Smoke Eaters fall in barnburner with Merritt

Trail Smoke Eater defenceman Dylan Bowen tries to thwart Merritt Centennial forward Diego Cuglietta, who had four assists in a 9-6 Merritt victory Saturday over the Smoke Eaters at the Cominco Arena. - Jim Bailey
Trail Smoke Eater defenceman Dylan Bowen tries to thwart Merritt Centennial forward Diego Cuglietta, who had four assists in a 9-6 Merritt victory Saturday over the Smoke Eaters at the Cominco Arena.
— image credit: Jim Bailey

After managing just one goal in two games, the Trail Smoke Eaters found their scoring touch Saturday but still couldn’t keep pace with the Merritt Centennials.

On Friday, the Smoke Eaters were shut out by the Vernon Vipers, 5-0, yet in a wild game Saturday the Smokies scored six times but still came up on the short end of a 9-6 loss to the Centennials at the Cominco Arena.

The Smokies called up four affiliate players (AP) to subsidize an ailing talent pool due to injuries to goaltender Adam Todd, Jesse Knower, Adam Wheeldon, Nathan Browne, Jakson Elynuik, and Dylan Mascarin. Castlegar Rebel goalie Nate Rabbitt got the nod in net, while Sheldon Hubbard and Braden Fuller of the B.V. Nitehawks and Colby Livingstone of the Creston Valley Thunder Cats were inserted into the line up.

However, it was North Van native Taylor Armbruster who netted his first three goals of the season with the Smokies, scoring a hat trick in the losing effort, while the Cents high-flying forwards Diego Cuglietta led the team with four assists and Sebastien Pare chipped in with a pair of goals and an assist.

The Game was tied 5-5 after two periods, but the Cents would erupt for four goals in the third period with Pare potting two back-to-back power play goals to put the Cents up for good 7-5.

The Smoke Eaters started strong, when Brandon Volpe won a faceoff back to Brian Basilico who fired his 11th goal of the season over the glove of Cents netminder Devin Kero at 2:55 of the first period.

Armbruster would then put the Smokies up 2-0 midway through the frame, taking a pass from Jake Lucchini and beating Kero again glove side. But the Cents would strike back when Cuglietta found James Neil alone in front of the net, and Jeff Wight would tie it with 16 seconds remaining in the period. Wight roofed it over a down-and-out Rabbitt after a scramble in front of the Smokies’ goalie sent the loose puck to an opportunistic Wight waiting in the slot.

The Cents outshot the Smokies 17-9 in the period, but the 2-2 tie wouldn’t last long as Scott Davidson picked up a Joel Webb feed, streaked down the left side, faked a centring pass, and fired it over the shoulder of Kero. However, two quick goals by Zac Hartley and Scott Patterson would give the Cents their first lead.

Armbruster would even it again at 7:29 of the second., stepping into a Braedan Cross pass, and wiring it by Kero. Just over a minute later Gavin Gould would walk in alone on Rabbitt and beat the Castlegar Rebel goalie high to the glove to restore the Cents lead.

After Patterson and Webb went toe-to-toe, and the Cents down a man, Armbruster would strike again netting the hat trick with another blast from the point to welcome Jared Schamerhorn to the Cents net. Schamerhorn, a former Beaver Valley Nitehawk goalie, replaced Kero with nine minutes remaining in the second, and would take the 5-5 tie into the third period.

Sheldon Brett would cut the lead to one, on a nice feed from Livingstone, but Adam Tracey would get the insurance marker at 18:07, and Wight deliver the dagger into the empty net with 31 seconds remaining.

Merritt outshot Trail 43-30, and went 2-for-4 on the power play while Trai went 1-for-5.

In Friday’s game, Austin Smith made 31 saves after Danny Todosychuk had made the first six and the host Vernon Vipers put five of their 51 shots by Dustin Nikkel in a 5-0 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters.

Trail’s next game is in Penticton on Wednesday night, to face the Vees who have been struggling of late.

The team will return home to face Chilliwack at the Cominco Arena on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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