The Trail Smoke Eaters came from behind three separate times but could not find a way to push past the West Kelowna Warriors as they fell by a 4-3 overtime loss on Friday night at Royal LePage Place.
Trail started the game with a couple of good looks but couldn’t cash in including a strong net drive from Chase Stevenson down the right side as he cut to the net before being stuffed on the glove side of Warriors netminder Connor Hopkins to keep the game scoreless before West Kelowna found a way to open the scoring as the period went along.
The Warriors sent the puck inside the Smoke Eaters end where Trail was unable to clear up the right-wing boards as Willie Reim held it in on the half board and sent the puck down low for Mike Hardman at the glove side post. Hardman collected the puck and went from his backhand to his forehand to beat Smoke Eaters goaltender Donovan Buskey to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead at the 12:46 mark of the opening frame.
After receiving a 5-on-3-man advantage late in the 1st period that carried over into the 2nd frame, Lucas Cullen pushed the Warriors lead to 2-0 just 18 seconds into the period. Cullen took a Wyatt Head pass in the right face-off circle and shot past the blocker side of Buskey to extend the advantage to a pair of goals in favour of the Warriors.
The Smoke Eaters battled their way back to cut the deficit to a goal at the 2:31 mark as Carter Jones continued his hot stretch of play. Braeden Tuck took a shot from the right face-off circle that glanced off of Jones in front of the net and through the legs of Hopkins for his 16th goal of the season to get Trail on the scoreboard.
Just under three minutes later, Trail was able to get the game evened up at 2-2 at the 5:31 mark and came from a strong sequence of keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Chase Dafoe dug the puck free from skates as Mack Byers collected at the top of the slot and fired a shot past the glove side of Hopkins for his 16th goal of the season to tie the game, where the score would remain into the 3rd period.
The Warriors would be first to get on the board in the final period of regulation play with West Kelowna captain Cavin Tilsley finding the back of the net. Bennett Norlin raced down the right-wing and center a pass for Tilsley in the middle with the Warriors captain finding the back of the net on the blocker side of Buskey to help his group re-take the lead at 3-2 at the 1:34 mark.
Another captain came back and tied the game up at 3-3 at the 6:13 mark of the 3rd period as Braeden Tuck wired his 15th goal of the season to get the game on even terms once again. Tuck gathered a loose puck in the right corner and wheeled to the slot before letting a shot go on the glove side to tie the game 3-3 and eventually force overtime between the two squads.
A high sticking penalty led to the Warriors earning an extra man in the extra frame and Lucas Cullen would close the game with his second goal of the night. Mike Hardman had his one-time drive denied by the right pad of Buskey with the rebound being pushed past on the blocker side to end the game 1:30 into overtime.
Donovan Buskey was terrific in the Trail crease, turning aside 39 of the 43 shots he faced in his 4th loss of the season while Connor Hopkins was equally as good, stopping 36 of the 39 shots thrown his way in his 16th win of the season.
FINAL SCORE: 4-3 Warriors (OT)
SHOTS ON GOAL: 43-39 Warriors
SMOKE EATERS PP: 0/1
SMOKE EATERS PK: 3/5
1) Braeden Tuck (1-1-2)
2) Bennett Norlin (0-1-1)
3) Willie Reim (0-1-1)
Fortis Energy Player of the Game: Cavin Tilsley (1-0-1)
The Smoke Eaters (22-24-8-3) and Warriors (28-28-0-1) conclude their regular season tonight at the Trail Memorial Centre with puck drop slated for 7:00 PM as the Smoke Eaters honour their graduating 20-year-olds after the game. Tickets are available for purchase at the Smoke Eaters Main Office as well as at the door ahead of the opening puck drop.