By Jim Bailey, Trail Times
The Trail Smoke Eaters came within 58 seconds of making it a perfect three-game sweep of Mainland Division teams on the weekend, but settled for five-of-six points after suffering an overtime loss to the Surrey Eagles on Sunday.
Trail kicked off the three game road swing with an exciting 3-2 victory over the Coquitlam Express on Friday, then defeated the Mainland-leading Langley Rivermen 5-2 on Saturday.
“We answered the weekend with the goal that we wanted to win two-of-three,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Jessie Leung. “We probably played our poorest game on Friday against Coquitlam, and we actually played better and better as we went along. Our game against Surrey was probably our best of the weekend although we didn’t come away with the result we were looking for.”
In Sunday’s match, a goal from Smokies captain Troy Ring with under five minutes to play broke a 3-3 tie, as the Smokies looked poised to count it’s sixth straight win since Christmas. But a hooking penalty to Trail AP Kieran O’Hearn with 2:45 on the clock put the Eagles on the power-play.
With the Eagles goalie on the bench for another extra attacker, forward Jeffrey Stewart notched his 11th of the season to tie it 4-4 with 58 seconds remaining to force the overtime. Surrey carried the momentum into the first OT, outshooting Trail 5-0, when Perry Winfree finished a setup from Ty Westgard 2:03 into the 4-on-4 period for a 5-4 Eagles’ victory.
Despite the loss, the five points lifts the 25-13-3-0 Smokies into a tie for second place in the Interior Division with the slumping Wenatchee Wild who fell to Penticton 5-2 on Saturday and 3-0 to Salmon Arm on Friday.
With all four Trail lines going full tilt on the weekend, and backed by solid goaltending from Adam Marcoux, the Smoke Eaters compete level has intensified and the results are showing.
“We got contributions from throughout our lineup which was great to see,” said Leung. “And saw a lot of players take some steps to further their development as we’re progressing down the back stretch of our season here.”
Levi Glasman scored his 18th of the season to put Trail up 1-0 in the first, and Carter Jones converted a Tyler Ghirardosi setup for his 12th to give Trail a 2-0 lead at 16:05 of the middle frame. However, Surrey replied when Stewart snapped his first of the match by Marcoux at 13:09 on the power play, and Desi Bugart tied it three minutes later.
But barely a dozen seconds ticked off the clock, when Mack Byers burst in and beat Surrey goalie Nic Tallarico to give the Smokies a 3-2 lead heading into the final frame.
Sylvania, Ohio native Aaron White notched his 11th goal to draw the Eagles even once again, before Ring’s third of the season gave Trail a 4-3 lead with 4:20 to play, and Surrey mounted and completed the late comeback.
A hot Eagles team has gone 6-3-1-0 in their last 10 games, and now sit just four points back of first place Langley and Prince George – tied at the top of the Mainland standings with 50 points.
Surrey outshot Trail 34-27 and went 2-for-6 on the power play while the Smokies were 0-for-2.
In Saturday’s match against the Rivermen, Kale Howarth scored twice and Marcoux stopped 38 shots for a 5-2 Smokies victory.
Trail jumped out to a 2-1 first period lead on goals from Howarth and defenceman Seth Barton despite getting outshot 14-7.
Langley tied it four minutes into the middle frame but Calgary native Braeden Tuck tallied his 12th of the year to put the Smokies back on top. Blaine Caton scored 23 seconds into the third for some insurance, and Red Deer native and Connecticut commit, Howarth, scored his 20th of the year at the six minute mark for the 5-2 final.
Langley outshot Trail 40-23 with the Smokies going 1-for-4 on the power play. Howarth earned first star, while Cataon and Marcoux were second and third stars respectively.
Against Coquitlam Friday, second period goals from Trail defenceman Trevor Zins, Howarth, and Caton was all the scoring Trail needed heading into the final frame. Coquitlam responded with eight minutes remaining in regulation, and closed out the scoring with 24 seconds left on the clock as Trail held on for the 3-2 win. Smokies goalie Marcoux stopped 32 shots for the victory, and Trail fired 27 at Express goalie Clay Stevenson.
Andre Ghantous earned the game’s first star with two assists, and Spencer McLean was named third star with two helpers as well.
After four games in five days that included a 2-1 victory over the Wenatchee Wild on Wednesday, Trail heads into its final 17 games of the regular season skating in the right direction and with renewed conviction.
“That confidence is back for us as a team,” said Leung. “I think that’s where you’re seeing where the results come from – it’s less about the personnel in the line up and more about the belief again that players have in ourselves and in what we’re doing.”
The Smokies will also look to shore up their defence before the Jan. 10 trade deadline, but as of press time Monday no deals had been made.
“We’re looking to bring in a highend defenceman for the backend of the season,” said Leung. “We want to make sure we bring in the best player possible.”
Trail’s schedule doesn’t get any easier as the Smokies go into Penticton on Friday for a match against the Vees, before returning home to play the Merritt Centennials on Saturday at the Cominco Arena at 7 p.m.