It was a loose and energetic Trail Smoke Eaters team that took to the practice ice on Tuesday afternoon at the Cominco Arena, after earning 3-of-4 points in their opening weekend against the West Kelowna Warriors.
The Smokies defeated West Kelowna 6-4 in Saturday’s game following a 4-3 overtime loss on Friday, and the team dynamic seems to be clicking with a number of new recruits and two new coaches behind the bench.
“It’s different in last year you didn’t have a lot of kids coming in that were new,” said Smoke Eaters veteran assistant coach Jessie Leung. “Now you have a lot coming in and seeing what a Jr. A program really looks like, coming through Major Midget or Academies or other things, so I think it’s exciting and fun to be making plays and to be practicing at pace, and certainly the pace we go, it’s pretty quick, and I think as a player you get caught up in the energy. But certainly, this season practices have been great and we try to keep the energy going.”
The Smoke Eaters next challenge doesn’t get any easier as the team prepares to face Interior Division rivals Salmon Arm Silverbacks and the Vernon Vipers this weekend. The Silverbacks dispatched the Merritt Centennials in their opening match 4-2 while Vernon split it’s games, falling to the BCHL champion Wenatchee Wild 5-3, before beating the Cents 5-2.
The Smoke Eaters face Salmon Arm Silverbacks Friday night at the Cominco Arena and travel to Vernon Saturday. The Silverbacks had just eight players return from last season and are led by veterans Akito Hirose and captain Sol Seibel, who sparked the team to a come-from-behind victory against the Cents. Salmon Arm’s special teams was the difference going 3-for-6 on the power play and a perfect 0-for-7 on the PK.
Former Smoke Eater d-man Olson Werenka and affiliate player, Aiden Jenner, who played for the Beaver Valley Nitehawks last season, also cracked the Silverbacks roster and will look to make an impact for the visitors.
Trail’s power play, meanwhile, is better than perfect; according to BCHL stats, the Smokies have scored four goals in three opportunities for a 133.3 per-cent average and is perfect 3-for-3 on the PK with a shorthanded goal.
Both Smokies recruits and veterans provided a solid preview of things to come with rookies Hayden Rowan and Michael Hodge playing inspired hockey in the weekend matches, each accumulating five points and earning honourable mentions for the BCHL Player of the Week. Veteran defenceman Trevor Zins was named energy player of the game and a force on the back end scoring once and adding two assists, to bring him a third of the way to his total output from last season.
The line of team captain Braeden Tuck, Kent Johnson and Levi Glasman also impressed combining for six points including Johnson’s first goal as a Smoke Eater, and the first 2002-born player to score in the BCHL.
Trail’s biggest surprise may be the lack of production from the top line of Carter Jones, Tyler Ghirardosi, and Sean Donaldson, which registered just one point in the two games. Yet, Leung is unfazed by the highly-skilled trio’s slow start, and is confident the top line will produce once it gets accustomed to its new role.
“When you look at that line 5-on-5, they are generating 10-out-of-10 looks, scoring chances, scoring opportunities, they just aren’t going in,” said Leung. “These are now players that aren’t going to catch anyone by surprise, everyone knows exactly who they are and exactly what their strengths are, so they’re garnering the A-plus match ups from other teams, so top defencemen and top lines are playing against these guys. It makes it a bit more difficult, and for them too it’s a learning curve.”
While the season is only in its second week, points against Interior Division rivals are vital and can make a huge difference in the end-of-season standings, so preparation is essential and taking any team lightly is not an option.
“We’re going to have to get ourselves ready for the challenge of a Salmon Arm team coming to town and Vernon on the road. It’s going to be a challenging weekend for us, we’re going to do our part to ensure our players are prepared and believe our preparation all season so far will help carry us through this weekend.”
If practice is any indication, the Smoke Eaters’ enthusiasm is palpable, and carrying it over into games can only bring more positives and points for the Smoke Eaters.
The puck drop at the Cominco Arena Friday night goes at 7 p.m.