Smokies draw 'Dogs, fall short against Cents
The Trail Smoke Eaters endured a frustrating weekend, collecting only one of a possible four points in weekend fixtures with Alberni Valley and Merritt at Cominco Arena.
Trail and Alberni Valley combined for 80 shots on goal Friday, but neither side could find the breakthrough as the two sides skated to a 3-3 draw. The Smokies battled back from an early deficit, but goaltenders Dustin Nikkel and Tyger Howat shut down both offenses over the final 30 minutes as the two sides split the two points.
The new-look Bulldogs, bolstered by the mid-week acquisition of Trail native Craig Martin, jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead with goals 74 seconds apart, first from Zak Bowles off a centring feed from behind the net, then by Martin after a turnover in the Trail zone.
The Martin tally woke the home side up, and the Smokies cut the Alberni Valley lead to 2-1 before the end of the opening frame when leading scorer Tyson Witala banged home a rebound after winger Bryan Basilico struck iron from the left circle.
Alberni Valley could well have extended their lead if not for a pair of remarkable saves from Nikkel inside the first six minutes of the second period, including a breakaway save off Jakson Elynuik.
The Smokies paid their goaltender back moments later, when a Braeden Jones point shot took a deflection off a Bulldog stick and trickled past Howat at 6:33 to even the score. Jesse Knowler deflected home his third goal of the season on a power-play at 13:01 to give the Smokies their first lead, but it was short-lived thanks to a Darian Henry point blast 1:58 from the end of the second period that snuck through Nikkel’s pads.
Neither side found a go-ahead goal in the third period (partly thanks to a glorious pad save from Nikkel off Mak Barden in the final minute), but the Smokies came close twice in overtime, first on a Knowler wrister that struck iron, then on a chance for Travis Stephens in 3-on-3 play. The Victoria native was set up beautifully by rearguard Valik Chichkin and had most of the net to shoot at, but was denied coolly by the shinpads of Bulldogs leading scorer Hunter Stewart.
Nikkel and Howat each made 37 saves.
Six different Centennials found the back of the net Saturday as Merritt upended the Smoke Eaters 6-1 Saturday.
It was a frustrating night for the home side, who tumbled to the bottom of the tightly-wound Interior division Saturday after being outscored by a gritty Centennials team looking to move above the .500 mark.
Merritt opened the scoring just shy of the 12-minute mark when Diego Cuglietta snuck behind the Trail defense and beat Nikkel from just outside the crease. Bennett Huber added another counter-attack goal 1:34 from the end of the opening frame to put the visitors up 2-0. Trail mustered only six shots at Merritt netminder Devin Kero in the first period, coming closest to scoring when Chichkin’s point blast struck the crossbar.
Merritt would add a third goal off a turnover 14:13 into the second, when Sebastien Pare snuck a shot through Nikkel’s legs. The Smokies would cut the lead to 3-1 in the dying moments of period two through defenseman Curtis Toneff on a power-play. The veteran rearguard pinched from the left point and one-timed a pass from Jake Kauppila past Kero for his third goal of the season.
The Centennials bolstered their lead, again off turnovers in the third, first through Sam Johnson then Zach Hartley, who scored his first BCHL goal in only his second game back from an injury that kept him out for a month.
Scott Patterson rounded up the scoring on a power-play 6:03 from time, as the Smokies again struck iron twice in the third period off the stick of Scott Davidson, but were unable to beat Kero, who made 16 saves to record his second victory of the season.
Nikkel stopped 31 Merritt shots after making his fourth start in the Smokies’ last five games.
The Smokies return to action Thursday in Salmon Arm.
For more information, please contact the Smoke Eaters office at (250) 364-9994.