The Trail Smoke Eaters held leads three separate times but couldn’t find a way to hold them as they dropped a 6-4 decision to the Merritt Centennials on Saturday night at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
It took until the game’s opening power play to find a goal scorer and came in the way of defender Trevor Zins to give the visiting Smoke Eaters a 1-0 lead. Kent Johnson played the puck from the left wing up to the point for Zins as he let a wrist shot go through heavy traffic in front of the net and beat Centennials netminder Austin Roden for his 12th goal of the season and gave Trail a 1-0 advantage at the 10:02 mark of the opening frame.
Merritt had an answer just over two minutes later after a power play had expired as Mike Van Unen tied the game at 1-1. Van Unen took a pass from Bradley Cocca at the left point and wristed a shot to the net that beat Smoke Eaters goaltender Donovan Buskey through traffic on the glove side at the 12:36 mark to even the game.
Before the period was out, the Smoke Eaters regained their one-goal lead off a turnover in the neutral zone after a Centennial defender lost his footing just outside the blue line. Carter Jones picked the loose puck up, trying to go through the legs of Roden but was denied before the rebound was chipped in by Owen Ozar following the play for his 13th goal of the season and a 2-1 lead for Trail into the 1st intermission.
The Centennials battled back to begin the 2nd period with an early power play and got the game on even terms once again courtesy of the man advantage. Matthew Kopperud sent a puck from the left point down to the goal line for a streaking Nick Granowicz as he deflected the puck in past the glove side of Buskey just seven seconds into the power play and at the 1:45 mark tied the game at 2-2.
Trail once again would take the lead at the 6:49 mark of the middle stanza courtesy of another power play marker, their second of the game. Chase Stevenson started the play with a pass to the midpoint for Diarmad DiMurro as he fed the right wing where Braeden Tuck let a shot go from the right face-off circle for his 14th goal of the season and a 3-2 Smoke Eaters advantage.
As they did for the night, the Centennials had an answer as Kopperud knotted the game up at 3-3 at the 13:43 mark. After some sustained time in the offensive zone, Kopperud threw the puck on goal from the right corner and snuck past the blocker side of Buskey to even the game heading into the final period of regulation.
The Centennials took their first lead of the game at the 5:27 mark of the final period with Peyton Matsui finding the back of the net with a nice deflection. Talon Zakall took the shot from the right point that was tipped in from the right face-off circle by Matsui to give Merritt a 4-3 advantage.
That lead didn’t last long as Chase Stevenson got the game evened up at 4-4 at the 6:06 mark, coming just 39 seconds after Merritt took the lead. Trevor Zins got his own rebound down the right wing and left the puck at the glove side as Stevenson stuffed his 19th goal of the season past Roden to even the score.
The eventual game winning goal came at the 11:09 mark of the 3rd period with Granowicz tallying his second goal of the night on the power play. Nick Wicks passed from below the goal line on the blocker side as Granowicz was alone in the slot to bury the goal that gave Merritt a 5-4 lead.
Trail had a late power play in the 3rd period with just over two and a half minutes remaining and pulled the goaltender but couldn’t find the back of the net as Wicks added an empty netter with 30 seconds left to finish the scoring in a 6-4 Centennials win.
Donovan Buskey turned aside 22 of the 27 shots he faced in the game in his 3rd loss of the season while Austin Roden stopped 20 of the 24 shots thrown his way in his 24th victory of the season.
FINAL SCORE: 6-4 Centennials
SHOTS ON GOAL: 28-24 Centennials