The Trail Smoke Eaters and Victoria Grizzlies combined for 88 shots and nine goals in an exciting offensive tilt at the Cominco Arena on Sunday.
But in the end, the high-powered Victoria lineup was the difference as BCHL leading scorer, Alex Newhook, broke a 4-4 tie, scoring the winning goal with only 1:05 remaining in regulation for his fourth point of the night.
“Our big task was to shut down their big line five-on-five,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “But to give up four goals to that top line, you’re not going to win hockey games.”
Newhook, Alex Campbell, and Carter Berger combined for 13 points on the night as the the Smokies fell 5-4 in a close back-and-forth match up against the Grizzlies, following a tough 4-3 overtime loss to the Nanaimo Clippers Friday night.
“They have some pretty big power coming on the offence, so if we shut those guys down it’s a different outcome,” said Smokies assistant captain Kyle Chernenkoff. “It’s a great team, and I thought we played well against them for 60 minutes, but at the end of the day you have to win your match ups.”
The Smokies had a prime scoring opportunity just seconds before Newhook’s game-winning marker. Mack Byers was sent in on a partial breakaway, but Grizzlies’ goalie Kurtis Chapman made the save and defenceman Carter Berger took the puck the other way. The North Van product broke down the right wing, around the Smokies d-man and drove to the net. Trail goalie Adam Marcoux made the initial pad save, but a trailing Newhook batted in the rebound for a 5-4 Victoria lead.
The two goals and two assists for the Boston College commit gives him 24 goals and and 69 points in 38 games, and the win helps improve the Mainland Division Grizzlies’ lead to five points over second place Powell River Kings, who lost to the Vernon Vipers 5-2 Sunday.
Trail’s Tyler Ghirardosi scored his fourth goal in as many games, giving the Smokies a 1-0 lead 3:22 into the first period on a quick snapshot over the glove of Chapman. But Campbell replied, tallying his first of the night on a tap-in from Newhook to tie it at one heading into the second period.
Newhook scored his first at 16:38 of the middle frame to put the Grizzlies on top but the Smokies battled hard and Max Kryski wired a rebound past Chapman at 14:25 to tie it 2-2.
Shortly after Kryski’s goal, the Grizzlies Ryan Nolan drove Braeden Tuck hard into the boards from behind, and Trail defenceman Chernenkoff looked to rectify the cheap shot. The Creston Valley native went toe-to-toe with Nolan and the physical response seemed to give the Smokies some jump.
“Emotions were high, and I saw Tucky go down, and being a guy I’ve played with for three years and the captain of our team, I didn’t like what I saw, so I went after the guy, and he started throwing and I started throwing as well,” said Chernenkoff.
Kent Johnson then put the Smoke Eaters up 3-2 when he corralled the puck at the side of the Grizzlies net and lifted it top shelf on Chapman with just under six minutes to play in the second. But 62 seconds later, Newhook fired the puck in off the glass. It caromed off the stanchion and bounced past Marcoux to a streaking Campbell, who beat the Smokies defencemen to the puck, and chipped it in to tie it heading into the third, with the shot clock at a robust 29-23 in favour of Trail.
The Grizzlies’ d-man Berger was a force on the ice all night creating time and space with his size and speed. For the second time in the game the Smokies failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3, and Berger intercepted the puck as he exited the penalty box, skated over the blue line and made a slick drop to Jordan Guiney, who returned the pass to a wide-open Berger at the back door for a shorthanded marker with 8:27 left in the final frame.
“If a team misses on two 5-on-3s you probably don’t deserve to win the hockey game,” said Tambellini. “Those are chances where we have five of our most skilled hockey players on the ice, they have multiple schemes that we’re asking them to run, but it comes down to execution when the pressure is on and finding ways to make plays.”
The Smokies regrouped and Kryski scored his second of the night depositing a rebound off a Chase Stevens shot to tie the match at 4-4 with just 3:26 to play.
The game looked to be going to another overtime, but Newhook’s tally on an inspired rush by Berger capped it off for the Grizzlies.
Trail outshot Victoria 48-40 and went 0-for-6 on the power play, and were a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill.
The 16-20-6-3 Smoke Eaters may be seventh in the Interior, but Tambellini sees a much improved team since the recent acquisition of goaltender Donovan Buskey and defenceman Luke Gallagher prior to the Jan. 10 trade deadline.
“The amount of work it took to get our roster back to having depth at both goaltending positions, nine defencemen, seven of which are coming back next year, depth up front where I can play all four lines, with 11 forwards I can put on the ice at any time, so to get to that place took a lot of work, and we had a to go through a lot of ups and downs to get to that point where we had that roster.
“To be able to add Gallagher and Buskey and not give up any assets, and to have two guys that may be with our roster for two-and-a-half years - that’s the biggest part, not having to leverage your future.”
On Friday, the Clippers top point-getter Ethan Scardinia tallied a hat trick, notching his 22nd of the campaign 1:44 into the 3-on-3 overtime for the 4-3 Nanaimo victory over the Smoke Eaters.
Trail is on the road for the next two weeks starting with a two-game series against the Wenatchee Wild this weekend.