FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 1st, 2019
MERRITT, B.C. – The Trail Smoke Eaters battled to get the game on even terms in the final period but fell just short, dropping a 4-2 decision to the Merritt Centennials in Game #1 of their Interior Division Quarterfinal at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena on Friday night.
The Centennials started the game with a flurry of chances and were ahead 5-0 in the shots on goal category with Smoke Eaters netminder Donovan Buskey standing tall in the early going. The first shot Trail put on net in the opening period just under five minutes into the game found the back of the goal and gave the visitors an early lead in Game #1 of the best-of-seven series.
Chase Stevenson started the play down the right-wing side and chipped the puck behind the goal line where Hayden Rowan centered a pass in front for Kent Johnson for his first career BCHL playoff goal past the blocker side of Centennials goaltender Austin Roden at the 4:58 mark to give the Smoke Eaters a 1-0 lead and the series’ first marker.
The Centennials came back with a lot of pressure in the 2nd period and scored three times in the middle stanza, beginning with a goal just 22 seconds into the frame on a Smoke Eaters turnover. Matthew Kopperud collected a loose puck in the left face-off circle and had his shot stopped by the right shoulder of Buskey but the puck bounced off of his glove shoulder and popped across the goal line to make it a 1-1 game.
Mike Van Unen put Merritt ahead for the first and final time in the game with a power play goal from the left point. Van Unen got the puck after a face-off win and laced a shot from the point through heavy traffic in front to give Merritt their first lead of the game at 2-1.
Merritt grabbed a two-goal lead late in the period coming on another turnover inside the Smoke Eaters zone and similar to the way the first goal found the back of the net. Kopperud intercepted a pass and rifled a shot from the left face-off circle over the glove side of Buskey for his second of the game and a 3-1 Centennials lead in with 52 seconds remaining in the 2nd period.
Before the period was out, the Smoke Eaters had a response with just 26 seconds to go in the frame as Tyler Ghirardosi deflected his 1st goal of the series past the glove side of Roden. Diarmad DiMurro took a mid-point shot that was redirected by Ghirardosi about half a minute after Merritt scored to make it a 3-2 game into the final period.
The Smoke Eaters started the period strong with an early push and were inches away from getting the game evened up with Spencer McLean getting a feed in the slot and chipping the puck to the net with it glancing off the blocker side post to keep the game in Merritt’s favour.
The period went along with both teams battling for open ice but the Centennials would put the finishing touches on the game at the 18:20 mark of the 3rd period as Nick Granowicz stole the puck from the right side and cut in on a breakaway, making a move and chipping the puck past Buskey’s glove to give Merritt a 4-2 lead, the eventual final.
Donovan Buskey was outstanding in the crease for Trail, turning aside 34 of the 38 shots he faced in the game in his 1st loss of the postseason while Austin Roden stopped 29 of the 31 shots thrown his way in his 1st victory of the playoffs.
FINAL SCORE: 4-2 Centennials
SHOTS ON GOAL: 38-34 Centennials
SMOKE EATERS PP: 0/2
SMOKE EATERS PK: 2/3
1) Matthew Kopperud (2-0-2)
2) Austin Roden (29 saves on 31 shots)
3) Donovan Buskey (34 saves on 38 shots)
Fortis Energy Player of the Game: Brendan Schneider (0-2-2)
The Smoke Eaters will look to even the series and force a split of the series in Game #2 of their best-of-seven Interior Division Quarterfinal against the Merritt Centennials. Puck drop is slated for 7:00 PM from the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena with the pre-game show getting underway at 6:45 PM with a free audio stream available at mixlr.com/trail-smoke-eaters as well as on pay-per-view at HockeyTV.com with the Voice of the Smoke Eaters, Trevor Miller.