The Trail Smoke Eaters lost their fourth straight on the road on Tuesday, succumbing to the Merritt Centennials 7-4 at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
Trail went into its final three regular-season games with fourth place in the BCHL Interior Division wrapped up, and no chance of moving up the standings. So resting starting goalie Adam Marcoux and players like top scoring forward Kale Howarth became a priority.
“We’re pretty much locked into our fourth seed and there’s not much we can do to change who we’re going to face in the first round either,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Jessie Leung following the results from a long road trip to Prince George and Wenatchee. “For us, we’re really focussing on our process and for us, knowing that we’re going through adversity, we know things aren’t going well, we just have to keep pushing back.”
Special teams proved the difference on Tuesday, as the Centennials notched two power-play goals and a 3-0 first period lead on goals from Brendan Schneider, Christian Sabin, and Zach Zorn.
Matthew Kopperud beat Trail goalie Tanner Marshall to make it 4-0 at 3:14 of the second, before Trail replied with an unassisted goal by Spencer McLean to make it 4-1. But a power-play tally from Zach Risteau and another from Zach Zorn 52 seconds apart put the Cents up 6-1 midway through the middle frame, despite the Smokies outshooting Merritt 19-16 in the period.
“I think the process is there,” said Leung. “I know you always want to score more goals than you are … we had a lot of Grade A opportunities, and we want to make sure we’re putting ourselves in position to get those chances, but if the goalie makes a five-alarm save, he makes a five-alarm save, there’s not much you can do.”
Trail regrouped in the third, and Blaine Caton notched his 15th of the season just 15 seconds into the final stanza. Troy Ring and Blake Sidoni then set up Braeden Tuck at 15:11 to cut the lead to 6-3 and Tyler Ghirardosi brought the Smokies to within two, scoring his 19th of the campaign at 16:56 on a pass from Levi Glasman.
The Centennials Ashton Stockie added insult to injury finishing the scoring at 17:47 and the 7-4 victory. Merritt remains unbeaten in the their last five games going 4-0-1-0 over that time, while Trail is 1-4-0-0 in it’s last five games, following three losses to Prince George and Wenatchee last week.
Jacob Berger made 36 stops for Merritt as Trail outshot the Cents 40-36, and went 0-for-3 on the power play, while Merritt was 3-for-5.
Despite recent results, the Smoke Eaters are taking the season-ending slump in stride and looking forward to their playoff future.
“We’re going to do our due diligence to make sure whatever happens through these last games, we enter the playoffs with confidence, having gone through our process and making sure we have healthy bodies ready to make a big run here,” said Leung.
The Centennials moved two-points ahead of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks for sixth place in the Interior, but Salmon Arm has two games in hand, and will face the Smoke Eaters at the Cominco Arena for Trail’s final home game of the season on Friday at 7 p.m. Trail completes their season in Vernon on Saturday with a match against the Vipers.