The Victoria Grizzlies ran out of steam Sunday in Trail as they dropped the finale of their three-game weekend road trip, 4-3 to the Trail Smoke Eaters.
Victoria (11-2-2-3-2) came in winners of their previous four games, looking to extend their lead in the British Columbia Hockey League’s Island Division, coming in to Saturday with 27 points, one point up on the Powell River Kings.
The Smoke Eaters (8-8-1-0-2) entered the Sunday matinee in fourth place in the Interior Division with 17 points.
Matthew Galajda returned to the Victoria net a day after Tony Rehm made his Grizzlies debut in a 4-2 win in Salmon Arm against the Silverbacks.
Galajda and his counterpart for Trail, Linden Marshall held serve in an entertaining and scoreless first period. Galajda and the Grizzlies penalty killing unit were particularly impressive in the opening period, killing off three shorthanded situations including opening the game a man down after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to open the game, and an infraction for too many men in the back half of the period.
Both offenses continued to flow in the second period and the dam would eventually burst on the goal scoring, with the two teams combining for seven goals in the middle frame.
Trail looked like they might take advantage of a tired Grizzlies squad playing their third road game in less than 48 hours as they cashed three goals in less than seven minutes to build a commanding 3-0 lead before the game was half over.
Josh Laframboise opened the scoring for Trail just over a minute into the period with his team-leading eleventh goal of the season and Blaine Caton potted a pair, giving him four goals on the year to open up the advantage for the home side.
The Grizzlies showed why they have staked themselves to an early-season division lead, responding with the next two to climb back into the game.
Nick Guiney got Victoria on the board with his fourth goal of the season at 11:18 and then at 15:21, converted his second of the game to bring his team within a goal. Guiney joins Keyvan Mokhtari and Tyler Welsh as Grizzlies players with multi-goal efforts within the last five games.
Connor Brown-Maloski answered back for the Smoke Eaters, finding the back of the net for the third time this season, momentarily restoring a two-goal lead.
Tyler Welsh, who had two goals and three points in Saturday’s win in Salmon Arm was at it again on Sunday, netting his ninth goal of the year and third in two games with less than a minute remaining in the second to send the game into the third with Trail ahead by just a 4-3 count.
Victoria’s powerplay converted twice on Sunday as Guiney’s second goal as well as Welsh’s marker came with the man advantage. Overall, the Grizzlies were 2-7 in the game while holding the Smoke Eaters powerplay 0-5.
Open ice chances abounded again in the third period with Marshall doing all he could to hold the one goal lead for Trail. The Grizzlies carried play for much of the back half of the period, applying furious pressure but were unable to find the equalizer with Marshall standing on his head to preserve the 4-3 win for the Smoke Eaters.
The loss was not for lack of opportunity with the Grizzlies holding a 36-27 edge in shots on goal.
Blaine Caton for the Smoke Eaters and Nick Guiney for Victoria netted two goals apiece. Grizzlies’ defenseman Jake Stevens also had two points with a pair of assists.
The loss snaps the Grizzlies four-game winning streak and is just their third regulation loss of the season (11-3-2-3-2). They also drop to second place in the Island Division as Powell River defeated the Nanaimo Clippers, 6-4 on Sunday.
Trail (9-8-1-0-2) moves into a tie for third place in the Interior Division with 19 points.
Grizzlies forward Justin Michaelian, who was forced to leave Saturday’s game in Salmon Arm, returned to the lineup on Sunday.
The Grizzlies return home on Friday, November 4 when Alberni Valley returns to the Q Centre in Victoria for the second time this season. The Vernon Vipers visit the Grizzlies the following night, November 5. Puck drop both nights is 7:00pm.