The Trail Smoke Eaters signed a pair of local products on Monday, as the team continues to build for the upcoming BCHL season.
“It feels pretty good for a hometown kid to sign with such a good organization,” said Armour. “Obviously I’ve always wanted to be a Smoke Eater and it finally came true.”
Armour and McLean were vital cogs in a Beaver Valley Nitehawks run to the KIJHL Kootenay Conference final, finishing second and third in team scoring respectively. Armour racked up 14 goals and 43 assists for 57 points, while McLean caught fire in the second half of the season netting at least a point in 19 of the final 25 games, to finish with 18 goals and 20 assists in 51 games.
“Every since I started watching hockey when I was little, I always wanted to be a Smoke Eater and play in my hometown,” said McLean.
The 17-year-old forward had two points in five games as an AP with the Smoke Eaters last season, while Armour counted one assist in six contests, and while they agree the league is bigger and faster than the KIJHL, it didn’t take them long to adjust to the pace or the physicality.
For the Smoke Eaters, the signing of two local talents is a welcome addition.
“It’s kind of a transition,” said assistant coach Craig Clare. “Last year we had some really good talent, probably the most we’ve seen on the Smoke Eaters for sometime, but some move on, and coming up through the bantam, then midget, and Junior B program, Ross and Spencer have proven to be the next generation of Smoke Eaters.”
Last year’s team boasted a wealth of local talent in Jake Lucchini, Scott Davidson, Craig Martin, Dallas Calvin, and Jeremy Lucchini, but the only player likely to return is 18-year-old Jeremy Lucchini, with the others taking their game to the next level and fulfilling scholarship commitments.
“It’s exciting, it’s one of the things we wanted to do is hold on to our top local talent, and be sure that these guys will be Smoke Eaters for a couple of years at least.”
McLean is a hard-working natural scorer, while Armour is a finesse player, with great hands and an adept playmaker as his 43 assists suggest. As 17-year-old players their respective roles may be limited in their first year in the BCHL, but the coach hopes they will emerge like Jake Lucchini did last season.
“It really depends on how they develop over the year and how they play,” said Clare. “Spencer is going to be an energy guy for us for sure. He brought energy last year when he came out and played for us. . . Ross is a skilled guy, again he’s really slick with the puck, smart with the puck, and he’s going to be put in positions where you may see him on the power play, and he’s a centreman and we need depth at centre. It really depends on how they transition, but seeing how they played last year, they are going to be a big part of our team.”
With the exodus of a number of skilled forwards, the acquisition of Armour and McLean should fill a couple of the holes up front, and Clare is optimistic with the way this year’s team is unfolding particularly on the back end.
“We’ve landed a goalie here (Bailey McBurnie) that there are a lot of good things being said, and that’s one of the improvements that we wanted to make. We wanted to shore up our defence a little bit, and we’ve brought in a coach to work with our ‘D’. I think we have a skilled group back there. So I see improvements on the back end for sure, and then I think we’ll have some depth up front.
“We’re not going to have the fire power that we had last year, but who knows, you never know with the transition of junior hockey when players are going to peak . . . but yes I’m optimistic we just need to keep building the program, getting better, and we’ll get there.”
Smoke Signals: The Smoke Eaters also sent six-foot-five defenceman Stephen Penner back to the Prince George Spruce Kings for future considerations. Penner was acquired from Prince George, along with Cooper Leitch, in a trade Dec. 1 for Harvard commit Viktor Dombrovskiy.
Penner had six assists in 32 games with the Smoke Eaters.