The Cranbrook Bucks beat the Trail Smoke Eaters for the fifth straight time on Saturday night, to finish 6-2-1 against their bitter rivals this season.
The Bucks went into the game having not played since losing to Prince George exactly one week earlier.
Trail on the other hand was back in action for the second time in as many nights, after beating West Kelowna 4-0 on home ice just 24 hours prior.
The Smoke Eaters certainly carried some momentum from the previous evening’s victory into their Saturday night tilt in Cranbrook.
The visitors asserted an aggressive forecheck, spending most of the first seven or eight minutes in the Bucks zone, outshooting Cranbrook 6-3 in that time.
That is about when the momentum began to change, however, as the Bucks found their legs on home ice.
Cranbrook exploded for a four-goal first period outburst, on goals from Johnny Johnson at 9:02, Cam Kungle at 12:14, Bauer Morrissey at 14:58, and Kellan Hjartarson at 15:42.
The Bucks would take a 4-0 lead into the first intermission, outshooting Trail 15-14 in the opening 20 minutes.
The second period started off similarly to the first, with the visitors from Trail grabbing an early edge in play.
This time around, they didn’t waste the opportunity to gain some momentum and get back in the game.
The Smoke Eaters got goals from Quinn Disher at 2:16 and Josh Schenk at 3:49 of the second stanza to quickly cut Cranbrook’s lead in half.
The score stayed 4-2 for about eight minutes of game-time, until a Bucks penalty gave Trail’s seventh ranked powerplay its first opportunity of the game.
Just 20 seconds into the PP, the Smoke Eaters leading point-getter Brady Hunter slipped one through a crowd and into the back of the net at 12:13 to bring Trail back within a goal.
After getting the deficit to just 4-3, the Smoke Eaters pressed hard for an equalizer, throwing everything they could towards the Cranbrook net, but failing to score.
In the dying minutes of the period, following another great shift by the trio of Brendan Rogers, AJ Vasko, and Hayden Gelbard, the Bucks were able to extend the lead back to two goals.
Following a rush up the ice by Gelbard, Cranbrook’s leading scorer Tyson Dyck was able to bury a rebound at 18:12 for his fourth point of the night.
Despite being heavily outplayed in the middle frame, including 17-7 disadvantage in the shots count, the Bucks took a 5-3 lead into the second intermission.
After allowing Trail to get back within a goal in the second, Cranbrook got off to a much better start in the third period.
It didn’t hurt either that the Smoke Eaters were assessed a five-minute major penalty, which also resulted in Trail’s 5th leading scorer Corey Cunningham being ejected from the game.
Despite killing off the Bucks five-minute powerplay, it was too tall a task for the Smoke Eaters to erase the two-goal deficit without Cunningham, in addition to leading goal-scorer Zach Michaelis, who was out with an injury.
The teams went back-and-forth in a relatively low-event final frame that saw both squads put eight pucks on the opposing goalie, but there would be no more scoring on the night.
The Bucks were able to hold on for the 5-3 win in what was — at least for now — the regular season series finale against their cross-Kootenay rivals.
Bucks goaltender Nathan Airey stopped 36 of 39 shots in the win to improve his record to 10-8-2, his goals-against-average to 3.01 and his save-percentage to .903% on the season.
Cranbrook’s fifth straight win against Trail and sixth in nine games this season improves its all-time record against the Smoke Eaters to 8-9-2 after two seasons in the league.
Here is a look at the Bucks nine-game season series against the Smoke Eaters:
- Oct. 8: vs Trail (5-3 W)
- Oct. 9: @ Trail (3-1 L)
- Nov. 20: vs Trail (4-3 OTL)
- Dec. 1: vs Trail (7-4 L)
- Dec. 17: @ Trail (5-3 W)
- Dec. 18: vs Trail (4-3 W)
- Dec. 31: vs Trail (4-0 W)
- Jan. 1: @ Trail (4-3 W)
- Jan. 15: vs Trail (5-3 W)
The Bucks are now 3-1-1 in January and 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
They head out on the road next weekend, with games in Wenatchee on Thursday and Friday, and West Kelowna on Sunday.
The post-game recap from the Bucks website can be found here, and from the Smoke Eaters website here.