The Trail Smoke Eaters almost ended the Penticton Vees eight-game winning streak, forcing overtime before falling 5-4 on Saturday at the Trail Memorial Centre.
Vees forward Adam Eisele scored 1:37 into the 3-on-3 overtime period to extend Penticton’s win streak to nine games.
Trail had the best chance in the first minute of OT but was stopped on a 2-on-1 break. Penticton countered, and Grayson Arnott sent Eisele in all alone, and the Lake Elmo, Minn. native wired a shot by the glove of Smokies new goalie Mason Dunsford for the victory.
The Smoke Eaters have been bitten hard by the injury bug, with both goalies Evan Fradette and Cole Tisdale out of action, Tisdale likely gone for the season. The Smokies signed the New Westminster native Dunsford last week, and he was immediately thrown into the proverbial fire, starting against the top two teams in the Interior Conference as his initiation to Trail.
In addition to the goaltending troubles, captain Coalson Wolford, forward Ridge Dawson and defenceman Ethan Willoughby are still out of the Trail line up.
On Friday, Dunsford made his Trail debut against Salmon Arm and the Silverbacks rang up six on the new netminder before he was pulled in an 8-2 Backs victory.
But Dunsford was back in the crease on Saturday, and the former WHLer looked for more support both offensively and defensively.
Brady Hunter opened the scoring banging in a rebound on a Cameron Moger point shot 2:13 in. The Vees replied 33 seconds later, when Eisele sent a quick pass from behind the net to Bradly Nadeau who one-timed it past Dunford.
Josh Schenk broke out of the Smokies end and head-manned a breakaway pass to Hunter who wired his 20th goal of the season by Vees goalie Kaeden Lane for a 2-1 lead at 10:48.
Twenty-one seconds later, a set play in the Vees end saw Smokies forward Nic Remissong fire a puck wide of the net, only to karom of the back wall right to a waiting Charlie Strobel in front, and the University of Minnesota commit fired in his eighth of the season to make it 3-1.
Penticton cut the lead to 3-2 just over a minute later when Luc Wilson made a slick move behind the Smokies net and caught Dunsford leaning the wrong way, then fed Ethan Mann on the doorstep for an easy tap in.
The Vees outshot Trail 18-8 in the first period, and kept the pressure on in the second. Luc Wilson tipped in a point shot from Frank Djurasevic at 3:44 to tie it.
But Remissong replied again, jumping on a big rebound off a Lagerback shot, and backhanded it past the Vees goalie for a 4-3 lead at 14:07.
The goal chased Lane from the net, and Carter Serhyenko came on in relief.
The Smoke Eaters then killed off back-to-back Vees power plays thanks in large part to Dunsford who made several stops including a sprawling glove save off a backdoor shot from Wilson.
However, Mann out-hustled a Smoke Eaters defender for the puck behind the Smokies net and found Nadeau alone in front to tie it at 4-4 with 3:09 to play in the second.
Trail carried the play in the third period but couldn’t solve Serhyenko in the Vees net, stopping 13 shots for the victory.
Penticton outshot Trail 44-24 and went 0-for-4 on the power play, while Trail was 0-for-1.
On Friday night, the Smoke Eaters ran into a brick wall, outshooting the Silverbacks 50-39, but were stymied by Salmon Arm goalie Owen Say in an 8-2 loss.
Trail forward Connor Michaud opened the scoring 3:12 into the first period, but that was the last lead the Smoke Eaters would enjoy.
With the score tied 1-1 after one, Salmon Arm scored three unanswered goals in the second frame despite being outshot 22-11 by the Smoke Eaters.
The Silverbacks made it 6-1 midway through the third before Smoke Eater AP Rhett Hamilton from the Nelson Leafs scored his first BCHL marker at 10:25.
Salmon Arm added two more for the 8-2 final, with recent Smoke Eater addition Mason Dunford stopping 26 of 32 shots before being replaced midway through the third by AP Ethan Shebansky of the Grand Forks Border Bruins, who made five saves on seven shots.
Salmon Arm was 1-for-4 on the power play while Trail was 0-for-5.
The Smoke Eaters hold down seventh spot in the Interior Conference with a 16-19-2-1 record.
Salmon Arm and Penticton (30-6-0-2-0) are battling for top spot in the conference. Both teams have 30 wins, but Salmon Arm has played one more game (39) and has 63 points. The Vees (37 games) have 62 points, but are currently first because they have a better points percentage (.818 to .806).
Trail is on the road playing in Merritt on Saturday, Feb. 19 versus the Centennials and on Sunday, Feb. 20 against West Kelowna Warriors.