The Interior Division leading Penticton Vees were ready to chalk up their 30th win of the season until a third-period comeback by the Trail Smoke Eaters stunned the home team and their 2,600 fans in a 3-2 Smoke Eater victory.
The Vees led 2-0 heading into the third period, after dominating the first two periods and outshooting Trail 21-6. But Trail found their game in the third stanza firing 19 shots at Vees goalie Mathew Robson, and scoring three times in the final 20 minutes for their first victory at the South Okanagan Events Centre since Mar. 1, 2013.
“After the first two periods, you never expect to have that kind of third, but with this group this year, I guess, expect the unexpected,” said Trail coach and GM Cam Keith.
The message by the Smoke Eater coaching staff in the second intermission stayed positive and with a few offensive adjustments the team came out flying in the third.
“From the first shift on we built momentum, and you could see that the ice was tilted our way,” said Keith. “It was just a matter of if we get a good bounce, and the goal by Ross Armour was a really big one.”
Armour scored twice including the winning goal with two minutes remaining in regulation to avoid a third-straight overtime match at the SOEC. Armour took advantage of a Vees defensive mistake, as he gathered a Josh Laframboise centering pass, walked around a diving defenceman, and beat Robson upstairs for his 11th goal of the season.
“It was pretty slow the first two periods,” the Rossland native told the Penticton Western News’ Emanuel Sequeira. “We kind of figured it out in the third period. We got a lucky break there. So it was good to get two points out of it.”
The Vees opened the scoring when Ryley Risling’s centering pass from the corner banked off Kyle Chernenkoff’s leg past Trail goalie Linden Marshall at 15:26.
Mitch Meek scored his second goal of the season taking a Risling drop pass along the wall and breaking towards the net to outwait a sprawling Marshall at 11:43 to give Penticton a 2-0 lead as the Vees outshot Trail 10-3 in the period.
Trail rallied in the third when Armour drove to the net and stuffed the puck past Robson short side 8:24 in. Just 42 seconds later, Spencer McLean picked up a Blaine Caton rebound and beat Robson on the doorstep at 9:06 to tie it 2-2.
The comeback was the first time in 20 games that the Vees have squandered a lead heading into the third period, and coach and GM Fred Harbinson was not pleased.
“We should be ashamed of ourselves on how we played in the last 20,” Harbinson told the Western News. “Clearly the guys thought that the game was over and they found differently. They are going to pay for it tomorrow. I don’t do this very often, but you know what, you can’t be one of the better defensive teams in the league and you can’t close a team out like that, (it) is absolutely uncalled for.”
The Vees outshot the Smoke Eaters 26-25. Trail went 0-for-4 on the power play while the Vees were 0-for-1. Armour was the game’s first star, while Campbell and Meek received second and third star nods.
“This (Smoke Eater) group this year is a group that never gives up and if you have that mindset in games, you’re going to pull out those games,” said Keith. “It was a huge win for us at a crucial time.”
The Smoke Eaters prepare to face another Interior Division rival in a home-and-home match up with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks this weekend. Trail hosts a Silverbacks team that dropped their last two games to Vernon by 4-2 and 1-0, however the last time the two teams met in December, the ‘Backs surprised the Smoke Eaters 7-2 in Salmon Arm.
“Since they made the coaching change they’ve been a revitalized group,” said Keith. “So we’re expecting a different group now. It’s a division where everyone is still in the playoff hunt and we’re expecting a really tough series this weekend.”
The puck drop on Friday goes at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.