I was at tonight's Vipers-Smoke Eaters Game 6 of the Interior division semi finals as Trail defeated Vernon 5-2 in front of 2,382 fans at the Trail Memorial Center.
Vernon: Aidan Porter
Trail: Adam Marcoux
Before the game the Smoke Eaters paid tribute to a long time Smoke Eaters supporter and former Trail Smoke Eaters general manager who recently passed away with a moment of silence before the national anthem.
1st Period: Like most games in this series the Trail Smoke Eaters got off to a strong start, jumping on the visiting Vernon Vipers early off the opening puck drop. The Smokies with pressure early, had the Vipers back on their heels. Two and a half minutes in, Tyler Ghirandosi with the games first quality chance forced Aidan Porter into flashing the leather, on a nice glove save early into Game 6. Minutes later Trail would get the games first power play. The Smoke Eaters best opportunity come off the stick of Hayden Rowan, who's shot beat Aidan Porter but not the post as Trail come within inches of opening the scoring towards the end of the PP. The Vipers would escape and kill off the minor. Vernon with just two shots halfway through the 1st period and only three shots on goal with just under seven minutes remaining in the opening frame as it was all Smokies to start the period. The Snakes with very little puck possession or zone time, didn't get their first real good look/scoring chance until about five minutes to go when former Chilliwack Chiefs forward Jesse Lansdell's shot would be denied by Adam Marcoux, making a big stop. With just over three minutes remaining Vernon product Nick Cherkowski somehow missed which looked like an open cage at the side of the net. The Smoke Eaters come back the other way with numbers. Spencer McLean setup Hayden Rowan who beat Aidan Porter high from the bottom of the circle, up and under the crossbar, giving Trail a late 1-0 lead at 17:26 McLean & Powell Connor collected the assists. Two minutes later the Vipers couldn't clear the zone and on a goal mouth scramble, Diarmad Dimurro tried banging home the puck at the side of the net, banked the puck in and off of the back of Aidan Porter before Mack Byers come through the crease to bury home the loose puck in the blue paint, giving Trail a 2-0 lead at 19:30 Dimurro and Tyler Ghirandosi with the helpers. It was 2-0 Trail after 20 minutes of play. I thought the Smoke Eaters were by far the better of the two teams. Trail jumped on Vernon early and often, carried the better of the play for most of the opening frame. The Smokies had more puck possession, way more zone time and had the Snakes chasing. The Vipers struggled to get control of the puck, the play and get any real sustained pressure/zone time. It seemed like as soon as Vernon got across the blueline, it was quickly coming back the other way. The Vipers did get going in the second half and played a little better towards the end of the second half, with Jesse Lansdell & Nick Cherkowski with their best opportunities of the period. But Vernon surrendered two late goals, in a period it looked like they may have been outplayed and get lucky and come out scoreless, instead their down 2-0 heading into the middle frame. Trail outshot Vernon 12-9.
2nd Period: The Smokies jump on an early man advantage and Mack Byers with a good look/opportunity alone at the side of the goal, couldn't solve Vernon Vipers starting goaltender Aidan Porter who made a quick pad save, keeping this a two goal game. Matt Kowalski and Connor Marritt in on an odd man shorthanded rush, had their opportunity taken away after a good stick from a Trail defender, redirected the puck up and into the netting. The Vipers with a good penalty kill, had some looks shorthanded, killed off the minor. The Snakes got into penalty trouble and would head back to the sin bin minutes later, sending Trail back to the power play. The Smoke Eaters had some good looks, but Vernon's penalty kill was also fairly good, had some looks, just couldn't get pucks to the net as the Snakes killed off the penalty. The intensity picked up as the game/period continued as both teams showing they don't like one another, with a lot of stick work, mugging, or the odd glove to the face in behind the play. Towards the end of the middle frame, Tyler Ghirandosi's shot beat Aidan Porter but not the post, before Kent Johnson buried the rebound as the Vipers were standing around after Ghirandosi's shot went off the post. Trail with a lucky bounce/break grab a three goal lead. Johnson was quick enough to jump on the loose puck and hit the open cage, giving Trail a 3-0 lead at 15:59 Ghirandosi drew the lone assist. Less then two minutes later on a goal mouth scramble the Snakes had some good looks, couldn't solve Smoke Eaters starting goaltender Adam Marcoux before Ben Sanderson banged home a rebound at the side of the net, cutting Trail's lead to 3-1 at 17:24 Sanderson's goal was unassisted. Sanderson is the son of former NHLer Geoff Sanderson. Vernon gained some life and momentum after getting on the board, had some good zone time/pressure to finish off the 2nd period. Jack Judson's point shot forced Adam Marcoux to make a difficult glove save with bodies in and around the top of the blue paint. It was 3-1 Trail after 40 minutes of play. The Vipers got into penalty trouble early, but I really liked their PK. Vernon with several good shorthanded rushes, either couldn't catch a break or couldn't get pucks through to the net, had some good looks shorthanded. Trail could have easily put this game away with a few power play markers but couldn't capitalize with the man advantage. I thought the Smoke Eaters had a slight edge in play in the first half, didn't get a lot of quality chances, had some looks and a few good opportunities. Just like the 1st period the Snakes got their game going and played much better in the second half. A tough break for Vernon but a lucky bounce for Trail, on the Smokies 3rd goal. This goal was a killer for the Vipers. Vernon outshot Trail 17-9.
3rd Period: Mack Byers with a great opportunity just over a minute into the final frame, would be shut down by Aidan Porter making a large save early into the 3rd period. On the following play Matt Kowalski alone going to the goal, looked to out wait Adam Marcoux before cutting back towards the net, tried beating Marcoux on the wrap around. Marcoux lying on his belly somehow managed to keep his legs/pads tight over the goal line and up against the post, keeping the puck out as Kowalski and the Snakes come very close to making this a one goal game. This save could be the TSN turning point. Owen Ozar was hit along the end wall in the Vipers zone, looked to go down awkwardly, was lingering back to the Smokies bench, looked to be in discomfort. Ozar was attended too by the trainer and stayed in the game. Just minutes later Ozar broke free across the Vernon blueline was in for the parcial breakaway, snapped a low shot along the ice, beating Aidan Porter five hole giving Trail a 4-1 lead at 7:15 and basically putting this game away. Trevor Zins picked up the helper. This was a goal I think Aidan Porter would like to have back. Now down three goals and time winding down the Snakes started engaging in a little rough stuff after the whistles. Vernon egging on Trail, with some stick work, gloves in the face, exchanging words etc trying to get under the skin of the Smokies and maybe sending a message for Game 7 at this point. Tempers heating up as the period continued. The Vipers started to lose their cool with the game out of reach. Lane Zablocki and Jesse Lansdell mixing it up any chance they had. The Trail bench was really giving it too the Vipers. At the halfway mark Adam Marcoux was solid, making several stops on a goal mouth scramble, before Owen Ozar come back the other way on a parcial breakaway, this time around would forced Aidan Porter into making a big blocker save. Shortly after Mack Byers added more salt to the open wound giving Trail a commanding 5-1 lead at 14:54 former Vipers forward Chase Stevenson collected the lone assist. Fans at the Trail Memorial Center now chanting "Porter" "Porter" "Porter" On the goal/play Vernon would get their first power play of the night. About a minute into the power play it looked like the Smoke Eaters were going down two men, before Jesse Lansdell slashed a Trail player after the play. Lansdell was given a misconduct and tossed from the hockey game. Lansdell and one linesmen with a lengthy discussion as the two slowly skated down the ice to the end boards/gates before Lansdell left the ice to a large ovation as the fans were really getting into the game and letting Lansdell know how they felt. The Vipers with several good looks on the powerplay, couldn't solve Adam Marcoux who was forced into making several stops with bodies in and around the crease. Twenty four seconds after the penalty expired, with pressure in the attacking zone, Michael Young's laser from the blueline beat which looked to be a screened Adam Marcoux, cutting Trail's lead to 5-2 at 17:18 Josh Latta drew the lone helper. Vernon kept pressing but would eventually run out of time as Trail in a must win situation comes away with a commanding 5-2 victory forcing Game 7. The Vipers had some looks/quality chances early to get within a goal, couldn't solve Adam Marcoux before Owen Ozar put the game away just before the midway mark. The Snakes didn't get any bounces or have any puck luck, had troubles gaining any real traction. I thought Vernon carried more of the play, had a lot of zone time and puck possession. Most of the Vipers shots were from well out. The Vipers really needed a goal early into the 3rd to get within a goal, no better chance then Matt Kowalski early into the period. Up by two/or three goals Trail looked to take their foot off the gas a little, playing a little more defensive hockey. The Smokies blocked a lot of shots but also got some big time goaltending from Adam Marcoux. The Smoke Eaters didn't have much time with the puck, managed to score/capitalize on their opportunities. The Vipers looked frustrated and started to lose their cool late in the second half of the period. It was all Vipers this period as Vernon outshot Trail 22-8.
Top Player's: (Vernon)
I thought the line of Matt Kowalski, Connor Marritt and Josh Latta was Vernon's top unit going tonight. Latta struggled a little in the opening period but overall these three were the most dangerous for the Vipers either five on five or shorthanded. I thought this line played with a lot of jump/energy, had lots of looks/chances couldn't find the back of the net.
Elan Bar-Lev-Wise I thought played with some energy, had some jump in his game, was strong on the puck-forecheck, played well in the loss.
Game Thought's: (Vernon)
This wasn't the game or the outcome the Vipers wanted. I thought the Smoke Eaters jumped on the Snakes early and often were by far the better of the two teams for a lot of the 1st period. Giving up two back to back late goals near the end of the 1st period was hard to swallow. In a period where you were outplayed and outworked for a lot of, the Vipers really needed to come away scoreless or at most down one goal. Down two goals on the road in a must win situation for the hometown Smokies, this was a game they weren't going to blow a two goal lead. Vernon needs a better start in a game where they have a chance at eliminating the Smokies. I thought the Snakes looked real good on the penalty kill in the middle frame, couldn't get the bounces or capitalize on a few shorthanded rushes. Giving up the 3rd goal towards the end of the 2nd period was a killer and basically put the game away. At this point in the hockey game and the way the game was going, I couldn't see the Snakes coming back from down 3-0. Minutes later Vernon gets on the board, instead of going into the 3rd period down a goal, your now down two goals. The Snakes needed to capitalize on some of their chances, in order to get back in the contest. The Vipers couldn't capitalize on their chances, while Trail did. Vernon took too many penalties, also didn't have the calls go their way, only had one power play tonight. The Snakes didn't get the bounces/catch any breaks. The Vipers didn't play nearly as good as in Game 5. Great to see a fare amount of Vipers fans who made the trip down to Trail. The 50/50 was over $5,300 I loved the old Trail Memorial Centre, the history inside and was surprised at how well upkept inside it is. What a great atmosphere inside, the fans were into the game from the start. A great old rink that turns 70 this year.
Tonight was first trip to the Kootenays and to Trail. Ever since the Smoke Eaters joined the league, I have always wanted to catch a game in Trail and experience the old Cominco arena. The drive up through some of these small towns was beautiful and full of farm country, mountains, forest and very old houses/buildings. I couldn't get over how most of the buildings was like going back into time and how very well renovated and restored they looked. I really enjoyed coming down the big hill into Trail, seeing all the old peaked roofed houses and the smelter plant with its giant stacks. And then arrival at Trail Memorial Centre. Talk about history? This old rink is full of history and character and it was more then I expected. I truly enjoyed the sports/Smoke Eaters history room with all the glass enclosed cases full of all different kinds of sports history and memorabilia. The old history of the Trail Smoke Eaters franchise is truly one of the best in all of junior hockey. I also enjoyed the band that played music during and through out the game. Reminded me of watching college hockey/college football. The fans and people who work inside the Trail Memorial Centre couldn't have made a much more lasting memory on myself. Everyone was super friendly, welcomed me to Trail with arms open. I had several Smoke Eater fans stop and ask how the drive was, what I thought of the city and the arena. I was blown away. And too top it off being welcomed into the arena from the team owner and as everyone was filing out after the game, being thanked for coming to the game from nobody else but himself, the team owner. I was even given a hand shake and welcomed to Trail when entering the Trail Memorial Arena and given a hand shake and a pat on the back when leaving and said I hope I enjoyed my stay and time at the game. This experience is something I will never forget and wanted to give a huge pat on the back to the City of Trail, their hockey fans and employees inside that made me feel oh so very welcomed into their town and historic arena. Thank you for your unbelievable hospitality. Clap, clap, clap, clap.
Here are some pictures from my visit to the Trail Memorial Centre
Top Player's: (Trail)
Trevor Zins (1 assist) How good has this kid been in the series? Not only is he hard to beat one on one or along the wall but chips in with helpers almost every game. Played very well this evening.
Mack Byers (2 goals) Was one of if not the Smokies most dangerous forward. Was in and around the goal all night. Played a hard fought game, driving to the net, looking for loose pucks, battled hard.
Diarmad Dimurro (1 assist) Was under the skin of Vernon all game.
Tyler Ghirandosi (2 assists) Another Smoke Eaters forward who was in and around the net. Was hard to defend against, played very well.
Owen Ozar (1 goal) Played hard, had a strong 3rd period. Not the biggest kid but plays big. Isn't afraid of anything. Plays hard, battles and competes, gave the Vipers trouble tonight.
Adam Marcoux (46 saves) Making his first start of the playoffs, replaced Smoke Eaters starting goaltender Donovan Buskey after Vernon's fourth goal in the 3rd period in Game 5 was tonight's Game 6 starter. Wasn't tested much in the opening frame, was good the rest of the way. Made a few good stops in the middle frame and then a few game savers in the 3rd period.
Game Thought's: (Trail)
I don't think the Smoke Eaters were pleased with their effort and the results after Game 5 in Vernon. Trail jumped on the Snakes early and often off the opening puck drop, scored to big goals late before the end of the 1st period. Jumping out to a two goal lead and late to finish the period, puts all the pressure now on Vernon. Sure the Smokies have blown leads this series but with their season on the line, you could see tonight they weren't going to let that happen. How big was Kent Johnson's goal towards the end of the middle frame? Instead of 2-1 going to the 3rd, its 3-1. I thought the Smoke Eaters were very strong tonight, really set the tone in the 1st period, off that opening faceoff. I really liked the Smokies game, they come at Vernon early, opened the scoring, built off their lead and didn't let back. Trail was hard on pucks, were driving to the net, looking for loose pucks-opportunities, capitalized on their chances. Give full credit to the Smoke Eaters for playing very disciplined. Trail gave up 48 shots but a lot of Vernon's shots were in the 3rd period and from outside. After losing Games 3 & 4 on home ice, with their season on the line tonight, the Smokies earned the right's to force Game 7 Monday in Vernon.
Energy Player of the Game:
Adam Marcoux (46 saves)
1st Star: Mack Byers (2 goals)
2nd Star: Hayden Rowan 1 goal & 1 assist)
3rd Star: Tyler Ghirandosi (2 assists)
Trevor Miller's Trail Smoke Eaters Blog,