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Trail Smoke Eaters settle for weekend split
The Trail Smoke Eaters took their foot off the gas for about 10 minutes on Saturday and it cost them, as the West Kelowna Warriors stretched their winning streak to six games with the 5-3 victory.
The Smokies skated to their first home win of the season on Friday in a spirited 3-2 victory over the Cowichan Valley Capitals, but a second period let down enabled the Warriors to take a 3-2 advantage into the third period, and Kelowna’s Liam Blackburn would nail down the victory with the winning tally on a goal-mouth scramble at 11:59 of the third.
“The first and third period, we were pretty happy with their work effort but that’s a couple games in a row now that the second period, for whatever reason, we came out flat, so that’s an issue we have to address without a doubt,” said Trail assistant coach Barry Zanier.
The Smokies jumped out to a first period lead after the Warrior’s Braxton Bilous was sent off for interference. Fifty seconds into the power play, Travis Stephens notched his third goal of the season on a neat deflection off a point shot from Curtis Toneff at 10:34.
The Warriors replied five minutes later on a nice passing play that left Jason Cotton wide open at the side of the net, and the Northeastern University commit made no mistake, rifling it under the arm of Smokies goalie Adam Todd.
Trail looked good in the first frame, outshooting the Warriors 10-9, but sluggish play early in the second period opened the door for West Kelowna snipers. Jordan Masters picked up a loose puck and rifled it top corner at 6:46 and Detroit Red Wing draft pick David Pope followed that up as he banged in a puck that took an unfortunate bounce off the back boards and onto his stick to give WK a 3-1 lead.
Since losing it’s first two games at the Bauer-BCHL showcase, the Warriors have been unbeatable, reeling off six straight wins for a share of first place in the Interior division with the Penticton Vees.
“Streaks are hard to come by, and when you’re on them you want to stay on them as long as you can,” said Warrior coach and GM Rylan Ferster. “It’s certainly tough to win on the road, and this is one of the toughest buildings in our league to win on the road. The corners are tough in this building, and they play so hard so when you come here you just want to match their work ethic and hopefully get a bounce here or there and I think that’s what happened tonight, we got a couple hockey bounces, otherwise I think the game could have gone either way.”
Trail’s Tyson Witala would count his second assist on the night, and team-leading eighth point, on a power play when he head-manned the puck to streaking forward Jake Lucchini who made a great move to his backhand, lifting the disk over the glove of Warrior goalie Andy Desautels for his first goal on the season and cutting the lead to 3-2 at 15:55.
“I had a couple chances, and finally put one in,” said Lucchini. “I took a good pass from Witala and just ended up putting it in, which was nice. It’s about time.”
The Warriors outshot the Smokies 14-8 in the middle frame, and midway through the third period Trail goaltender Todd would go down after reportedly receiving a vicious slash to the ankle. However, with the play going the other way, no one saw the incident, and Todd would be helped off the ice, as Dustin Nikkel came in to close out the game.
Trail rallied in the third generating good opportunities including a Brendan Lamont breakaway that Desautels thwarted with a Mike Palmateer-like poke check. The Warriors countered, and moments later, Blackburn shoveled a loose puck past Nikkel for the winning goal.
The Smoke Eaters did not quit, however, as Bryce Knapp made it 4-3, banging in a Jake Kaupilla cross-crease pass with just over six minutes to play. The home team came close again in the final minutes, as Jesse Knowler rang a snap shot off the post, and Stephens created a good scoring opportunity, driving to the net, and just missing the far post and colliding with the Warrior goaltender. A melee ensued as the Warriors Ambrose Firkus jumped Stephens, but when the dust settled, the two teams were even, with Smoke Eater Braden Pears drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty with 90 seconds remaining.
Fifteen seconds later, the Warriors’ Masters would ice it as he added an empty netter for his third point of the night.
Recent additions, Bryan Basilico and Dylan Mascarin looked good in Orange and Black. Basilico is a big, but mobile forward with great play-making ability, while Mascarin was used in most of the critical faceoff situations in the third period.
The Smokies defenceman Curtis Toneff added two assists on the night and leads Trail d-men in points with two goals and four assists.
“Last year I got a bigger role playing in Manitoba,” said Toneff. “I got lots of ice, so I got my confidence there and just kind of kept with it.”
West Kelowna outshot Trail 34-27, with Masters being named the game’s first star, while Lucchini took second star honours for Trail, and Blackburn third star.
On Friday, the Smokies Toneff blasted the winning goal by the Cowichan Valley goaltender Robin Gusse at 10:48 of the third period to give the Smokies a 3-1 lead enroute to the 3-2 victory.
Tyson Wittala was named the game’s first star, by virtue of a goal and an assist on the night, and Nikkel stopped 32 shots for his third victory of the season. Witala has been a pleasant surprise offensively and currently leads the Smokies in points with two goals and six assists.