Saturday, December 8, 2012

Smoke Eaters 6 Rivermen 5 (OT)

Braden Pears played overtime hero, snapping a wrister home from the right circle 44 seconds into 3-on-3 overtime as the "Cardiac Kids" pulled off another stunner, 6-5 over the Langley Rivermen Friday at Cominco Arena.

Pears' second OT winner of the season capped another wild rally for Trail, who erased 3-0, 4-2 and 5-4 deficits to shock Langley and extend the Smokies' winning streak to three games.

The Rivermen came out of the gate extremely well, hitting and generating scoring chances, and would take the lead on a power-play just shy of the 14-minute mark when Mark Whiteley's seeing-eye point shot found the back of the net through traffic.

Mario Puskarich roofed a snapper 2 and a half minutes later to give the visitors a 2-0 lead at the intermission, before Evan Campbell (who recorded four points on the night) fired home a power-play marker 45 seconds into period two to extend the lead to 3-0.

Trail needed a spark, particularly after losing leading scorer Brent Baltus to a late open-ice check from Turner Popoff less than four minutes into the game (Popoff and Adam Wheeldon would be tossed minutes later after a spirited scrap). The Smokies found that spark in the form of Garrett McMullen, who converted a centring feed from November Player of the Month Tyler Berkholtz at 3:32 of the middle frame to put the home team on the board.

Trail would close the gap to 3-2 minutes later when Bennett Hambrook intercepted a breakout pass and skimmed a shot along the ice for his first goal of the season (and first as a Smoke Eater).

Campbell would prove his worth again before the second intermission, cutting to the goalline and roofing his second goal of the night to give Langley a 4-2 lead.

Coming into Friday's game, the Smokies had won five times this season when trailing after 40 minutes, and the comeback was back on in full force less than two minutes into the third when Scott Davidson snapped a puck home from the right side. McMullen would add his second of the game just before the 8-minute mark to bring the Smokies level, but Langley's Trevor Cope would restore the Rivermen lead just over a minute later on a wraparound.

But again, the Smokies would not go quietly. Luke Sandler banged home a rebound while losing his balance at the side of the net to tie the game at 5-5, then moments later McMullen was hauled down on a breakaway prompting the Smoke Eaters' second penalty shot in five games. The captain shot blocker side but Rivermen goaltender James Barr got just enough of the puck to keep it out.

Langley had their chances to win, including a pair of sitters in overtime from Puskarich and Campbell, but Trail goaltender Lyndon Stanwood made stops when he needed to, turning aside 32 Rivermen shots to record his 11th victory of the season.

Pears was rewarded for his offensive enthusiasm with a goal that brought the Rivermen bench to its knees, and for the second night in a row, sent Trail's players into a state of jubilation as the Smokies collected their sixth extra-time victory of the season.

It was a game the Smoke Eaters needed to have, and despite a considerable lack of polish on both sides, it was a game the Smoke Eaters got, in the end. With Vernon's loss Friday, the Smokies move (for the time being) into sole possession of fourth place in the Interior, and run their home record to 9-4 with three home fixtures (Vernon, Nanaimo, Merritt) still remaining before the holiday break.

My Three Stars:
1. Garrett McMullen, Trail
2. Evan Campbell, Langley
3. Tyler Berkholtz, Trail

Up Next: The Smokies will enjoy some R&R before a four-game in five-night stretch to close 2012 that begins next Friday in West Kelowna. Goodness knows the team could use the time between games to cure some bumps and bruises that have accumulated over a busy three months.

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