Two losses to the Vernon Vipers and Penticton Vees on the weekend wasn’t due to a lack of effort or shots on net, but the Trail Smoke Eaters couldn’t buy a goal when they needed one as the Smokies missed out on gaining ground on their Interior division rivals.
The Smokies fired 42 shot against the Vipers in Vernon Friday, followed by a 49 shot barrage at the Penticton net on Sunday at the Cominco Arena, but managed just three goals on 91 shots in the 5-2 and 6-1 losses.
“Vernon was a really big game for us, and could have put us into a really good position here early to kind of climb back into the playoff race,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Nick Deschenes. “We weren’t quite prepared off the start, and they got some momentum, and it’s the same storyline where 42 shots gets us two goals, and last night 50-plus shots (versus Penticton) gets us one goal. We need scoring, we need players to elevate their game.”
Vees netminder Zachary Driscoll was all but unbeatable in an impressive 48-save performance to backstop the Vees to its 18th straight victory.
“Obviously he has tremendous reflexes, but he doesn’t showcase them because he is always in the right spot,” Vees assistant coach Steve Cawley said after the game. “He battles hard. Can I call it a quiet 48-save performance in terms that nothing looked crazy dramatic, everything just looked really, really solid, and he had a fantastic game.”
Trail was able to shut down the Vees’ big guns, holding BCHL leading scorers Tyson Jost and Scott Conway to a single point each. However, secondary scoring, including a hat trick from Damico Hannoun and a pair from Owen Sillinger, did the damage on Sunday.
After turning aside nine shots in the first frame, Trail peppered Driscoll with 40 shots in the final two periods, but managed just a single marker by Smoke Eater forward Connor Brown-Maloski.
Vees forward, Hannoun, scored the game-winning goal just over five minutes into the middle frame. Dixon Bowen drove for the net drawing the defence, then sent a blind pass out front to Hannoun who fired it blocker side on Smokie goalie Linden Marshall to give the Vees a 2-0 lead.
The Vees opened the scoring on a Sillinger deflection off a Ryan Morrell shot at 6:32 of the first period. Hannoun then scored his second of the night to make it 3-0 when he jumped off the bench, intercepted a clearing attempt, then toe-dragged around a defender and wired it top shelf.
Brown-Maloski got the Smokies within striking distance, scoring his third of the season, when he banged home the rebound off a Nick Halloran drive with 8:30 to play in the second to make it 3-1. Trail had its opportunities in the period as Max Newton rang a shot off the crossbar and Driscoll robbed Kurt Black on a point-blank chance in front, as Trail outshot the Vees 19-10 in the middle stanza.
“There were some times that pucks went through the crease, one inch this way or that way was the difference,” said Deschenes. “We hit two or three posts. We deserve a better fate in what we’re putting out there as far as effort goes.”
The Smoke Eaters kept the pressure on in the third period, firing 21 shots at Driscoll, but the Vees blew the game open in the final three minutes on goals by Easton Brodzinski, Sillinger and Hannoun, who tallied his sixth goal on the season.
“The three last goals of the game shouldn’t have happened,” said Deschenes. “We were trying to claw back. But they’re the best team in the country and we have to manage the puck well, we can’t throw pucks away. I think it’s the frustration coming through, but we let up there to allow them paint a different picture on the scoreboard to what the game actually was.”
Trail outshot the Vees (49-30) for the second game in a row and deserved a better result against the league’s top team.
“I thought Trail played a heck of a game tonight,” said Cawley. “When they came back and scored that first goal, I thought okay it looks like they’re going to create some momentum here. And they didn’t back down at all . . . I think they are a much better team than what they’re record indicates. And I’m sure in their dressing room they feel cheated, because of Zack Driscoll.”
With the win, the Vees make it their longest winning streak since going on a 42 game unbeaten stretch in 2012.
It was a similar story on Friday night, when the line of Riley Brandt, Colton McCarthy, and Jagger Williamson accounted for 10 points in the 5-2 Vernon victory.
The Vipers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first as Brandt opened the scoring at 13:10 followed by two from McCarthy. After a scoreless second period, Calum Volpe and McCarthy netted power play goals in the early going to make it 5-0, before Halloran notched his seventh of the season on a shorthanded effort, and Black his fifth with less than four minutes remaining. Bailey MacBurnie stopped 37 on the night for the Smokies while Andrew Shortridge blocked 40 for the Viper win.
“The sense of urgency increases as we move forward here, but I think the guys are capable of handling it and we are getting better.”
The Smokies failed to make ground on the Merritt Centennials who are one point ahead in the Interior Division, although Trail has three games in hand. The Smoke Eaters face the Nanaimo Clippers on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena, then hit the road Saturday to play the Cents in Merritt.