The Chilliwack Chiefs took care of business, taking two weekend road games from the Trail Smoke Eaters.
Facing the league’s worst team, the Chiefs were expected to get the four points.
But the Smokies didn’t make it particularly easy on their Interior conference rivals.
On Friday night, Trail jumped out to a 2-0 lead through 20 minutes at the Cominco Arena, getting goals from Erik Cooper and Taylor House.
“But the first 16 minutes was probably the best 16 minutes we’ve played in Trail,” Chiefs head coach Harvey Smyl said Monday morning. “And our team’s been fairly good at battling back, so we just said, ‘There’s still lots of hockey left to do what we do.’”
Smyl’s crew fought back in the second period, getting goals from Derek Huisman and Mathieu Tibbett to knot the game at 2-2 through 40 minutes.
The Smoke Eaters out-shot the Chiefs in period three, but Trail goaltender Lyndon Stanwood coughed up four goals on just eight shots.
Chilliwack turned a close game into a laugher on goals by Michael Spring, Josh Hansen and Huisman (twice), with House replying for Trail.
“It all happened within a three minute span, and we got pretty lucky on Spring’s goal,” Smyl explained. “It was a two-on-one rush where he fanned on a shot. He didn’t get all of it, but it handcuffed the goaltender, and I think that one kind of broke Stanwood.”
Trail’s netminder had something to prove Saturday night, and almost stole the rematch. The teams were tied 1-1 through 20 minutes, with Malcolm Gould scoring for Chilliwack and Clayton McEwan replying for Trail.
Hansen got the game winner in the middle frame, getting his seventh of the season with assists to Tibbett and Kit Sitterley.
“When you go into any building to play back to back, it’s not easy to win one game, let alone two,” Smyl said. “At our level, you can have success if you just work hard, and Trail is working extremely hard right now. These games certainly weren’t easy.”
Mitch Gillam and Bryton Udy split the starts in the Chilliwack net.
Gillam stopped 36 of 39 pucks in the Friday night win.
Udy stopped 28 of 29 on Saturday as the Chiefs extended their current winning streak to three games and improved their overall record to 15-9-0-1.
The team has put its Penticton problems three games into the rear-view mirror and suddenly sits third in the conference (with games in hand on everyone around them).
“I’m pleased with our guys, but it’s only Dec. 4,” Smyl said. “A lot of times, what we lack in skill we make up for in effort. Minus that one in Penticton, we’re excited about what we’ve been doing.”
The Chiefs now head into a crucial mid-week tilt with the second place Merritt Centennials.
The Cents are coming off a win and a tie in a weekend back-to-back against the Vernon Vipers.
Merritt’s 36 points has them five ahead of Chilliwack, and the Centennials have won both of the head-to-head meetings this season.
Silvan Harper had the winner Oct. 16 as Merritt squeaked out a 4-3 overtime win over the Chiefs in Merritt.
The Cents dumped Chilliwack 4-1 in mid November, but Wednesday night marks the Centennials first visit to Prospera Centre.
“Teams tend to work harder at home and there’s definitely something to home ice advantage,” Smyl said. “We’re looking forward to seeing them in our rink and I hope we’ll be prepared for them.”
Chilliwack is 9-3-0-0 at home.
The Centennials don’t excel in any one area, but they are a solid all-round team.
Offensively, they average 3.14 goals per game, led by leading scorer Regan Soquila.
The Maple Ridge native has nine goals and 33 points in 28 games.
The next highest scoring Merritt forward is Evan Stack, with 10 goals and 22 points.
A veteran blueline corps led by Brandon Pfeil (West Vancouver) and Billy Marshall (Smithers) keeps things tidy around the Merritt net.
The Centennials have rotated goalies this season, with Tyler Steel (Vernon) and Lino Chimienti (Laval, Quebec) splitting 30 appearances right down the middle.
l With three weekend goals, Derek Huisman has quietly moved into the top 20 in BCHL goal scoring.
His 14 goals lead the Chiefs, but the Smithers native is still 11 back of the league leader.
Penticton’s Bryce Gervais has 25.
l Two BCHL teams are ranked among the top 20 in the latest Canadian Junior Hockey League poll.
The Penticton Vees are rated third in the country behind the Manitoba Hockey league’s Woodstock Slammers and Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Spruce Grove Saints.
The Cowichan Valley Capitals check in at No. 18, with the Merritt Centennials getting an honourable mention.