Another tough night at the South Okanagan Events Centre as the Smoke Eaters fell 9-3 to the Penticton Vees Wednesday.
Travis St. Denis marked his return from the World Junior "A" Challenge with a 5-point night, while Mario Lucia's natural hat-trick in the second period put the game out of reach as the Vees connected for a half-dozen special teams goals.
With five regulars out of the lineup and no fewer than four Castlegar Rebels dressed, the Smoke Eaters were short-handed from the outset against a Vees team relishing in the success of their Junior "A" Challenge stars. Curtis Loik and St. Denis scored early before a Brent Baltus slapper beat Vees starter Chad Katunar from distance to narrow the gap to 2-1. Loik and Connor Reilly rounded out the first period scoring with power-play goals.
Lucia's trio of goals was augmented by tallies from Mike Reilly and Zach Urban before 16 year-old Luke Bertolucci put Trail back on the board shortly before the second intermission.
A pair of fights and Adam Wheeldon's first BCHL goal were the lone highlights of the third as a frustrated Smokies side held Penticton off the scoreboard over the final 20 minutes. Tanner Hicks and Grant Nicholson each landed several right hands in a set-to in front of the Trail goal, before Clayton Chessa handily won a scrap with Urban after the Trail forward was checked from an awkward angle into the end boards.
But despite carrying the play out of the gate, the Smokies could not solve the mystique of the SOEC, a daunting building to win in to be sure. Penticton's home record stands at 9-0-0-1, with the Vees having put nine goals on the board three times this year at home, twice against Trail.
James D'Andrea went the distance in goal for the Smokies, stopping 27 shots.
Up Next: Trail returns home to close a string of three dates with Penticton in a stretch of nine days Sunday afternoon (3:00, Cominco Arena). As of yet nobody has confirmed whether new Penticton acquisition Bryce Gervais (late of Salmon Arm) will be in the lineup (the trade announced by Vees voice Fraser Rodgers on Twitter tonight). Heading to the Silverbacks is defenceman Shane Hanna. To add to the mystery, the Vees and Silverbacks play each other Friday.