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Bartlett scores winning goal for Trail Smokies in win over Vernon

Rebel forward Diego Bartlett (#12) waits in front of the net for a pass from teammate Jamie Vlanich against Nelson. - Craig Lindsay
Rebel forward Diego Bartlett (#12) waits in front of the net for a pass from teammate Jamie Vlanich against Nelson.
— image credit: Craig Lindsay

Castlegar Rebel forward Diego Bartlett, who also hails from here, scored both the winning goal and tying goal for the Trail Smoke Eaters against the Vernon Vipers in the Okanagan city on Wednesday night.

The game was almost like a Castlegar hockey reunion with several local products playing. Bartlett, who was called up as an emergency replacement, was thrilled to take on pals and Viper stars Aaron Hadley and Ryan Renz, who he played with in Castlegar minor hockey. Bartlett also got to play against former Rebel teammate Bryce Eviston, who was a defenceman for the team last year.

Bartlett told the Castlegar News that he really enjoyed playing at the higher level.

"It was a lot of fun seeing all those guys," he said. "I just tried to play my game. It's a little faster (than Junior B) but I thought I did pretty good."

Bartlett was named the game's first star.

Here is the story from the Vernon Morning Star newspaper from Jan. 9 -

Emergency call-up Diego Bartlett scored the tying and winning goals as the Trail Smoke Eaters clipped the Vernon Vipers 5-4 in B.C. Hockey League action Wednesday night at the Wesbild Centre.

The Smokies, who arrived late due to poor road conditions, forcing a 15-minute delay to the opening face-off, reeled off four unanswered third-period goals to move four points ahead of the last-place Vipers in the Interior Division, at 17-22-0-1. Vernon dipped to 12-18-0-7 with three games in hand on Trail.

The Vipers were without leading scorer Adam Tambellini, who watched in civvies, and is believed headed to the Chilliwack Chiefs for future considerations. The league wants teams to wait until Friday before officially announcing trades at the Thursday carding deadline. The Smokies played without their top two snipers - Brett Baltus and Garrett McMullen - both injured.

TJ Dumonceaux pulled the Gordie Howe hat trick for the Vipers, scoring twice, drawing an assist on Liam Board's goal and fighting d-man Braden Pears after Pears flipped him like a pretzel with a bizarre hit in Trail territory. Aaron Hadley also scored for Vernon. Riley McDougall responded on a powerplay goal, with 57 seconds left in the first period for the Smokies.

The Smokies, who are the league's worst road team, went into comeback mode 1:38 into the third period when Viper d-man Geoff Crisfield giftwrapped a turnover to Jesse Knowler just feet away from goalie Danny Todosychuk. Knowler clicked again 20 seconds later on a broken play as the fragile Snakes blew defensive assignments.

Bartlett, a Castlegar product who plays Junior B for his hometown Rebels, levelled the score by going roof daddy on a rebound shot from the left side. The play started near centre when the puck bounced away from Dumonceaux and the Smokies cruised into the Viper zone.

Bartlett buried his second BCHL snipe by going top shelf again, 74 seconds into a tripping penalty by Crisfield in the neutral zone.

“They (goals) felt great,” smiled Bartlett, an 18-year-old in his third KIJHL season (20 goals and 37 points this year). “I’ve got a lot of buddies on the other team over there and it feels kind of nice. It was a good night for sure.”

Fifth-year d-man Bennett Hambrook, who bear-hugged Vernon’s Ryan Renz in a tussle at the final buzzer, knows Bartlett has moxy.

“It was about 45 minutes of him working hard and grinding each shift and he follows it off with a little bit of skill at the end. I’ve known Diego since he was 13 and that’s the kind of kid he’s always been. Willing to go to the hard areas, willing to go where the goals need to be scored.

“We’re sure thankful we called him up tonight.”

The Smokies, who outshot the Vipers 20-10 in the third, held a 42-33 final shots advantage. Adam Todd recorded the win.

Notes - Castlegar's Aaron Hadley, a right winger who was third in Vernon scoring with 20 points in 33 games, has signed with the NCAA Western Michigan Broncs. Hadley was expected to be traded from Vernon. Jan. 10 is the trade deadline and the embargo on trade information is lifted.

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