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By Jim Bailey, Trail Times

With parents in the stands and expectations high, the Trail Smoke Eaters rose to the occasion winning both home games on the weekend.

Former Viper Blaine Caton scored the winner as the Smoke Eaters defeated Vernon 4-1 on Sunday at the Cominco Arena, and two days earlier Trail native Tyler Ghirardosi netted his first BCHL hat trick in a 7-4 win over Surrey on Friday.

Caton’s 13th tally with less than a second remaining on the clock in the first period proved to be the winner, as the Vernon native gathered a rebound off a scramble in front and lifted the puck over Vernon goalie Anthony Yamnitsky for a 2-1 Smoke Eaters lead.

The victory over the Vipers was the Smokies first in five tries this season and was as important as victories get with 11 games to play in the regular season.

Defenceman Connor Welsh gave Trail a 1-0 lead at 5:14 of the first period when he corralled a loose puck at the blue line and wired a shot over the glove of Yamnitsky for his ninth goal of the season. However, Vernon tied it when a missed drop pass to Smokies d-man Seth Barton turned into a 2-on-1 for the Vipers. Jesse Lansdell broke down the right wing and feathered a pass over to Josh Prokop whose one-timer beat a sprawling Adam Marcoux at 11:53 of the first.

Penalty trouble subdued a Smoke Eater attack in the second period, as Trail concentrated on killing five penalties including a 5-on-3 Vernon advantage midway through the period. That Smokies’ kill proved to be a turning point as Marcoux made his best save of the night off Prokop. The Vernon forward took a backdoor pass at the far post and was looking at an empty net, but the Smokies goalie stretched out and stopped the puck with his right pad not once but twice to preserve the one-goal lead as Vernon outshot the Smoke Eaters 23-17 through two periods.

Trail played solid defensive hockey in the third, and while Vernon pressed early, Marcoux came up big when he had to. Smokies forward Spencer McLean had been battling Vernon defenceman Shane Kelly all night, and finally got the better of the six-foot-five d-man when he jumped on an Andre Ghantous rebound and chipped it past the Vipers goalie for a 3-1 lead with just over five minutes to play.

Vernon pulled their goalie in the final 1:45, but Ryan Murphy iced it with an empty-net goal with 23 seconds remaining for the 4-1 victory.

Vernon outshot Trail 31-28 and was 0-for-7 on the power play, while Trail went 0-for-3. Marcoux earned the game’s first star, Caton second star, and McLean third star.

On Friday, the Smokies offence came alive firing 47 shots at the Surrey goal in a 7-4 victory. Caton netted the winner and Ghirardosi scored three times, with Carter Jones, Connor Welsh, and Levi Glasman netting singles. Smoke Eater defencemen Seth Barton added three helpers and captain Troy Ring had two assists.

Trail outshot Surrey 47-22, went 2-for-4 on the power play, and were a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.

Ghirardosi and Jones were the game’s first and second stars, while Eagles’ Mathew Campese (2G) was named third star.

With the two wins, the 28-14-4-1 Smoke Eaters keep pace in the tight Interior, three points behind Wenatchee Wild for third place, and six back of Vernon and Penticton, tied for top spot with 67 points.

The Smoke Eaters host Mainland Division teams the Langley Rivermen and Coquitlam Express this weekend with games going Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.