The Smoke Eaters deserved a better fate.
They battled fatigue following a long trip home from Penticton on Saturday night and an early start against a Bucks team that had been resting since Friday night, in a hard-fought, grind-it-out, playoff-style 2-1 overtime loss on Sunday afternoon in Cranbrook.
The Smoke Eaters had the best scoring opportunity of the first period during a power play when Josh Schenk rang a high rising wrister off the post.
Jason Stefanek snapped a second period shot off the iron from the right wing circle just before the Bucks opened the scoring.
Noah Urness spun a sharp angle shot from the right wing circle on a broken play that found its way into the far corner of the net past Trail goalie Ryan Parker at around the mid-way point of the middle frame.
The Bucks carried that lead into the third period.
Just after Mathieu Cobetto-Roy came within a whisker of tying the game on a nifty forehand-to-backhand move in close, Ethan Warrener found the top corner on a sizzling snapshot from the slot around five minutes into the final frame of regulation during a four-on-four situation.
The final 15 minutes saw both teams play tight defense with scoring chances at a minimum and when they did come, Parker and Bucks goalie Carter Capton made key stops with the game on the line.
The Smokies spent much of the final half of the third period defending and Coach Tim Fragle called a strategic time-out amid consecutive icing calls as teams aren’t allowed to make player changes after an icing.
It worked. Trail forced the game into overtime, which ended in controversy.
Trail defenseman Adam Barone was without his stick when Noah Urness scored :57 into the 3-on-3 tie-breaking period on a breakaway.
Barone and Josh Schenk immediately argued that the stick was slashed out of the hands of the Smokies defenseman, which prompted a long debate involving the team captains and all four on-ice officials.
The Bucks celebrated, saluted their fans and went to their dressing room. The Smoke Eaters remained on their bench, with Coach Tim Fragle standing at the open gate.
After a further delay, the officials went over to the Trail bench, spoke with Fragle, the goal counted and the game was over.
The Smoke Eaters outshot Cranbrook 34-31 and were 0-for-4 on the power play, while killing off all three Cranbrook advantages.
There may be an addition to the Smoke Eaters injured list. Defenseman Pat Reilly endured a heavy open-ice hit in the second period. He played one short shift several minutes later but didn’t return after that.
The Smokies are already without injured forwards Ethan Mann, Gryphon Bucci and Judah Makway.
After five straight games on the road, the Smoke Eaters return home to host Nanaimo on Friday and Cowichan Valley on Saturday. Both Cominco Arena clashes start at 7 p.m. and fans can secure their seats at Tickets.TrailSmokeEaters.com.