TRAIL — It was a grind, but the Trail Smoke Eaters gutted out a 3-2 victory over the Vernon Vipers on Wednesday at the Cominco Arena.
Smoke Eaters rookie Kent Johnson scored another big goal, spinning and firing a shot from the left faceoff circle and beating Vernon goalie Aidan Porter under the arm to break a 2-2 tie with 5:27 remaining in regulation, for Trail’s second win in three games against the Vipers this season.
The goal was Johnson’s 10th of the season and 20th point, and the 16-year-old Port Moody native has been a standout.
More important, both teams avoided another overtime match. Trail has gone to overtime in three of the past four games, and seven times this season, winning just once. And while Vernon sports an even more dismal overtime record (0-8), the prospect of OT was not a winning proposition for either team.
Trail played a strong first period holding the Vipers to just five shots on net and going up 1-0 on a Carter Jones snipe from the high slot.
The Vipers drew even in the second period on a power play. A Jesse Lansdell shot squeezed through the pads of Smoke Eaters goalie Adam Marcoux but was cleared on the goal line by Trail defenceman Kieran O’Hearn. However, the clearing attempt went right to Matt Kowalski, who fired it right back and past Marcoux for his sixth of the season.
The game stayed tied at one through the middle frame despite a 20-13 edge in shots for the Smoke Eaters.
After an interference call on O’Hearn, Vernon took a 2-1 lead at 5:11 of the third. Alex Swetlikoff worked the puck to defenceman Jack Judson in the high slot and the Arizona State commit walked in and fired a shot past the glove of Marcoux for his fourth goal and 19th point of the season.
Trail went on the power play 15 seconds later, and replied when Hayden Rowan took a pass from Diarmad DiMurro at the top of the right circle, and with Tyler Ghirardosi wrecking havoc in front, wired a shot over the blocker of Porter to tie the game at 2-2 with 13:05 to play in regulation.
Vernon pulled their goalie in the final minute but Trail kept the Vipers to the perimeter and held on for the 3-2 victory.
Trail outshot Vernon 30-26 and went 1-for-6 on the power play, while the Vipers were 2-for-4.
Johnson was the game’s first star, the Vipers’ Kowalski second star, and Rowan third star.
The win leaves Trail (9-10-4-2) and Vernon (8-8-6-2) tied for sixth place with 24 points each in the Interior Division, however, the Vipers have a game in hand.
The Vipers are in West Kelowna on Friday and host the Victoria Grizzlies on Sunday.