The Trail Smoke Eaters skated to an exciting 7-6 win over the Merritt Centennials on Wednesday at the Trail Memorial Centre. Photo: Jim Bailey.

Trail Smoke Eaters win high-scoring thriller against the Centennials

Smoke Eater forward Connor Sweeney scores the game winner, upsets a gritty comeback from Merritt

The Trail Smoke Eaters outlasted the Merritt Centennials on Wednesday night, in a high-scoring and entertaining 7-6 victory at the Trail Memorial Centre.

Smoke Eaters forward Connor Sweeney scored the game winner, when he walked out of the corner and beat Centennials goalie shortside with just over two minutes remaining in regulation.

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Related read: Trail takes 3-2 Kootenay Cup lead over Bucks

The goal spoiled a mighty comeback for the Centennials, as former Smoke Eater forward Walker Erickson netted a hat trick for the Cents. Merritt fought back from a 6-2 second period deficit to tie it five minutes into the third on Erickson’s third of the night.

The win puts Trail’s pre-season record at seven wins and two losses, while the Centennials have won just once in six outings.

Trail forward Jaden Senkoe battles for the puck against a Centennial defender.

Trail started fast with Coalson Wolford scoring 2:13 into the opening frame.

Talon Zakall tied it for Merritt, before Smoke Eaters forward Zach Park finished a nice pass from Nic Roussel on a 2-on-1 to restore a one goal lead.

The Centennials Zakall tied it up at two heading to the middle frame, where the teams would score seven times.

The Smoke Eaters tallied four unanswered starting with another goal from Wolford, followed by Chase Dafoe’s fifth of the exhibition season to make it 4-2.

Cody Schiavon buried a power-play marker at 10:08, and Sweeney put Trail up 6-2 with just under seven minutes remaining.

Cue the comeback.

Erickson, a Surrey native, beat Smoke Eaters goalie Logan Terness at 4:28, and Ben Ward finished a setup from Zakall to cut the lead to 6-4 with 39 seconds left on the clock. Erickson notched his second of the night just 18 seconds later to send it to the third with the Cents trailing by one.

Erickson evened it at six, when he jumped on a loose puck in the Smokies end and beat Terness at 14:59 of the final frame.

Merritt outshot Trail 46 to 24, with Trail going 2-for-3 on the power play, and 2-for-3 on the PK. Sweeney (2G) earned first star honours, Erickson (3G, 1A) was second star and Noah Wakeford, with three assists, the third star.

The match concludes the preseason series between the two teams, as Trail heads to Cranbrook this weekend to resume the Kootenay Cup against the Bucks.

After this weekend’s match, Trail and Cranbrook have one more game scheduled for Nov. 27 in Cranbrook, before the tentative start of the regular season. However, as of Thursday, Nov. 19, the BCHL has yet to release its regular-season schedule.

The Provincial Health Authority announced stricter COVID restrictions, which forced the BCHL to cancel games from Nov. 13 to the 21 in the Lower Mainland and the Vancouver Coastal region due to an upswing in COVID-19 cases.

That order does not pertain to the Interior Health Region, and no games were effected, at least not yet.

Trail leads the best-of-seven Kootenay Cup series, three games to two, and can win it all on Saturday at Western Financial Place. Puck drop is at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

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