A playoff spot is slowly slipping away from the Trail Smoke Eaters after losing a home-and-home series with the Penticton Vees on the weekend.
The Vees beat the Smoke Eaters in Penticton on Friday, 6-1, and Vees forward Scott Conway closed in on 50 goals, netting a hat trick in an exciting 4-3 victory in Trail on Saturday. The win clinches the BCHL’s Interior division title for the Vees, its fifth consecutive.
The losses dropped the Smokies five points behind the Vernon Vipers for the final playoff spot, as the Snakes split their weekend games, beating the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3-2 at home Friday before dropping a 6-1 decision to the Backs on Saturday.
Trail (19-27-0-2) will face division rival Salmon Arm tonight looking to get back on track, and the path to the playoffs doesn’t get any easier when they host the Interior division’s second place West Kelowna Warriors in two matches on the weekend.
“If you take Penticton out of the equation, Salmon Arm could win our league, Kelowna could win our league, and we’re playing three of the top teams probably in all of Canada, given the strength of what they have on paper, and so that’s our challenge,” said Deschenes.
Despite the lopsided loss Friday, the effort in front of the home crowd was apparent on Saturday as the Smokies skated with the number-two ranked team in the nation right down to the final buzzer.
But it was Conway who tallied the winning goal on the power-play at 6:41 of the middle frame for his 49th goal of the season. Vees’ forward Mitch Brooks made a move to the front of the net, but the puck rolled off his stick and right to Conway who ripped a shot underneath the crossbar of Trail goalie Bailey MacBurnie for a 4-2 lead.
Trail forward Nolan Redler opened the scoring, firing a shot from the right-wing goal-line that jumped off Zach Driscoll’s pad at the near-post and in at 10:49. Tempers flared late in the first when Redler and the Vees’ Darius Davidson dropped the gloves with the five-foot-nine Redler acquitting himself well with the six-foot-one Davidson.
Penticton broke through in the second, scoring twice in just 20-seconds at the beginning of the period. First, Conway batted the puck out of the air for the equalizer 59-seconds into the middle stanza for his 47th. On the next shift, Gerrie took a drop pass and fired a shot from the right-circle that beat MacBurnie far side.
Trail got it back when Kyle Star banked a shot off a defenceman and past Driscoll on the short-side at 3:37 to make it 2-2, but the Vees regained the lead when Nic Jones set up Conway in the circle and he quickly roofed his shot at 4:30 for his 48th, then finished the Vees scoring less than two minutes later for the 4-2 lead.
Another tilt for Redler erupted in the opening seconds of the third that saw the Winchester, Mass. native take on six-foot-two Easton Brodzinski. Both skaters were sent off with automatic game misconducts, but the fiery forward gave the Smokies a boost as Trail closed the two-goal gap. Kale Howarth scored his 10th of the season at 10:31, taking a pass from Star and wiring it off the shoulder of Driscoll to make it 4-3. Trail had its chances to tie it late and bounced one off the crossbar with seconds to play, but the Vees held on for their 41st victory of the season and another division title.
The Vees outshot Trail 39-23, with Conway getting first star honours, MacBurnie second star, and Star the third star for his goal and two assists. Penticton went 2-for-7 on the power play, while Trail went 1-for-6.
On Friday in Penticton, Nic Jones had a pair and the Vees got singles from Tyson Jost, Owen Sillinger Luke Voltin and Dante Fabbro. Jones, Jost, Sillinger and Conway each finished with three-point nights. Jake Kauppila broke up the shutout bid late in the second in his first game back after missing three weeks with a concussion.
Trail faces off against the 25-14-3-4 Silverbacks tonight, and with nine games remaining, the Smoke Eaters desperately need a win in order to prolong their season.
“They (Salmon Arm) are a pretty experienced group, they’ve returned a lot of players so they all are kind of peaking, lots of balance, they have good depth, so they have a lot of players that are very specific to their roles, and they play well, and they have good goaltending.” said Deschenes. “We got to just compete and fight, that’s the only requirement from the coaching staff.”
Smoke Signals: The BCHL will hold its Fivehole for Food Challenge tonight at the Smoke Eater game, and encourage fans to bring non-perishable food items or a cash donation to help support local food banks.