Brad McClure's goal with 5:40 left in the third period broke a 4-4 tie, and gave the Vees a win in Trail for the first time this season after another wild third-period rally by the Smoke Eaters.
McClure tallied his team-leading 27th goal of the season after the Smokies scored twice in 66 seconds to complete a three-goal comeback in front of 1,200 fans Saturday at Cominco Arena.
The Smoke Eaters picked up where they left off Friday night in Penticton, scoring the opening goal just shy of the 12-minute mark on a power-play. Valik Chichkin wired home a one-timer from the right point that beat Vees starter Chad Katunar through heavy traffic.
Penticton's Jedd Soleway would reply just over three minutes later, putting the Vees on the board with a well-taken deflection in front of Smoke Eaters netminder Adam Todd. Soleway returned to Penticton's lineup Saturday after serving a two-game suspension.
The Vees would take the lead 2:20 later on a man-advantage situation of their own. Louie Nanne took a Sam Mellor cross-ice pass from left half-wall to right circle, one-timing a low shot that snuck between Todd's toes and the right post. Nanne now has seven goals in six games against the Smokies.
The Nanne goal gave the visitors plenty of momentum that carried over into period two. First, Cody DePourcq slotted home his thirteenth goal of the season 3:10 into the middle frame, then Michael Rebry put home his second in as many games six minutes later to give the Vees a 4-1 lead midway through regulation time.
That wasn't to say the game was at all one-sided, and Trail found some luck and some more power-play production 1:44 from the end of the period when Austin Adduono deflected home a Marley Keca point shot from just outside the crease. Adduono was decked in front of the goal, got up, and tipped the long wrister into the back of the net for his seventh goal of the season.
The Smokies leaned on their veterans to start the third period, and the veterans delivered. First, captain Garrett McMullen snuck home his third goal in as many games 7 minutes into the final frame to cut the deficit to one. Then just over a minute later, leading scorer Brent Baltus put home a second rebound to tie the game at 4-4, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. Baltus picked up the puck with a seemingly open net after Jesse Knowler shot from the right wing but was thwarted by Vees defenseman Bryan Sinz. Luckily for Baltus, the ricochet shot right back onto his stick and the second time he made no mistake, putting home his 24th goal of the season and first since February 5th.
The Baltus goal chased Katunar in favour of fellow Vancouver Island product Nic Renyard, and perhaps it was that move that jolted the Vees back into gear. The teams traded opportunities until McClure found himself wide open in front of the Smoke Eaters bench. After receiving a quick pass, he walked in down the right side, wristing a puck past Todd's right shoulder. The Smokies poured everything they had left at Renyard, but the rookie netminder stood tall, denying the home side a fifth straight victory.
It was another example of this Smoke Eaters club responding to early adversity. It would have been too easy to fold the tent tonight when the score was 4-1, but instead Bill Birks' club kept working, chipping away at the lead until it was gone. The McClure goal was one of precious few coverage gaffes committed by Trail all night, unfortunately tonight, it cost them dearly. McMullen took the team on his shoulders again, first scoring the third-period goal, then acting as a battering ram including a thunderous check on Penticton defenseman Thomas Nitsche in the Vees zone.
The power-play came to play again tonight too, and again its success was the result of pucks being directed on goal. Trail is, unbelievably, 8/21 in six encounters with Penticton including tonight, and both Chichkin and Adduono's goals were near-impossible for Katunar to stop.
The official attendance tonight on the BCHL boxscore was listed at 1,192, but in talking to people in the arena both during and after the game, I'd be shocked if there wasn't closer to 14 or 15-hundred people in the old barn tonight. Cominco Arena was rocking, with Baltus' equalizer generating the most noise I've heard in that rink since Travis St. Denis' playoff hat-trick against Westside two years ago. Kudos to you, the fans, for showing your support and staying supportive tonight when this team needed you the most.
Salmon Arm lost tonight too, meaning the Smokies and SilverBacks are still, for the time being, level on points with 52. The onus is solely on Salmon Arm now, as the SilverBacks will complete their regular-season schedule before the Smokies hit the ice next weekend against these same Vees. Salmon Arm visits Coquitlam Sunday afternoon before away games in Merritt and Prince George next weekend. It's scoreboard-watching at its basest, and you can bet there will be several orange and black eyes following every move the SilverBacks make from here on in.
My Three Stars:
1. Garrett McMullen, Trail
2. Jedd Soleway, Penticton
3. John Siemer, Penticton
Up Next: The Smokies will wait until Sunday, March 10th for their regular-season finale against Penticton. It's a matinee affair at Cominco Arena with the puck drop set for 3:00 PM. We could know by as early as Friday whether or not a playoff berth will be on the line.