When the Penticton Vees scored with 19.5 seconds remaining in the third period to tie Game 3 versus the Trail Smoke Eaters, most of the air and optimism of the 2,200 fans’ hopes for a playoff victory quietly slipped out of the Cominco Arena.
Yet, relinquishing a 3-2 lead in the dying seconds didn’t deter the Smoke Eaters. The orange-and-black came out in the first overtime period looking to end it, and just 95 seconds later Smoke Eater forward Carter Jones scored for a 4-3 Trail victory.
“It feels really good,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Cam Keith. “We’re back in the series, we have some life, and we know that tomorrow is going to be an even tougher battle. But we have to make sure we stay even keel, enjoy the moment but also the preparation for tomorrow’s game starts right now.”
Trail’s Andre Ghantous almost finished the game on the first rush, with the puck on his stick and a clear view of an open net, but was tied up by the Vees defenceman and failed to get a shot. After a Penticton chance, Trail came right back and Smokies forward Kyle Howarth broke over the Vees blue line, dropped the puck to Jones who wired a low shot through traffic that beat Vees goalie Adam Scheel stick side for the OT win.
“It was a great drop pass by Kale Howarth,” said Jones, a recent commit to Bemidji State. “Pen’s Klack kind of had a lazy back-check, (I) beat him up the ice, I yelled for the puck, and Kale dropped the pass. I made a little move and shot the puck. I didn’t even see it go in – I just heard the crowd and knew it was over.”
The victory was crucial for a Trail team that was on the verge of falling behind 3-0 in the Interior Division semifinal series. Instead, the Smokies cut the Vees’ lead to 2-1.
“We did what we had to do, win on home ice,” said Keith. “But it’s still not finished, we have to win them all. That was our game plan after being down 2-0, so step one’s been taking care of.”
The Vees jumped out to a 1-0 lead a minute and 20 seconds into the first period. The Smokies defencemen pinched, and the Vees’ Wyatt Sloboshan chipped the puck to Owen Sillinger who broke in on a clear breakaway and beat Trail goalie Adam Marcoux five hole.
Trail kept grinding and after Penticton’s Ocean Wiesblatt was sent off for tripping, Blaine Caton batted in a rebound off a Jeremy Lucchini point shot to tie it at 1-1.
Less than a minute later, Trail’s Seth Barton took a hooking penalty, putting the Vees on a power play that has been humming along at a 50 per-cent clip. But the Smoke Eaters killed off the penalty, and when Vees defenceman James Miller tripped up Carter Jones in the neutral zone at 15:49 the Smokies went on another extra-man advantage. The Smokies worked the puck into the high slot and Andre Ghantous fired a shot that was partially blocked, but Levi Glasman knocked it out of midair for a 2-1 Trail lead with 2:42 left in the opening period.
“You’ve got to give credit to the goaltending was really good, making key saves at times, and controlling rebounds on the PK, and a lot of blocked shots. I think the difference was a little more attention to detail on the PK, a little more desperation especially after the damage they did against us in Penticton.”
The Smokies carried the play in the early going of the second, but some near misses and stellar saves by Scheel turned the momentum midway through the period. The Vees worked the puck down low, and Jared Nash tried jamming the puck past Marcoux from behind the net, and it deflected up and over the Trail goalie for a 2-2 tie with just under eight minutes to play.
The teams traded chances, and Trail had the best opportunity in the final minute when Scheel was down and out but a Vees defender stopped a Trail shot heading for the yawning cage to keep the match tied. The Vees held a 24-21 edge in shots through two periods with both teams staying disciplined through the middle frame.
The teams continued a break-neck pace in the third, and Trail finally capitalized just after the referee break. Howarth sent Braeden Tuck streaking down the left wing on a 2-on-1 with Jeremy Lucchini, and the Calgary native saucered a perfect pass that Lucchini one timed past the Vees netminder for a 3-2 Trail lead with 8:48 left in regulation.
Trail effectively neutralized the Vees attack, but a penalty to Smoke Eater forward Tyler Ghirardosi for a hit-to-the-head with just under five minutes to play gave Penticton a prime opportunity to tie it. But unlike the previous game, in which the Vees capitalized on 5-of-7 power-play chances, the Smoke Eaters were resilient and killed the penalty.
However, with Scheel on the bench for an extra attacker, the Vees quick puck movement had the Smokies on their heels in their own end in the final minute. Taylor Ward worked the puck behind the net to Massimo Rizzo, who sent it back to Ward. The Vees forward fed a centring pass through the crease, that Jonny Tychonick settled in the right circle and fired it over Marcoux’s blocker to tie the game 3-3 with less than 20 seconds on the clock to force OT.
The Smokies could have returned to the ice deflated, but after the intermission the Smokies came out determined and the intensity level dialed up.
“I said, ‘We can’t sit back,'” said Keith. “We play not to lose. Penticton’s a team that feed off teams that if you sit back that’s when they’re going to get going. They’re a team that thrives off time and space … We have to come out like gangbusters, we have to have that mentality where we’re trying to win the game in the first 10 minutes – fortunately, it was quicker than that.”
Jones’ first BCHL playoff goal comes after sitting out the first round due to a four-game suspension for a blow-to-the-head. While disappointed with missing the opening-round sweep of West Kelowna, the 18-year-old Spokane native is back on track and glad to be back, scoring four points in the three games since his return, including Tuesday night’s OT winner.
“It feels really good,” said Jones. “Especially with how good the team was playing when I was out, and then coming back and being able to have an impact right away – it just feels good.”
Penticton outshot Trail 33-31. The Smokies went 2-for-4 on the power play while Penticton was 0-for-3.
Jones (1G, 1A), earned the game’s first star, Lucchini (1G, 1A) was second star, and the Vees Tychonick third star.
Game 4 of the Interior Division semifinal was played last night at the Cominco Arena, but the score was unavailable at press time. For an update on Game 4 of the Smokies-Vees Interior Division series, visit the Trail Times website at trailtimes.ca.