Sunday, February 5, 2012

Smoke Eaters 5 Chiefs 3

Connor Tiechko played the hat-trick hero against his hometown team, and James D'Andrea collected his first BCHL victory in a 5-3, come-from-behind Smokies win against Chilliwack.

It wasn't the start the Smokies were hoping for, as Anderson White and Josh Hansen put the Chiefs ahead by the time the game was 3 1/2 minutes old, but Trail improved as the game progressed, and Tiechko had a night to remember as the Smokies won their third straight home game.

White opened the night's events with a backhander from the right circle at 1:01, then a scramble in front of D'Andrea wound up with the puck in the back of the net courtesy Hansen at 3:21 to give Chilliwack a dream start.

Tiechko, though, would be sprung free and clear later in the period, beating Chiefs goaltender Bryton Udy low along the ice to lift Trail to within one before the break.

With the Chiefs on an early second-period two-man disadvantage, Tiechko knocked home his second of the game from the edge of the crease on a nifty cross-ice feed from Garrett McMullen. Riley McDougall gave Trail the lead on another power-play later in the period, snapping a sharp wrister into the top right corner after completing a give-and-go from the right side with AP callup Colton Schell.

D'Andrea made the save of the game moments later. With a delayed penalty being called against Trail, Chiefs forward Kit Sitterley found himself alone in front of the net with oodles of time to beat a prone Smokies 'tender. Crossing from right to left, Sitterley tried to outwait D'Andrea, who would have none of it, coming across his crease left to right to stonewall the Chilliwack forward. A classy gesture after the whistle as well that I think deserves attention, as Sitterley went as far as to tap D'Andrea on the pads following the save to offer his congratulations.

The score remained the same well into the third period despite torrid pressure from the Chiefs, until a blocked shot at the Trail line turned into Tiechko's second breakaway of the night. Again, the Smokies forward made no mistake, putting a low shot past Udy for his hat-trick goal.

Derek Huisman would draw the Chiefs back to within one in the dying minutes with Udy on the bench, but seconds later, Brent Baltus restored the two-goal lead firing home a rebound of his own for his fifth goal in four games.

D'Andrea wound up with 38 saves on the night for his first Trail victory since joining the club in late October. With the defeat, Chilliwack (fourth in the Interior Conference) now holds only a two-point advantage on fifth-place Vernon. No doubt Chiefs fans will be urging the Smokies on Tuesday when Trail visits Wesbild Centre.

A gutsy win for the Smokies, no doubt, and a huge emotional lift to collect their first victory over the Chiefs in seven tries this season. Tonight also saw a much more committed effort by the Smoke Eaters in their own zone, with the likes of Tanner Clarkson, Brandon Long and Joren Johnson each enjoying strong defensive games tonight. Luke Bertolucci also won several key faceoffs, a category in which the Chiefs have held a definite edge in the season series.

Up Next: Despite 4 of the next 5 games for Trail being scheduled for Cominco, the Smokies are off to Vernon Tuesday for one last meeting this season with the Vipers. The Spruce Kings are in town for two big games next weekend.

Video Killed...: let's hope not, for now at least. A heads-up that Shaw TV was at the rink tonight, where we shot a short feature on Erik Cooper which I'd imagine will air on the Kootenay affiliate in the next week or so. We've done a few of these quick hits over the course of the season, once it's posted online I'll include a link in a future blog post.

KIJHL Tonight: Congrats to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks! They clinched the Neil Murdoch regular season crown tonight for the first time in 6 years, despite a 4-3 OT loss in Castlegar this evening (Scott Morisseau with the winner). The playoff matchups in the division could be finalized as early as tomorrow when Nelson hosts Spokane, but it appears as though the 'Hawks will face the Braves, while the Rebels will tangle with the Leafs.

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