Three games into the BCHL season and the Trail Smoke Eaters are at a crossroads after an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of the West Kelowna Warriors in Kelowna on Tuesday.
“It was worse case scenario,” said Coach and GM Nick Deschenes. “We don’t have any identity right now, from top to bottom. Our top guys aren’t playing the right way, aren’t buying into our system, and bottom guys don’t have any direction and are reverting to habits they had before they came.”
The Warriors had five-point nights from Garrett Forster and last year’s scoring champion, Liam Blackburn, as they jumped out to 2-1 and 5-1 leads in the first and second period before icing it in the third.
It was a different Smoke Eaters team than the one that racked up nine goals in a win over Kelowna in the pre-season, the compete and intensity levels were nonexistent, says Deschenes.
“One of the things that got me excited about coaching in junior A and for the Trail Smoke Eaters, was that the motivation factor was pretty clear. They (the players) have NCAA scholarships dangled in front of their noses in upwards of a $300,000 value that sets you up for life, and if that doesn’t get you excited to come to the rink to work hard, (what does?) . . . I really question if the majority of this team really wants to be here and play junior A hockey.”
Trail opened the scoring in the first period on the power play, when Harlan Orr took a pass from Nick Halloran and snapped a screen shot past Forbes Ploszaj at 2:48.
West Kelowna responded with a power-play goal of their own at 6:19, when Jonathan Desbiens potted his first of the season by sliding one along the ice and past Trail goalie Linden Marshall. The Warriors made it 2-1 late in the first period as Forster’s wrister from the circle beat Marshall off the rush.
The Warriors netted back-to-back goals 55 seconds apart early in the second period, as Paul Lovsin scored followed by a Kylar Hope tally. Hope notched his second goal of the game on a great deflection from a Jake Harrison point shot to make it 5-1 as the Smokies managed just three shots on the Warrior goal in the period.
Trail made it a 5-2 game at 4:08 of the third period when Jake Kaupilla spun and wired it by Ploszaj. But the Warriors would respond as Blackburn potted a power-play marker at 8:58 before Rylan Yaremko showed off his hands with a beautiful play to make it 7-2.
Trail would make it 7-3 at 12:39 when Ross Armour deflected one past Ploszaj, but Desbiens would light the lamp again to round out the scoring.
Ploszaj made 17 saves in the win while Marshall made 25 in the loss.
The disappointing performance has caused the coaching staff to reassess the status of its players and if the poor effort continues Saturday against Merritt, changes are imminent.
“Potentially, what it is going to come down to is you’re going to see a lot of affiliate players in the lineup and a lot of changes being made here right away, because it’s unacceptable, we can’t move forward with this type of effort and intensity level,” said Deschenes.
Trail hosts the Merritt Centennials at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.