Sunday, February 24, 2013

Smoke Eaters 4 Vees 3 (OT)

Garrett McMullen's three-on-three overtime goal sealed Trail's third straight win, as the Smokies moved back into a tie for fourth place in the Interior after a 4-3 win over Penticton Saturday.

McMullen strode down the left wing, snapping a wrist shot through Vees netminder Nic Renyard 1:12 into 3-on-3 extra time to send the Cominco Arena faithful into a frenzy after a pedal-to-the-metal third period that produced nail-biting moments on both benches. Five of the game's seven goals were scored in period three, with the teams trading leads three times in the final 20 minutes of regulation time.

The Smokies got on the board first at 8:13 of a fiesty first period thanks to rookie Jake Lucchini. The Trail forward was sprung in alone but after his initial shot was stopped by Renyard, he snuck around the back of the net, wrapping the puck just around the far post for his first goal since mid-December. Trail held the lead through the end of the period despite the teams exchanging six unsuccessful power-plays with plenty of rough stuff after each whistle.

The Vees held the upper hand through most of the scoreless second, coming ever so close to drawing level in the final moments when former Trail forward Sam Mellor found himself in the slot with three opportunities to put the puck on net. His first shot went wide, second struck the crossbar, then his third effort was blocked away by Trail defenseman Braden Pears into the corner. Mellor finished the night with three assists.

The Vees hit the board early in the third on a power-play when Brock Balson found a loose puck just outside the crease, lifting it over Smokies goaltender Adam Todd's outstretched pad into the back of the net. Jordan McCallum re-directed a rebound of his own past Todd minutes later after linemate Ryan Gropp cut hard to the net and forced an effort on goal.

But the Smokies found a way to stay in the game, drawing level on one of the strangest goals scored in the BCHL this season. Braeden Jones' dump-in from the left wing took a crazy carom off a stanchion. Renyard, who was making his way to the corner to collect the puck where it should have gone, was left scrambling back to the crease as the disk bounced off the side glass, through the slot and into the back of the net.

Fellow blueliner Marley Keca put the Smokies ahead again, 3-2, on a power-play goal inside the final five minutes of regulation. The 19 year-old pinched from the left point, firing his first goal in over a calendar year past Renyard after a pretty feed from the right corner by Austin Adduono.

The Vees would force overtime moments later, though. Mellor strode down the left side and fired a hard pass to a waiting Louie Nanne in the slot. The Minnesota Wild draftee made no mistake, beating Todd short-side with 2:56 left on the third-period clock.

The two teams traded chances in 4-on-4 extra time, but once it moved on into 3-on-3 action things opened up in a hurry. John Siemer found himself alone in front of Todd after stripping Adduono of the puck, but the Trail netminder flashed his blocker to re-direct the puck into the corner. That led to Valik Chichkin backhanding a pass cross-ice from the far corner to a streaking McMullen, who then potted his third, and Trail's ninth overtime-winning goal this season.

It was a game that absolutely could have gone either way, but the plucky Smokies found a way to win. Unlike previous meetings with the Vees, Trail was quite good in the faceoff circle, led by 20 year-old Tyler Berkholtz, whose line with Adam Wheeldon and Riley McDougall were matched up with the Vees' top unit of Mellor, Nanne and Wade Murphy all night. Both teams were more than willing to engage in physical play, and the animosity on the ice Saturday wasn't at all indicative of two teams that hadn't faced each other in more than three months. If Trail is to earn the final Interior playoff berth, it won't come without a price. The Smokies bought in, and paid that price tonight.

My Three Stars:
1. Garrett McMullen, Trail
2. Sam Mellor, Penticton
3. Marley Keca, Trail

Up Next: The Smokies and Vees go at it again Friday, March 1st in Penticton. Game time is 7:00.

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