The Trail Smoke Eaters’ plates were full this week.
The Smoke Eaters Spring Camp began Friday, the same day Trail played the Wenatchee Wild in Game 5 of the Interior Division final. But with help from the Beaver Valley Nitehawks coaching and management staff, the camp went ahead without a hitch.
Over 50 players skated in the camp, and while light on numbers this year, Smoke Eaters assistant coach Jessie Leung said the camp was heavy on talent.
“We wanted to put them in situations where we could assess their hockey IQ. That’s what our roster’s been built on the last few seasons, where we’ve had that success. High-end players like Braeden Tuck, Tyler Ghiarardosi and Carter Jones … when you watch them, they are so smart and so intelligent, they’re so effective in our league because of that.
“It was all organized not with just their ability to shoot or make passes, but really to see how they think in important situations, so we could make some sort of an assessment on that.”
The players also scrimmaged on Saturday and Sunday, and a handful of current Smoke Eaters joined in to ramp up the compete level.
“It was good to see those players compete for a spot, and there were some surprises for us in a good way, a couple kids we didn’t know a lot about caught our attention, and a couple we’d seen and identified, it was good to really be validated that they were as solid as we thought.”
Already committed players like forwards Bryce Andersen and Sean Donaldson, and defenceman Jimmy Darby and Kieran O’Hearn were standouts, but, in particular, 16-year-old forward Kent Johnson wowed camp coaches.
“We were so excited to see Kent Johnson as a young, 02, likeliest the youngest kid in camp come down and just flat out dominate,” said Leung. “The puck was on his stick, and he was making plays that belied his age.”
One local player with a bright future is 15-year-old Fruitvale native Austin Mckenzie, who played Bantam AA in Greater Trail this season and also dressed in 11 games for the BCMML Kootenay Ice. McKenzie was also picked to skate in BC Hockey’s U16 BC Cup in Salmon Arm Apr. 18-22, which Leung is also attending.
“It’s going to be exciting to see him there, and to perform at that level,” said Leung. “He was at our camp this last weekend and he acquitted himself quite well.”
Trail’s graduating forwards include Kale Howarth, Ross Armour, Ryan Murphy, and Blaine Caton, and the Smokies will also lose a couple players as ‘future-considerations’ in trades that brought in Adam Marcoux and Connor Welsh.
The Smoke Eaters also lost three defencemen in 20-year-olds Troy Ring, Jeremy Lucchini, and Welsh, but will be stable in net if both Marcoux and Tanner Marshall return.
Replacing the fire-power up front will fall on the shoulders of Ghirardosi, Jones, Levi Glasman, Spencer McLean and Tuck, while Ethan Martini, Trevor Zins, Kyle Chernenkoff, and Seth Barton will take up the slack at the blue line, but a strong supporting cast is a necessity if Trail hopes to knock off the league’s top teams.
“Going through it, as we look at the players we have coming back and the recruits coming in and some of the talent and ability of the kids that surprised us, we’re pretty excited about next year, I think we have the makings of a team that is going to surprise a lot of people.”