Today’s the day for the start of hockey season – both the BCHL and the KIJHL kick off tonight.
Locally, the first chance for fans to get out and support their teams is Saturday. Trail hosts the return game with the Vernon Vipers and Beaver Valley, after opening in Spokane, will face the Kelowna Chiefs at the Hawks’ Nest.
The Nitehawks, always a strong contender in their league and often beyond, seem assured of another successful year, with many more to follow as long as the community has an appetite to support them.
For the Smokies, who are increasingly desperate for success and have seemed on the brink of franchise calamity in recent years, this weekend will be a very strong indication of their 2015/16 prospects.
The Vipers, on paper at least, seem to have a very similar team makeup to the Smokies, with less than half their previous roster returning and only a small percentage of its players home grown. Given that Vernon is a perennial playoff contender, how the Smoke Eaters match up with them, even this early in the season, could be a strong indication of the club’s prospects for long term season success.
Omens are not everything, however. The Smokies won their first two games last year, and arguably outplayed both Pentiction and Salmon Arm on home ice in the next two, but finished that weekend at 2-2 and ended up not making the post season.
However this weekend goes, it will be incumbent on the coaching staff to learn quickly about the quality and depth of the current roster when measured against a quality opponent and do what they can to make sure the mid-season swoon that has become a regular Smoke Eater thing does not happen.
Meantime, of course, even mediocre Trail teams of recent seasons have provided great, affordable entertainment at Cominco Arena. That is a good reason, along with oft-professed, “home town pride,” to get to the rink Saturday.
The BCHL may provide the most exciting level of hockey outside of the Stanley Cup finals – we all know regular season NHL games are regularly boring – and it would be a good thing to maintain a franchise here – for many more reasons than just the quality of entertainment provided.
Attendance numbers that are an increase over last season, along with a playoff spot, are the only ways to change the financial picture enough to make keeping the local franchise a realistic idea.
So go, Saturday and more often.
• Keep your fingers crossed through Tuesday that we will not have the costs of another Canadian dip into the IOC cesspool coming out of our pockets in 2024. Toronto has until then to submit an expression of interest in bidding for that year’s summer games.
Remember, all three big party leaders will jump on board – it is an election season, after all – with putting the IOC in charge of billions of dollars of taxpayer spending again, whether they know the games are a corrupt fools’ endeavour or not.