Tuesday night’s game between the Trail Smoke Eaters and Vernon Vipers at Kal Tire Place in Vernon was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and, as a result, proved the undoing of Smokie coach Bill Birks.
The Smokies put in a good effort in the first two periods, but a stunning five-goal outburst in the third period, including three in just 88 seconds, sealed the 6-3 win and fourth victory in a row for the Vipers, while the Smokies suffered their fifth loss in as many games.
After Jake Kauppila tied the game at 1-1 on a wrap-around just past the midway mark of the first period, the Smoke Eaters jumped out into a 2-1 lead when Tyson Witala scored with 43 seconds left in the second period off a pass from Travis Stephens.
But as assistant coach Barry Zanier said prior to Tuesday’s game, let-downs for whatever reason have killed the Smoke Eaters this season, and the scenario repeated itself in the third period.
“It’s so important to grab points off teams in our division,” said Zanier. “This year we can’t get a big gap between us and the top four in the playoffs. The boys know that nobody’s going to do it for them. They’ve got to dig down and just come ready to go every shift.”
Trail’s third-period letdown proved monumental as the snakes scored three times and grabbed a 4-2 lead just five minutes and 21 seconds in. The top line of Mason Blacklock, Colton Sparrow, and Demico Hannoun did most of the damage combining for 10 points on the night.
Defenceman Riley Guenther started the comeback when he scored on a wrister from the right point, 2:19 into the third for the 2-2 equalizer. Sparrow, sporting a full cage after losing a tooth and a half on a Joel Webb clearing shot in the mouth late in the first period, made it 3-2 three minutes later on a pretty give-and-go with Hannoun. Just 20 seconds later, Blacklock scored another highlight reel goal, his first of two on the night, on a feed from Hannoun.
Michael McNicholas made it 5-2 a minute and eight seconds later, and Blacklock finished the scoring on the powerplay on a beautiful bang-bang play with Hannoun and Sparrow at 8:39.
Jake Lucchini netted the third Smokie goal with two seconds remaining on a slap shot from the hash marks.