The Trail Smoke Eaters may have watched their season end on Saturday but the team took its fans on a memorable ride over the weekend.
The Westside Warriors eliminated the Smokies with a 4-0 win in Game 7 in West Kelowna Saturday to take the series four games to three and advance to the Interior Conference semifinal against the Vernon Vipers.
But the Smokies delivered a winning exit on home ice thanks to a 4-3 win on Friday night in Game 6 in front of over 1,100 fans at the Cominco Arena.
Travis St. Denis scored three goals including the eventual winner with seven minutes to play in regulation time as Trail avoided elimination and pushed the series to the limit.
Dylan Tappe had the Smokies other marker in a game that provided an exciting conclusion to the team’s home appearances this season.
“In front of a big crowd it was really nice to do that,” said St. Denis, who will be off to Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University next year.
“It was nice to get a win in my last home game but it’s too bad the season ended short.”
Unfortunately, the Smokies couldn’t bring another round back to the Cominco Arena.
Westside goaltender Kevin Boyle had his best game of the series on the biggest night turning aside 33 shots for his first BCHL playoff shutout and lead the Warriors into the next round.
“He rose to the occasion,” said Smokies head coach Jim Ingram.
“We outshot them and had some great chances but couldn’t bury them.”
Meanwhile Boyle’s teammates took a 1-0 lead just a minute into the game and never relinquished the edge. It was 2-0 after 20 minutes and 3-0 heading into the third.
The Smokies played their final game without captain Paul Mailey, who also missed Friday’s game, and defenceman Ben Matthews, who left Friday’s game after a centre-ice collision.
Mailey, who suffered from a broken sternum, hadn’t missed a game in over two years but had to watch from the stands as his junior hockey career came to a conclusion.
“In Game 6, I was shaking the whole time wishing I could do anything possible to be out there,” he admitted. “But I had to stay positive and support the guys as much as possible.”
Ingram said it was a “cruel” twist of fate for Mailey who played five seasons with the Smokies and had missed only four games in the past four seasons.
“This kid has given everything to wear our uniform.”
The Smokies coach added that Westside captain Alex Grieve, who was the star of the season, mentioned in the post-game handshake that he was sorry Mailey missed the last game.
“Another classy individual,” said Ingram.
Mailey is one of nine Smokies who won’t be back with the Orange and Black next season. This list includes division all stars Kiefer Smiley and Scott Jacklin, top scorers Sam Mellor and St. Denis, Nic DeSousa and Cullen Bradshaw and stalwart defencemen Jake Baker, Eric Walker and Curtis Tonello.
The players gathered Sunday afternoon at the Cominco Arena for final farewells. There were even echoes of laughter emanating for the dressing room as the coaches addressed the players for the final time.
“We tried to keep everything in perspective and not pick (Game 7) apart,” said Ingram.
“It was a satisfying season for a bunch of reasons. We talked with the boys about the Players of the Week, the scholarships, the NHL interest, Team Canada West, those are all positives.
“We had over 60 AP (affiliate player) man-games and still stayed in that upper echelon through the run. We cut our goals against to almost half from last year. I thought there were a lot of really good things that came out of our hockey team this year.”
Mailey said even though the loss on Saturday still stung, the players were able to look at the big picture in one of their final meetings of the 2010-11 season.
“It’s not something we’re going to dwell on,” he said. “Obviously we’ll remember it but over the year we made a ton of great memories and great friends.
“Unfortunately it’s over for the season.”