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A win against the Merritt Centennials in the second game of the home and home series at Merritt on Saturday would have assured the Smokies of a home ice start in the first round of the playoffs, but a second period lapse by the orange & black led to a 4-2 loss.  Leading 1-0 going into the second period Merritt fired 25 shots at Smokie goaltender, Zach Dyment in the period and scored three unanwered goals to take a 3-1 lead into the third.

The Smokies opened the scoring in the first period at 15:42 on a goal by affiliate player Justen James with his 2nd as a Smokie.  James took a pass from Luke Santerno, broke in over the blueline, beat a Merritt defender and went in on a breakaway and put the puck behind netminder Colten Lancaster.  The Smokies played a perfect period on the road in the first outshooting the Centennials 13-9.

The tables turned in the second period as Merritt came out strong, firing 25 shots at Smokie’s netminder Zach Dyment and scoring 3 unanswered goals.  Merritt tied the game at 10:07 on a goal by Nick Fidanza.  They went up 2-1 at 13:13 on a power play marker by Cade Gleekel.  Chase Bell scored Merritt’s third goal at 17:31 with his 13th of the season.  The 3-1 lead for Merritt going into the third period could have been much worse had it not been for Zach Dyment making some great saves in the Trail net.  The Smokies did get 17 shots on net in the period but Merritt’s netminder, Colten Lancaster, came up big for the home team.

The Smokies got back on track in the third but Colten Lancaster continued his strong play for Merritt and stymied Trail on several good chances.  The Smokies pulled their goalie for  an extra attacker with just over a minute to play in the period and it paid off as Carter Cochrane made it a 3-2 game with 45 seconds to play.  It was Cochrane’s 12th of the season and assisted on by Connor Brown Maloski with his 37th of the year. The Centennial’s, Brett Jewell, however, scored an empty net goal with 27 seconds left, dashing any hope of a Trail comeback.  Cochrane’s goal was scored with 45 seconds left in the game and Jewell’s goal was scored with 27 seconds to go in the game.  This may seem confusing if reading the game summary sheet that had both goals incorrectly documented.

First star of the game was Merrit’s Colten Lancaster who faced 40 shots and made 38 saves, second star was the Centennial’s Nick Fidanza and third star was Centennial’s Cade Gleekel.  As the Merritt game announcer indicated, Zach Dyment in the Trail net definitely needed an honorable mention for his strong play.  Fortis Energy Player of the Game was Merritt’s Zachary Zorn.

At present the Smokies sit in fourth place with 56 points.  West Kelowna, also with 56 points,  is in third by virtue of having a game in hand on Trail.  Merritt is in fourth place with 52 points, also with a game in hand on the Smokies.  Trail has two games left and a win in either of those games or a loss by Merritt, in any of their three games left, would assure Trail of home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  Their opponent, regardless of the scenario, is still up in the air bu,t if the standings stay as they are the Smokies would face Merritt in the first round and West Kelowna would play Salmon Arm.

Trail’s next home game is next Friday night, February 24 at the Cominco Arena when they host the Vernon Vipers.  Game time is 7:30 pm.  It is the Smokie’s last home game of the season and is redemption night for all season ticket holders and Corporate sponsors for using up any unused tickets.