Trail Smoke Eaters fans are counting down the days to the opening season with just 43 remaining until the first puck drops at the Cominco Arena Sept. 8, but, unfortunately, fans won’t get any BCHL exhibition-game previews this year.
The Smokies nailed down a three-game exhibition series prior to the start of the season, however, not one home-game is among them. Smoke Eaters coach and GM Cam Keith confirmed two dates were set with the Wenatchee Wild on Aug. 25 and 26 in Wenatchee, and another in Vernon against the Vipers on Sept. 2, but neither team agreed to a return visit to Trail.
“We have no home games this year,” said Keith. “Usually the league mandates that a team comes to Trail at least once, but they didn’t do it this year, so we couldn’t convince anyone to come to Trail. It’s pretty disappointing.”
Every team but Trail and Powell River will enjoy a home exhibition match, even Prince George has secured a home game against the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s (AJHL) Grande Prairie Storm. The Wild will play four exhibition home games with no away games on its schedule as they get set to join the Interior Division for the 2017-18 season. Penticton meanwhile agreed to travel approximately 900 km east to Brooks, Alberta for a game against the AJHL champion Bandits, but passed at a pit-stop in Trail.
Nevertheless, Trail is hoping for a home game against the Selkirk College Saints but it may prove difficult given the early date.
“We’re trying to organize one with Selkirk, just an exhibition. I wouldn’t say ‘friendly’ game because they never are, but somewhat of a controlled scrimmage.”
The Smokies are also gearing up for their Main Camp on Aug. 21-24 at the newly renovated Cominco Arena. Between 60 and 70 players will take to the ice to vie for four forward and three defence positions. Although, Trail lost both goalies from last year’s team, the acquisition of Brandon Wells and Brandon Peacock over the summer has the goaltending spots all but locked up. The Smoke Eaters also committed to a handful of players but there are no guarantees when it comes to cracking the line up.
“Last year we cut three committed kids,” said Keith. “Having a commitment doesn’t mean you’re on the team, all it means is that they get a card, but they still have to come and make the team.”
The Smokies will carry likely the largest contingent of local Kootenay players in its history with the return of Jeremy Lucchini, Ross Armour, Spencer McLean, Korbyn Chabot, Ethan Martini, and Kyle Chernenkoff, as well as potential first-year skaters Tyler Ghirardosi, Brandon Costa, Karsten Jang, Jake Yuris, and Aiden Jenner.
“That’s a lot,” said Keith, a Nelson native. “I don’t know if Trail has ever had that many on the team.”
In addition to the Kootenay-grown players, the Smokies will also have veterans Troy Ring, Kale Howarth, Andre Ghantous, Blaine Caton, Braedon Tuck, Ryan Murphy, and Ryan Moon returning.
Trail’s opening match goes against the West Kelowna Warriors on Sept. 8.