Reality hit the Trail Smoke Eaters hard, as the team earned just two of a possible six points from a three-game road trip over the weekend.
Trail’s unblemished 5-0 road record came to an abrupt end on Friday when the Smokies fell to the Powell River Kings 5-3. Trail bounced back the next night with a 6-2 win over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, but following a long trip from the Island back to the Mainland, Trail went into Chilliwack and suffered a 4-3 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday. Despite the two setbacks, the Smokies still cling to second place in the Interior Division with a 7-3-1-0 record.
As expected, teams were keying on the top line of Kale Howarth, Ross Armour and Levi Glasman, and while Armour had a respectable weekend with three goals and an assist to remain atop the BCHL scoring race with 10-7-17, Howarth and Glasman were held to just two points each over the three-games-in-three-days road trip.
In Sunday’s match, Trail battled back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game midway through the third period but a goal by Ryan Miotto with 3:12 remaining sealed the win for the Chiefs.
Armour opened the scoring when defenceman Jeremy Lucchini darted deep into Chiefs territory, and from below the faceoff dot, flipped a backhand centring pass into the blue paint where Armour waited to pop it past Chilliwack goaltender Mathieu Caron.
However, with nine seconds left in the middle frame, the Chiefs Tommy Lee beat Smoke Eater goalie Brandon Wells to tie it heading into the third. Following an uninspiring period of hockey where the Chiefs outshot the Smokies 6-3, Chilliwack struck fast in the third when Harrison Blaisdell burst around the Trail defence and slid the puck by Wells just 95 seconds in. Lee then notched his fourth of the year, scoring on the power play at 16:58 to give Chilliwack a 3-1 lead.
Yet, just as they did against Powell River on Friday, Trail mounted a comeback. Seth Barton bulled his way into the Chiefs goal crease and banged in a Spencer McLean centring pass, bringing the Smoke Eaters to within one with 9:12 to play. Glasman then tied the game on the power play lifting an Andre Ghantous pass over Caron at 3:49.
But 37 seconds later Chiefs defenceman Bryan Allbee carried the puck into the Smoke Eater zone and saucered a pass to a crease-crashing Miotto who poked it past Wells for the game winner. Trail pulled their goalie for the extra attacker with 80 seconds remaining on the clock but couldn’t find the equalizer.
Trail outshot the Chiefs 27-21 including a 13-6 edge in the third period and went 1-for-9 on the power play while Chilliwack was 1-for-7.
In Saturday’s game, the Smoke Eaters jumped out to a 4-0 first-period lead then played solid defensively en route to a 6-2 drubbing of the Bulldogs in Alberni.
A pair of goals from Lucchini to start the match got the proverbial ball rolling for Trail. Braeden Tuck made it 3-0 at 11:02 and chased the Bulldogs goalie and Carter Jones scored shorthanded for a 4-0 lead after one.
Armour made it 5-0 on the power play, finishing a setup from Blaine Caton and Howarth. Alberni got on the board at 7:09 of the middle frame on a goal from Jackson Doucet, but Andre Ghantous restored the five-goal cushion 49 seconds later.
The Bulldogs Paul Selleck netted a power-play marker 2:50 into the third, but that was as close as they’d get. Smokies goalie Tanner Marshall was on his game as Alberni outshot the Smoke Eaters 16-6 in the third and 40-32 in the match for Marshall’s fourth consecutive win.
Lucchini was named the game’s first star, Jones the second star, and Armour the game’s third star.
Against Powell River Friday, Powell River started strong jumping out to a 2-0 lead, before Trail’s Spencer McLean made it 2-1. The Kings continued to roll as Carmine Buono made it 3-1 early in the second period, but Trail’s Armour and Jones scored 40 seconds apart to tie it midway through the second. The Kings’ Kevin Obssuth netted the winner with 62 seconds remaining in the middle frame, and they added an empty-netter for the 5-3 final.
Powell River outshot Trail 37-33 and went 1-for-5 on the power play while the Smokies were 1-for-2. Spencer McLean earned the game’s third star for Trail.
The Smoke Eaters next home game goes Friday at the Cominco Arena when they host the 7-3-0-0 Victoria Grizzlies at 7 p.m. and on Sunday at 3 p.m. versus the Powell River Kings.