A 10-win team with a water pistol attack a year ago, the new-look Trail Smoke Eaters are now loaded with offence and serious about making the playoffs.
The Vernon Vipers caught the Smokies – with eight victories through 15 games – on an off night Wednesday, winning 4-1 before 1,600 B.C. Hockey League fans at Kal Tire Place.
“That was one of our worst games this year,” said Trail forward Harlan Orr, a Vernon product. “We didn’t really have anything going systems wise. We weren’t doing what we wanna be doing, it’s simple as that.”
Trail head coach/GM Nick Deschenes swung several trades late last year and brought in veterans like Orr and former Viper Craig Martin. Deschenes also recruited Connecticut sniper Charlie Zuccarini and a pair of d-men from the same state.
“I think we have the guys in the room that can do the job,” said Orr, who has three goals and nine points. “Definitely, every game is important, but the guys weren’t prepared enough tonight and that’s what happens. I think we can beat anyone with the lineup we have.”
Orr, who previously played for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and Salmon Arm Silverbacks, is on a line with Scott Davidson and Bryan Basilico, who led the Smokies with 16 goals apiece last season.
The Vipers (9-5-0-1) had a little more energy than the Smokies (8-7) and got goals from all three top lines to move into sole possession of third place in the super tight Interior Division, one point ahead of the Merritt Centennials, 5-1 losers to the host Langley Rivermen.
“At first, I felt we were kind of on our heels a bit,” said Vernon alternate captain T.J. Dumonceaux, who is spearheading a Movember movement on his Facebook page. “We had a lot of turnovers in the neutral zone in the first period and we don’t like to do that. Both goalies played well and it could have went either way, but we came out on top so we’re pretty happy.”
After a rather listless and sloppy first period, Luke Voltin raced down the right wall and buried a feed from Jagger Williamson, a wrister beating rookie Brett Clark, blocker side, at 5:28 of the second period.
Kienan Scott equalized on a breakaway three minutes later, picking off an errant pass by d-man Johnny Coughlin at the Smokies’ blueline. A delayed slashing penalty to Coughlin was wiped out as Scott wired his fourth of the year.
Viper rookies Linden Hora and Branden Wagner worked a sweet two-on-one with eight minutes left in the middle frame, but Clark stoned Wagner. Vernon leading goalman Thomas Aldworth then set up Trevor Fidler in the mid-slot, but he nailed Clark right in the crest.
The Vipers moved in front with 44 seconds to play in the period when Dumonceaux netted his third after Clark had denied Liam Coughlin in tight on the powerplay.
Just 2:36 into the final session, Fidler battled for a loose puck in the right corner and fed Anthony Latina, who was untouched in the high slot, for his seventh.
The Smokies mustered just six of their 26 shots in the third, losing most of the 50-50 battles and rarely driving the net. Liam Coughlin closed the scoring on an empty netter with 1:53 to play.
Clark was solid as he gave veteran Adam Todd the night off, making 36 saves in his third start. Jarrod Schamerhorn was sharp for Vernon, improving to 6-5.
Fidler, who now has 11 points, made an impact all over the rink playing on a unit with Latina and Hora.
“Our first period was alright, but we picked it up in the second and third,” said Fidler, who was in the stands talking to his dad back in Boston moments after the win. “Overall, I think we played a pretty good game. We have to bear down on our chances; we had a lot of two-on-ones and then we finally buried them.”
The 19-year-old ex-USHL buzzsaw likes the Vipers’ shape since Mark Ferner returned as head coach early in the season.
“We’re a structured team that works hard. Ferner came right in and started adjusting things right away. He got us doing systems and we’re doing fine with all the systems he has given us. It’s definitely a step up and everything’s much faster and everybody’s bigger and stronger, but I’m loving it.”
Trail assistant coach Barry Zanier was rather stunned by the Smokies’ lack of exertion.
“We’re pretty disappointed,” he said. “It was probably one of our poorest games. It’s hard to believe you can come into this building and not be pumped up to play, but unfortunately, that was the case tonight.”
The Smokies, without all-star power forward Dallas Calvin (in sick bay), are pleasing their Cominco Arena faithful with an exciting brand of hockey.
Asked about the team’s identity, Zanier replied: “For most of the season, it’s been hard work. Tonight was the exception. We definitely need to get that back, starting tomorrow in practice. We play well at home and we have a five-game homestand coming up which is big.”
The West Kelowna Warriors stopped the Penticton Vees’ win streak at 13 games with a 3-2 victory in front of 2,500 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
West Kelowna is second at 10-5-0-2. The Vees, who are without leading scorer Tyson Jost and d-man Dante Fabbro (at the World Under 17 Challenge in Sarnia, Ont.), are 16-2, 10 points ahead of the Warriors.
SNAKE BITES: Vernon’s Curtis Lazar is staying put with the Ottawa Senators, who chose not to send their first-round draft back to the Edmonton Oil Kings after nine games…Nicholas Gnazdowsky of the KIJHL Kelowna Heat was an AP with Vernon, who are without injured F Mackenzie Bauer and suspended F Riley Brandt…Vernon visits Salmon Arm tonight with the Silverbacks here Saturday at 6 p.m.