Although it’s Jeff Tambellini’s first main camp with the Trail Smoke Eaters, the new head coach and GM is already hyped about this year’s team.
“I love the character of our guys, and I think we have great people coming to camp,” Tambellini told the Times on Wednesday. “I love what I’m hearing out of our veteran guys coming back and just how eager they are to get the year started, coming off last year and the success they had, and also the disappointment of not making it to the end.”
The Smoke Eaters Main Camp starts on Monday and will see a slightly different format from past years. Close to 60 players will hit the Cominco Arena ice for a practice skate and systems review on Monday, and will then be divided into three squads (rather than four) that will scrimmage Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We have them all on board,” said Tambellini. “The guys that were committed before I’d got here are all here, and we have a great group of returning guys coming, so it’s going to be a really competitive camp … Like I told our guys, we’re taking the best players this year.”
The Smoke Eaters have 11 players eligible to return including Spencer McLean, Blake Sidoni, Carter Jones, Braeden Tuck, Mack Byers, Tyler Ghirardosi, and Levi Glasman up front, Trevor Zins and Kyle Chernenkoff on the back end, and Tanner Marshall and Adam Marcoux in net. Another 10 committed players will also attend camp, leaving another 30 or more to make an impression and compete for a few positions.
The Smokies defence looked suspect after the graduation of Jeremy Lucchini, Troy Ring, and Connor Welsh, Seth Barton’s early exit for the University of Lowell after being drafted 81st overall by the Detroit Red Wings, and Ethan Martini’s unexpected flight south to play with the Central Illinois Flying Aces of the United States Hockey League.
But some diligent work by Tambellini and the Smoke Eaters staff secured the commitment of top-end veteran defencemen Jeremy Smith and Diarmad DiMurro, in addition to the emerging talent of Kyle Budvarson, Keiran O’Hearn and Jimmy Darby.
“That’s the one thing that’s going to be a major advantage for our team this year, is our depth,” said Tambellini. “We have depth all through our line up. We were able to add two veteran defenceman, both with great playing experience and I think that’s going to go a long way in replacing Lucchini who was so dynamic making plays.”
As for the offence, with veterans Tuck and McLean leading the way, look for breakout seasons from second-year players Ghirardosi, Jones, Byers, and Glasman and with the addition of talented commits Kent Johnson, Owen Ozar, Hayden Rowan, Logan Harris and Michael Hodge, the Smoke Eaters should be fast, hard working, and gritty up front.
“Our forwards, we have a wide range of guys that can do a lot of things off the puck and with the puck, that’s really exciting. Because we’re not just getting one-dimensional players, we have guys that are aware in the defensive zone and can make plays to get around the rink.”
The Smoke Eaters also added some depth on the bench bringing in Stonewall, Man. native Dustin Korlak to oversee the defence. Korlak played defence in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, before playing professionally in Europe. He also has a scouting background, and was an assistant coach in the MJHL for the past two seasons.
The addition of Korlak adds another key piece to the puzzle with assistants Jessie Leung, Barry Zanier, and Kyle Hope rounding out the coaching staff.
“There was nobody on our staff that had played defence, so I think it’s good to fill every void,” added Tambellini. “We have four coaches that are all very different and that’s one of the best ways to build a staff is how do we complement each guy, and how do we build the strongest staff that has knowledge in every position? I think it’s going to help our whole bench management.”
The Smoke Eaters camp starts at 10 a.m. on Monday with five different sessions going throughout the day. On Tuesday and Wednesday scrimmages go at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. with the Camp numbers being cut back for the final Black-and-White game on Thursday night at 6 p.m.