Trail Smoke Eaters forward Trey Fechko scored the game winner and goalie Teagan Kendrick made 33 saves in a 3-1 victory over the Merritt Centennials on Saturday at the Trail Memorial Centre.
Fechko notched his sixth of the season on an impressive individual effort, as the Raritan, N.J. product broke over the blue line, beat the defenceman to the inside then wired a shot over the glove of the Merritt goalie for a 2-1 Trail lead with 1:32 remaining in the second period.
The victory comes on the heels of a 4-3 loss to the Prince George Spruce Kings on Friday night, and lifts the 8-10-1-1 Smoke Eaters into a tie for sixth place with the Vernon Vipers in the Interior Conference.
“It was a heartbreaking loss on Friday,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Tim Fragle. “We didn’t deserve to win that game because we had a terrible second period.
“Then tonight, the first period is terrible but in the second and third, pretty much in control of the game. We’re fighting to play a good 40 minutes, and that is not a recipe for success that’s for sure.”
Trail got off to a slow start, struggling to find a shot on goal until the sixth minute of the first period. Merritt’s Christian Lowe slipped in a rebound past Kendrick for a power-play goal with 90 seconds left in the opening frame, as the Cents outshot Trail 15-5.
The Smoke Eaters tied it midway through the second period when Fechko assisted on a Mathieu Cobetto-Roy’s fifth tally of the season. Trail shut down the Merritt attack in the third limiting the Cents to eight shots. Trail captain Evan Bushy added some insurance, skating in from the point and wristing a shot under the crossbar at 8:23 for the 3-1 final.
Fechko, with a goal and an assist, has picked up his pace, tallying his 11th and 12th point in the last five games and is on a point pwr game pace, with six goals and 17 points in 17 games played.
“When you get these kids right out of high school or AAA, it’s a big jump to the BCHL,” said Fragle. “It took him 10 games to figure out how to play, and to get to the right spots. Now you can see his skill set when he gets the puck, he makes some pretty high-IQ plays.”
Merritt outshot Trail 34-24, with the Smoke Eaters going 0-for-4 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the PK.
Fechko earned the game’s first star, with Kendrick second star, and the Cents’ Lowe third star. Trail forward Josh Schenk was named the Fortis Energy Player of the Game.
On Friday, a three goal outburst in the second period gave Prince George a 3-1 lead, but Trail battled back in the third to tie it on goals from Ridge Dawson and Quinn Disher.
The Spruce Kings John Herrington spoiled the comeback, scoring his second of the night and 13th of the season with 70 seconds remaining for a 4-3 victory.
“We wanted to have a good start against P.G. because they’re a team that trap you,” said Fragle. “We got that start, but then in the middle frame they got three, and we come back and tie it.
“The late goal was a killer, and like I was saying to the guys at the end of that game, that’s what has plagued us all year is consistency.”
Trail outshot P.G. 30-22 with both teams going 0-for-3 on the power play.
Herrington was named first star, Dawson second star, and Spruce Kings Kai Greaves third star.
The next stretch of games is pivotal for the Smoke Eaters as they play four straight against the Wenatchee Wild, two verus Merritt and one against the West Kelowna Warriors. The battle against their Interior rivals starts this Wednesday versus the Wild at the Trail Memorial Centre, followed by a double-header in Wenatchee Nov. 25-26 before returning home for a tilt on Friday, Dec. 2.
“This is a big stretch, especially going into Christmas break and playing the teams that your jockeying with for playoff position,” said Fragle. “And also with the deadlines coming up for trade deadlines. You only get 25 cards after Dec. 1 so that’s really the big trade deadline.”
Fragle says the team needs to make a decision on which way they are going to go.
“With our struggles this year, it’s been a mindset of how long do you push for, do you go younger? Those are things we think about, but at the end of the day, we’ve seen enough flickering with our team that we know if we can put together 60 (minutes), we can be right there with the top teams.”
Trail will be looking to improve their line up over the upcoming weeks with trade deadlines looming for Dec. 1 and Jan. 10.
The team hopes to acquire a high-impact forward and defenceman leading up to the trade deadline, said Fragle. With goaltender Cole Tisdale set to return, the Smokies will likely deal one of their three netminders.
“We have to better our team,” said Fragle. “We’re active now and we are going to be active just to keep up with everyone in our division. Everybody is looking to improve and we’re in the same boat.”
Trail hosts the Wild on Wednesday, Nov. 23 at the Cominco Arena with the puck drop at 7 p.m.