The Warriors mined another 2 points on Saturday, defeating the Smoke Eaters 5-3 in a rancorous affair in Trail.
After beating Cowichan the night before, the Smoke Eaters had lots of jump early on in this one, and dictated play for the first 10 minutes or so. Their persistence paid off with the first powerplay of the game, during which Travis Stephens tipped in a Curtis Toneff point shot to give the Smokies first blood.
The Warriors fought back admirably in the second half of the frame, and found their way onto the scoresheet on a nice Jason Cotton wrister. Seb Lloyd also thought he’d scored later in the first, but while the red light went on, referee Grant Tyson didn’t see it and so didn’t award the goal.
West Kelowna took this game over in the second period, and in hindsight that’s certainly where the game was won and lost. The Warriors got a powerplay goal when Jordan Masters when shelf on Adam Todd seven minutes in. Masters gave David Pope a tap-in five minutes later, and it looked like the Warriors might be off to the races.
But credit the Smoke Eaters. As they typically do, the Smokies refused to give up. They got a beautiful powerplay goal from Jake Lucchini late in the period, to claw back within a goal heading to the second intermission.
An excellent fourth line shift would lead to another Warriors goal, when Liam Blackburn found the ricochet on a Braxton Bilous point shot and hooked it through the legs of Dustin Nikkel. Nikkel had only replaced Adam Todd a few minutes earlier, and I’m still not sure what happened to Trail’s starter (though it’s obviously a big concern for the Orange and Black).
Blackburn’s goal would turn out to be pivotal, as the Smokies tried to fight back. Bryce Knapp got Trail within one with six minutes left. Trail also hit a post on a 2-on-1, and Desautels made a strong save on a Brendan Lamont breakaway to keep West K in front.
The game had been feisty all night (as you might expect) but took an odd turn with a minute and a half remaining. Skating hard to find an equalizer, Traphis Stephens sped around a Warriors D-man and barrelled to the net. It didn’t look like anyone touched him, but Stephens crashed right into Andy Desautels, leading to a bit of a kerfuffle after the whistle. From my perspective, I was very surprised that Stephens didn’t get a goalie interference penalty, and I’m still shocked having seen the replay on the bus. As it turned out, just Ambrose Firkus and Braden Pears were sent off for roughing. However, it didn’t end up mattering, as Jordan Masters found the empty net shortly after to put the game on ice.
The Warriors have now won six in a row, and in that stretch have beaten every divisional rival during that streak – save of course, the Penticton Vees. The Vees also won on Saturday, giving the clubs identical 6-2 records and a tie for first in the Interior. Of course, the teams still don’t match up for a while yet (Oct 18th).
West Kelowna will enjoy another week of practice before a road trip to the coast next weekend.
But in the meantime, I know the Warriors family all joins me in sending best wishes to the Hope family in Saskatchewan, as well as congrats to Brent Gough and Carly Wheeler, who are enjoying some time off after Carly squeezed out a healthy baby boy (Grayson Cameron) a couple of days ago.
I spoke to Andy Desautels after the game. There`s a terrible beep emanating from the bus late in the interview, but I think it`s still insightful and worth a listen. Click here for that.
*** 1am update. After a while sitting on the side of the highway, the team has turned back to Castlegar because of a bus problem. I’ll fire updates on my twitter feed on the plan from here