucks,” said Birks.
The Smokies win matches their total number from last year, 11, as they jumped out to an early first-period lead and never looked back.
Connor Collett netted what proved to be the winner, jumping on a rebound off a Shane Poulsen point shot and slapping it into the yawning cage to make it 3-0 with just over eight minutes gone in the first period.
It was likely the best period of hockey for the Smokies this season, as they completely dominated the Vees in the opening frame and moved to within three points of second place in the Interior division.
“When we’re skating, we’re as strong as anyone,” said Smokies assistant coach Barry Zanier. “But it’s early and it’s important to stay in the mix.”
Trail opened the scoring on the power play when a Valik Chichkin point blast was deflected in by Trail minor hockey product Ryan Edwards for his first BCHL goal.
“It feels pretty good,” said Edwards. “It’s about time. It’s been a few games so it feels good to finally get one.”
Brent Baltus and Garrett McMullen then teamed up on the next marker. After an intense forecheck, McMullen stripped the Vees defenceman of the puck and sent it to Baltus who made no mistake.
Luke Sandler made it 4-0, chasing Katunar to the safety of the bench in favour of Nic Renyard, when he went top corner, burying a nice cross-ice pass from Braden Pears.
The Vees pressured the Smokies in the second period firing 17 shots at Todd, but the six-foot-four goalie stood tall, stopping all but a Brad McClure point shot on a Vees power play that beat him through traffic.
“I thought the team played really well,” said Todd after the game. “They made my job really easy, let me see all the shots, and I thought tonight was a 60-minute, full-team win.”
James De Haas would get the Vees within two, scoring on a scramble in front of the net at 4:05 of the third. But the Smokies defence held, and Todd’s biggest save came in the final minute when a Smokies turnover gave the Vees a 3-on-1. However, Todd made a great blocker save off former Smoke Eater Sam Mellor, allowing Edwards to ice it for the Smokies, netting his second goal of the night into an empty net at 19:08.
The 19-year-old Edwards has been used largely in a shut-down role to keep opposing scorers off the board.
However, skating with Collett and Tyler Berkholtz on Saturday proved to be a winning combination as the line combined for six points on the night.
“I think we have good chemistry right now, the last couple games we’ve been getting some goals and it’s working good right now,” said Edwards.
“These last couple wins are huge for us, they get us right up there in points I think we’re only a couple out of second, so big wins for sure.”
Todd stopped 36 of 38 shots and was named the game’s first star while Edwards and McMullen were awarded second and third stars respectively.
The Smoke Eaters travel to Penticton Wednesday to take on the Vees in a rare mid-week match-up.