Trail Smoke Eaters enter Snake Pit for final pre-season match

The Trail Smoke Eaters wrap up their brief exhibition season on the road in Vernon’s Snake Pit.

The Trail Smoke Eaters are gearing up for their final exhibition match up against the Vernon Vipers on Saturday in Vernon, in what will be a preview of another one of the Interior Division’s toughest teams.

With only three exhibition matches, the Smoke Eaters were compelled to go a leaner route this season, and slashed its roster to 26 players for the trip to Wenatchee, and to 23 for the game in Vernon.

“We don’t have that luxury this year, because we only have three exhibition games,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith. “We had to get really low so we could really look at the kids that we needed to look at and make the proper decision on the last couple roster spots for our team.”

The trip to Vernon will be another tough test for the Smoke Eaters, as the Vipers are a team with an embarrassment of riches heading into the 2017-18 season. As of Wednesday, the Vipers had three goalies, 17 forwards, and 10 defencemen with more veterans calling head coach Mark Ferner requesting a position, where there are none.

“Some of our young guys are pushing some veterans hard so we’re going to have some very tough decisions to make,” Ferner told the Vernon Morningstar.

Up front, the Vipers pretty much have six lines that can play in the league. The core group of Jagger Williamson, Jimmy Lambert, Brett Stapley, Niko Karamanis and Jesse Lansdell is safe. So are newcomers Keyvan Mohktari and Jordan Sandhu, BCHL stars obtained in summer trades, and recently acquired six-foot-four, 190-pound forward Finn Evans from the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

“This is the most talent I’ve seen on a team,” said fourth-year forward Williamson, an alternate captain last year. “All the young guys, (Alex) Swetlikoff, (Josh) Prokop and the list goes on, and there are still jobs to play for. It’s going to be tough. I wouldn’t want to be Mark in this situation; good luck to him. It’s gonna be a good team.”

The size and strength of the Vipers defence proved the difference in the playoffs against an injury-riddled Smoke Eaters team last March. That won’t change much, as returnees on the back end include six-foot-five, 215-pound Shane Kelly, and mobile defencemen Mike Ufberg, Chris Jandric and Sol Seibel, in addition to 19-year-old Boston newcomer six-foot-one, 220-pound Michael Young and prize prospect Jack Judson, 17, of White Rock.

Ty Taylor returns as the starting goalie with Conor Webb vying for the backup, however, there are still more experienced net detectives hovering around the BCHL and WHL.

As for the Smoke Eaters, the team is skilled up front with returning forwards Kale Howarth, Ross Armour, Andre Ghantous, Spencer McLean, Blaine Caton, Braedon Tuck, Ryan Moon, Korbyn Chabot and Ryan Murphy, and newcomers Tyler Ghirardosi, Daine Dubois, Levi Glasman, and Aiden Jenner rounding out the offence.

On the backend veterans Troy Ring, Jeremy Lucchini, Kyle Chernenkoff, and Ethan Martini, will be bolstered by commits Karsten Jang, Jake Yuris, Seth Barton and Olson Werenka, with Brandon Wells and Tanner Marshall filling the goaltender void left by Linden Marshall.

“We’re at our numbers right now, but there are going to be a couple other kids filtering in from WHL camps, to push for those other spots,” said Keith. “But this Saturday, I’m hoping to be down to what we want to show for our home opener, because we’d like to beat Vernon in Vernon. That’s our goal right now.”

The Smoke Eaters-Vipers match up can be watched online at bchl.hockeytv.com and goes at 6 p.m. on Saturday in Vernon.

Trail opens the season at home on Sept. 8 against the West Kelowna Warriors.

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