The accolades continue to roll in for the Trail Smoke Eaters this week.
Not only was Smoke Eaters forward Kale Howarth named the BCHL Player of the Week on Monday, the Smoke Eaters are also ranked in the Top 20 in the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) for the first time in recent memory, coming in at number-16.
Trail has jumped out to a 6-1-0-1 start and own the top-three scorers in the league in Ross Armour, Howarth, and Levi Glasman. And the buzz is growing with a Global TV story about the transformation of the storied franchise last month, a write up in Kootenay Business magazine, and a recent Tourism Award from the Trail Chamber of Commerce. The fanfare is well-deserved, yet, the coaching staff is working hard to keep it from becoming a distraction.
“Right now it (the exposure) seems okay,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith. “As a coaching staff our job is to keep everyone level headed and how we do that is we work them really hard in practise so they don’t feel like things are going to be easy for them. With higher expectations comes greater responsibility, and once you lose focus of that you can get in trouble.”
Howarth earned a PoW honourable mention the previous week when he scored three goals and an assist in two wins at the BCHL Bauer Showcase, but trumped that this past weekend. The Red Deer native tallied four goals and two assists in the Smoke Eaters two victories, netting a hat trick in a convincing 7-3 win over the Chilliwack Chiefs on Friday and followed that up with a goal and two assists in Trail’s 6-4 win over Salmon Arm. Howarth was named the first star in both games, and helped lift the Smoke Eaters to within two points of the Interior division-leading Vernon Vipers, with a game in hand.
Howarth, a University of Connecticut commit, has 16 points in eight games this season, one point behind linemate Ross Armour who sits in first in the BCHL. Armour, a Rossland native and Bemidji State commit, also received PoW honourable mention this week with two goals and three assists for 6-11-17 on the season.
Yet, the rise of the Smoke Eaters is tempered by the fact that Interior Division rivals Penticton Vees and Vernon Vipers also made the CJHL Top 20. Vernon is ranked 12th and undefeated Penticton is the number-1 ranked team in the nation with a 5-0-0 record.
“The focus of every team is you want to get better every day and you don’t want to be one of those teams people talk about and say ‘Wow we had a great start but …’,” said Keith. “We have to make sure we continue to get better and not focus on the results right now or the buzz or the exposure because it’s nice when you get it but it can all go away really quickly.”
The CJHL is made up of 10 Junior ‘A’ leagues across Canada, representing 132 teams and over 3,000 players.
The Smoke Eaters hit the road this week with games in Powell River, Alberni Valley, and Chilliwack.