By Jim Bailey, Trail Times
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Whether it was the spooky Halloween atmosphere, a generous 50-50 raffle, or the more than 2,300 fans in attendance, the Trail Smoke Eaters came to play on Saturday.
The Smoke Eaters remedied a humbling 9-0 loss to the Vernon Vipers last Sunday with a pair of wins on the weekend that included a 5-4 come-from-behind ‘W’ over the Merritt Centennials Friday and an inspiring 4-1 victory over the Penticton Vees Saturday night at the Cominco Arena.
Rossland native Ross Armour netted the winner, Montrose’s Tyler Ghirardosi scored his first two goals of the season, and Smokies goalie Brandon Wells made the big saves when it mattered most as Trail dominated the Vees in their first meeting of the season outshooting the defending BCHL champion 38-20 in the game.
Armour scored his 12th of the season, converting a nice dish from Kale Howarth from behind the goal line to make it 2-0 five minutes into the second period for the game winner.
Trail played a textbook match against the Vees, suffocating their forwards with a tight defence, and forcing the Pen defence to make mistakes with a relentless forecheck.
Trail came out flying in the opening frame but couldn’t beat Vees goalie Adam Scheel on a couple early power plays. However, the third one clicked when a point shot from Jeremy Lucchini was kicked out by Scheel but went right to Ghirardosi who fired in his first goal as a Smoke Eater at 6:48 of the first period.
Trail continued to press outshooting the Vees 17-3 in the period but only found the twine once against the towering six-foot-four goaltender.
The Smoke Eaters carried their momentum into the second and following Armour’s goal, had a number of prime looks including a Howarth breakaway that was turned aside by Scheer. The Vees also had their chances but Wells was steady and weathered two Penticton power-play opportunities to keep the score 2-0 heading to the third, as Trail outshot the visitors 11-9 in the period.
As expected, the Vees came out strong in the third and Jackson Keane fired in a Joseph Leahy rebound just 45 seconds in to bring Penticton to within one. The Vees continued to press and had a glorious chance to tie it but Wells slid over and robbed Massimo Rizzo of a one-timer in close to preserve the lead.
Trail was resilient and neutralized the Penticton attack, capitalizing in the late going when Ryan Murphy batted down a puck at mid ice then sent Ghirardosi streaking down the left side. The former Beaver Valley Nitehawk broke past the defenceman and wired a shot over the shoulder of Scheel and into the top corner for a 3-1 Smoke Eater lead with 4:13 to play. A minute later, Howarth iced it on a breakaway, cutting across the crease and slipping the puck between the goalie’s pads for the 4-1 final.
Ghirardosi was named the game’s first star, Armour second star, and Howarth third star. Lucchini earned the Fortis Energy Player of the Game.
On Friday in Merritt, Trail charged back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Centennials, 5-4, in their first meeting of the season.
The Smoke Eaters Seth Barton tied the game at one in the first but two straight goals gave the Cents a 3-1 lead midway through the second period.
Trail responded with Andre Ghantous and Braedon Tuck tying the game on a pair of power-play markers before the period was out.
Spencer McLean gave Trail a 4-3 lead 1:40 into the third, but Cents forward Tyrell Buckley tied it at 16:16 to set up Levi Glasman’s unassisted winning goal with just over two minutes remaining.
Trail outshot Merritt 41-30 and went 3-for-6 on the power play while Merritt was 0-for-4. Buckley was named the game’s first star, with Glasman earning second star honours and Barton third star.
The wins keep the 12-4-1-0 Smoke Eaters in second place of the Interior Division just one point behind the Vipers but with a game in hand.
Trail’s next home game goes on Wednesday when they host the Wenatchee Wild at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.