Trail Smoke Eaters tighten numbers, evaluation continues

The Interior Division gets tougher this season with addition of the Wenatchee Wild.

Following an entertaining and competitive Main Camp and a tough test in Wenatchee on the weekend, the Trail Smoke Eaters are heading into the final stages of selecting its 2017-18 roster.

Trail iced 26 skaters in Wenatchee on Friday and Saturday, in a pair of four-period games or four two-period matches against the Wild. And while the Smoke Eaters lost all of the contests, it wasn’t for lack of effort so much as numbers.

“I thought the boys played well,” said Keith. “Not the result obviously we were looking for, but they were also carrying a lot more kids that were better suited for a four-period type of grind. But it was also good for our younger kids to get an opportunity to play four periods against what is one of the premier teams in the BCHL.”

The Wild defeated the Smokies 5-2 and 1-0 on Friday night, and 4-0 and 4-2 on Saturday, but did so with a distinct home-ice advantage.

“When we made the rotation, we only had about six new bodies and they had about 15,” said Keith. “Wenatchee did a good job of reloading, and they kind of have the same make up as they did last year.”

The Trail coaching staff didn’t face many surprises at camp, retaining committed players like Levi Glasman, Daine Dubois, Olson Werenka, Seth Barton, and Greater Trail products Tyler Ghirardosi, Karsten Jang and Jake Yuris. However, one noticeable absence between the pipes was that of Okanagan Hockey Academy’s Brandon Peacock who made the jump to the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL) after committing to the Smoke Eaters.

In Peacock’s absence, another Marshall stepped in and filled the void. Tanner Marshall, 17, played with the Kelowna Chiefs of the KIJHL last season, posting a 3.07 goals-against average, and a .911 save percentage.

“Tanner Marshall came in and played unreal,” said Keith. “He let one goal in his first game and showed he has the capability of playing in this league. It’s a step up when you start playing actual games, but he’s shown that he has the composure and compete level to be a kid that can win us games this year.”

Trail released young, yet, likely future Smoke Eaters in Bradley Ross and Conner Seib, but are still taking a closer look at Aiden Jenner, 17, of Castlegar who netted 39 points in 38 games with the Major Midget Kootenay Ice last year and was impressive in camp.

“We kind of knew what we needed to fill for the remaining roster spots, so we narrowed it down to the kids that were actually fighting for those spots,” added Keith.

The Smoke Eaters will be down to 23-carded players when they face-off against the Vernon Vipers in Vernon on Friday, but rosters are never final until all Junior camps are done.

“There’s going to be a couple kids filtering down from the WHL camps to push for those other spots, so by no means is our team made. We’re still in the evaluating process.”

The Wild joins Trail in the Interior Division this year after spending its first two seasons in the BCHL in the Mainland Division. The move to the Interior will make the division one of the toughest in the BCHL if not the Canadian Hockey League. The Wild finished the 2016-17 campaign with a 45-9-4-0 record for 94 points, tops in the BCHL, although 12 of those wins came against the league’s weakest teams (Surrey, 18-36-4-0, and Coquitlam, 11-44-1-2). Wenatchee faces a more challenging schedule this year and will play Interior teams: Penticton Vees, Vernon Vipers, Trail Smoke Eaters, West Kelowna Warriors, Merritt Centennials and Salmon Arm Silverbacks, six times this year, rather than the two times they faced them in previous seasons.

“It’s the same every year, Vernon’s going to be good, Penticton is going to be good, Wenatchee is going to be good, and everyone else is going to be competitive,” said Keith. “We’re in the Interior Division, it’s not going to be easy.”

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