Trail’s Corey Cunningham can’t get the puck past Cranbrook goalie Evan Gartner in BCHL action between the Smoke Eaters and Bucks, Saturday, Jan. 1, in Trail. Jim Bailey photo

Trail’s Corey Cunningham can’t get the puck past Cranbrook goalie Evan Gartner in BCHL action between the Smoke Eaters and Bucks, Saturday, Jan. 1, in Trail. Jim Bailey photo

Bucks dominate Trail, can’t quite hold on in Merritt, in epic New Year action

Two wins against the Smoke Eaters, an OT loss against Merritt leave the Herd in good position to start 2022

The Cranbrook Bucks marked the end of an old year and the beginning of a new year with five points out of a possible six.

Playing three games in three days, the Bucks claimed victories over their Kootenay rivals the Trail Smoke Eaters, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, but couldn’t quite hold on in Merritt, losing in overtime to the Centennials on Sunday, Jan. 2.

Penalties were the undoing of the Bucks’ chances for a three-game win streak in Merritt on Sunday. A.J. Vasko opened the scoring for Cranbrook in the first period of the matinee game, but Sam Ward tied it up on a Merritt power play five minutes later.

Hayden Gelbard made it 2-1 in the second, but the Bucks were unable to capitalize on their own power play chances, whereas Connor Farren tied it up again for Merritt in the third. And so to overtime, where Ben Ward won it for Merritt at the 3:23 mark, and the Centennials got some measure of revenge for the 8-0 drubbing the Bucks laid on them in November.

Even so, the Bucks outshot Merritt 35-18. Nathan Airey was in net for the Bucks, Colton Phillips-Watts for the Centennials.

And Sunday marked a two-game point streak for new Bucks defenceman Declan Ride (two assists).

It’s understandable that the Bucks may have been running on fumes on Sunday, their third game in three days, including two pressure cookers against the Smoke Eaters.

On Saturday, New Year’s Day, in Cominco Arena in Trail, the Smoke Eaters emerged from a wild, high-scoring, penalty-filled first period with a 3-2 lead. Teddy Lagerback, Charlie Strobel, and Coalson Wolford scored for Trail. Bucks goals from Hayden Gelbard and Noah Quinn kept it close.

There was no scoring in the second frame, despite two power play chances for Trail and one for Cranbrook.

But in the third, Noah Quinn’s short-handed goal — his second of the game (and 12th of the season) — gave the Bucks the spark they needed. Trail got into some penalty trouble in the third, and Johnny Johnson was able to net his 11th of the season on the power play.

The two teams matched each other on the shot clock. Evan Gartner was in goal for the Bucks, and stopped 33 of 36 shots. Evan Fradette of the Smoke Eaters made 32 saves on 36 shots.

With the victory, Cranbrook has swept the Smoke Eaters in two straight home and homes, and have got some separation from them in the standings — Cranbrook with 32 points (after Sunday) and in fifth place in the Interior Conference, and Trail with 25 points and in sixth place (though as of press time, Trail has two games in hand over Cranbrook).

Meanwhile, the Cranbrook Bucks had an awesome New Year’s Eve, with a 4-0 win over the Smokies at Western Financial Place on Friday. Luke Pfoh, Liam Hannson, Noah Quinn and Kellan Hjartarson all got goals on the night, in front of 2,306 spectators at Western Financial Place.

Nathan Airey was in net for the Bucks, stopping 23 shots for the shutout. Evan Fradette for the Smoke Eaters made 35 saves on 39 shots.

The Herd next take to the ice Friday, Jan. 7, against the Prince George Spruce Kings, at 7 pm at Western Financial Place.