Garrett McMullen broke a 4-4 tie 7:26 into the third period as the Smokies erased an early 3-goal deficit to nip the Chilliwack Chiefs 5-4 at Cominco Arena Friday.
The Chiefs came out of the gate flying thanks to a Josh Hansen wrister just over a minute in, then at the 2:12 mark Mitch Skapski banged his first BCHL goal past Trail starter Adam Todd to give the visitors a 2-0 lead very early.
Hansen converted an Austin Plevy feed from the side of the net for his second of the game at the midway mark of the opening period to extend the Chiefs' lead as a shellshocked Smokies squad struggled initially to contain a Chilliwack top line that had combined for 60 points entering play Friday.
But the Smokies caught two breaks, one at the end of the first, and one very early in the second, to get back in the game.
First, Jake Lucchini snuck a long-range wrister through Chilliwack goaltender Josh Halpenny to get Trail on the board before the end of the first period. It was the rookie's second goal in three games.
Then, Austin Adduono appeared to fire home his first as a Smoke Eater from the side of the goal 26 seconds into period two. Referee Ward Pateman initially waved the play off, but after consultation with his linesmen concluded that a goal had been scored, cutting the Chiefs' lead to 3-2.
The Chiefs would answer back shortly thereafter, as Skapski redirected a Mathieu Tibbet slap pass past Todd for his second of the game, restoring Chilliwack's two-goal lead, but Trail again would have an answer, this time from leading scorer Brent Baltus, who tapped home a Scott Davidson shot that rebounded off the end boards for his 13th goal of the season.
The third period would see Trail complete the comeback. Just after the five-minute mark, forward Luke Sandler fired a low wrist shot home on a 2-on-1 rush for his fifth goal in the past six games, then just over two minutes later, McMullen found his time to shine.
After Baltus snuck past Chiefs captain David Thompson down the left wing, Davidson whipped a quick pass from behind the net into the low slot, where Trail's captain was standing in wait. McMullen lifted the puck over Halpenny's shoulder into the net, giving Trail a lead they would not relinquish.
The Chiefs had chances to equalize, including on a late power-play after Todd covered the puck behind the net, incurring a delay of game minor. Trail's defense did not buckle, though, limiting the visitors' time in high-percentage scoring areas and shutting down the top line of Hansen, Plevy and Luke Esposito after their early success.
Todd recovered admirably after a tough start to collect his first win as a Smoke Eater, making 28 saves. Davidson and McMullen both proved their worth at the defensive end too, recording key blocked shots during crunch time in the third period.
It was far from a complete game from the Smokies, but the comeback and the two points is a testament to the commitment level in the Trail dressing room. Last year's team may well have worked as hard, but would have had trouble clawing back offensively. The offensive punch has shown its ability to stay consistent, too, over the past half-dozen games. For this team to continue on their current path, that will need to continue.
My Three Stars:
1. Garrett McMullen, Trail
2. Josh Hansen, Chilliwack
3. Luke Sandler, Trail
Up Next: Vernon pays a visit to Cominco Arena Saturday in another four-pointer. This one is huge, and this group of players would love nothing more than a large, boisterous crowd in their effort to take a second straight game from the Vipers (recent home form would also suggest that anyone who does show up will get their money's worth). Gametime is 7:30.