The Trail Smoke Eaters put on an offensive show at the BCHL Showcase Festival presented by Bauer on the weekend.
Trail put up touchdowns in each of its two road games in Penticton, beating the Merritt Centennials 7-1 on Friday, before rolling to a 7-4 drubbing of the Prince George Spruce Kings on Saturday.
“I don’t think you ever go in to a weekend expecting to score 14 goals,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “But when our group plays the game the right way, and we play with speed and tenacity on the puck, and willingness to get it back, we have a skill-set that can really take off and score a lot of goals. I like the way we created opportunities and definitely the way we finished them.”
Forward Michael Colella put up Kent-Johnson like numbers, netting a hat trick on Saturday and adding two assists in a five-point match against the Spruce Kings. The Colorado College commit put up eight-points in all, starting off with two goals and an assist in the win over Merritt Friday at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
“That’s the Mike Colella we brought in. Sometimes when you bring young players in across the continent to a new league with new people, it takes time for them to get going. But he’s a dynamic, explosive player, and it’s great to see him becoming the guy we knew he would be.”
In Saturday against P.G., Smokies forward Owen Ozar scored his seventh goal of the season and what turned out to be the game winner at 9:17 of the second period. The Prince Albert native scored on the power play, finishing a setup from Tyler Ghirardosi and Colella to give Trail a 5-2 lead.
Following a 0-5-1-0 start, the Smoke Eaters have won five straight games to improve to 5-5-1-0 and trail the Wenatchee Wild by just one point for third spot in the Interior Division.
Ozar has been one of Trail’s most consistent performers this season, and is third in Smoke Eaters scoring with 12 points.
Colella (8G, 11A) and Smokies assistant captain Kent Johnson (5G, 14A) now sit on top of the BCHL scoring standings with 19 points each. So far, 20 of the 34 Smoke Eaters goals have been scored by it’s top-three forwards, but Tambellini recognizes the game isn’t only about goals and assists, as long as contributions are coming from everyone.
“The big thing is on the power play is you’re running one group for a minute-and-a-half, so they’re taking a lot of the big minutes of the offensive opportunities. But what I really like is Connor Sweeney stepped up, his numbers aren’t there, but he’s been an impact in every single game. We’re starting to get scoring from Colby Elmer, I think he has six points in seven games. Ghirardosi’s chipped in, Ozar has taken over a whole line himself, Senko scored the other night.
“Now you’re starting to see the layers of the team; we’re asking Max Kryski to run our penalty kill every night, and Sweeney’s done a good job and (Chase) Dafoe has jumped in there. The roles that we’re giving guys, they’re really starting to take advantage of what they are and really make an impact on the game in different ways, and not just on scoresheet results.”
Smoke Eaters defenceman Kyle Budvarson opened the scoring for Trail, netting his first of the season at 15:42 and Colella made it 2-0 on a one timer from Johnson with 57 seconds left in the opening frame.
Just as they did in a 3-0 victory over the Spruce Kings the previous week in P.G., the Smokies played stifling defensive hockey, outshooting the Spruce Kings 11-1.
Colby Elmer put the Smokies up 3-0 less than three minutes into the second, but Prince George answered with two quick goals from Preston Brodziak and Corey Cunningham. Colella made it 4-2 as the teams combined for four goals in less than six minutes, and Ozar and Colella capped off the period to make it 6-2 at the end of two.
Corey Cunningham beat Trail goalie Donovan Buskey with a power-play goal at 1:44 into the final stanza, but Johnson scored his fifth of the year at 15:48 and Prince George forward Finlay Williams finished the scoring on a power play for the 7-4 final.
The Smoke Eaters outshot the Spruce Kings 30-26 and went 2-for-5 on the power play, while Prince George was 3-for-7. Colella was named the game’s first star, Ozar the second star, and Prince George’s Cunningham the third star.
Trail opened the Showcase against the Merritt Centennials, Friday, rolling to a 7-1 win on the strength of a 30-save performance from Logan Terness and three-point games from Colella (2G,1A) and Johnson (1G,2A).
Diarmud Dimurro, Ozar, Jaden Senkoe, and Elmer rounded out the scoring for Trail, as the Smokies outshot the Cents 35-31. Ozar, Colella and Johnson earned the first, second, and third stars, with Dimurro getting the Forits Energy Player of the Game nod.
The annual Showcase offers NCAA and NHL scouts an opportunity to evaluate BCHL talent from all 17 teams over the week. This year the Showcase was split between Chilliwack and Prince George with Interior Division teams, in addition to Prince George (Mainland Division), playing in Penticton.
“Every guy that steps on that ice, there is someone they’re playing for and trying to impress,” added Tambellini. “It’s difficult because there are a lot of distractions that weekend, but our group handled it extremely well, a lot better than we did the previous year. I think a lot of the schools and NHL teams walked away and liked what they saw from the guys from Trail.”
Both Johnson, two goals and seven points, and Colella, five goals and eight points, were given honourable mentions in the BCHL Player of the Week considerations. Nanaimo Clippers forward Ethan Scardina was awarded the honour for scoring six goals and 10-points in three games.
Trail is on the road again this weekend with games against the Cowichan Valley Capitals, Victoria Grizzlies, and Surrey Eagles.