With only seven returning players currently in camp, there is no doubt the Trail Smoke Eaters will have a different look when the season kicks off later this month.
And with that new look will hopefully come new results for head coach Nick Deschenes.
After joining the Smoke Eaters mid-season last year, Deschenes says he can’t wait to work with the team for a full hockey season.
“I am looking forward to winning a few more games,” he said with a laugh. “I get to start fresh with these guys. I came in last November and it was hard, but coming here now, and basically getting to choose your own team, to a certain extent, is great. I am looking forward to it big time.”
It’s been a gruelling week for the players who went through a series of intra-squad games on the weekend and an intense series of exercises throughout the week.
Nevertheless, all that effort is expected to yield results when the puck drops for real on Sept. 20 at the Bauer Showcase in Chilliwack.
However, before that, Deschenes still has some decisions to make. He trimmed the roster down to 24 players following the weekend and needs to release two more players to make the 22-man roster limit at the start of the season.
“It is getting close,” he said. “Our numbers are at 24 (players) and 22 will make it. They are all still battling (to make the team).”
Trail’s first game of the 2014/2015 season is an exhibition game against the Merritt Centennials on Friday night in Osoyoos. However, Deschenes admitted he won’t have the luxury of resting veterans and giving hopefuls a chance.
“We don’t have anyone on bubbles. We have our guys.”
And already a few have stood out in the coach’s eye.
“A player who has really elevated his game is Jake Lucchini. His intensity, his compete level, his skating, his skill set, everything is ramped up a notch. I think a lot of it has to do with the conditioning program he followed this summer. It’s paid dividends for him.”
The Trail native had 26 points in 55 games during his sophomore season.
As for new recruits, Deschenes raved about the addition of two American recruits – defencemen Bryan Gerstenfeld and Ryan Swanson.
“They don’t play the same style but they both are very elite in their respective styles of play,” explained Deschenes.
Both players already have scholarships to Army lined up for next season and the head coach is hoping they have a big impact on a Smokies’ defence that yielded a league-high 274 goals last season.
“We only have one returning defenceman so that pretty much tells you we’ve retooled that whole back end,” said Deschenes.
The last line of defence, the goaltenders, might be the one position that has been decided with returning goalie Adam Todd and Brett Clark, who helped guide the Beaver Valley Nitehawks to a Western Canadian championship last year.
“Barring any disaster we’ll be going with them,” said Deschenes.
Up front, leading the way will be Scott Davidson. The Trail native was recently named captain for the 2014-15 season.
Deschenes is also pleased with the play of Penticton product Kienan Scott
“He has that skill with the puck and ability to make plays and create things whereas most players might not.”
Every camp seems to produce one player who emerges from obscurity and Deschenes was quick to point to Hunter Atchison who played in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League last year.
“I never saw him play,” admitted Deschenes. “But he came recommended by a trainer on the Island. He’s performed well enough to earn the right to continue on with us.”
Although the three exhibition matches will wrap up any game-type situations prior to the start of the regular season, Deschenes isn’t putting a lot of stock in actual pre-season tilts.
“Really it’s about preparation. You can create a lot of game situations in practice.”
With still a few weeks and a lot of preparation to go before the start of the season, the Trail coach isn’t putting too much pressure on the players to come flying out of the gate during the annual regular-season opening weekend in Chilliwack.
“It’s going to be a day-by-day process. I don’t think one, two, or three games will make the whole season.
“The most important thing is learning the lessons as we progress.”