Pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place as the Trail Smoke Eaters won their first exhibition game on Friday.
Matthew Bissett scored twice and Dallas Calvin added one to lift the Smokies to a 5-2 win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks at the Sunwave Centre in Salmon Arm.
Trail’s offence received a healthy injection of talent with recent acquisition Brandon Long from Calgary, Matthew Bissett from the Vancouver Chiefs and fourth top scorer in the B.C. Major Midget league last year as well as Trail native Dallas Calvin who decided to return to Trail even after making the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers roster.
“I was going to stick around and play there but I changed my mind, I think it’s a better for me to come down here and have better development,” said Calvin.
Bissett and Calvin are ’94 forwards while Long is a ’93 but all are skilled players that will help put pucks in the net.
Smoke Eater coach Bill Birks was initially concerned about scoring but is very pleased with the team’s work ethic, and growing more confident with every practice especially since the addition of the three players.
“They’re pretty offensive skilled forwards which is much needed,” said Birks. “But I didn’t have the right guys playing together but now they’re playing together in practice all week and starting to get some familiarity and comfort with each other and it shows in the game.”
Calvin weighed the option of staying in the WHL but thought he’d get more ice time and needed experience playing with the Smoke Eaters. While the Blazers coaching staff would have liked to see the six-foot-four Calvin stick around, they understood his reasoning and will bring him up for a couple games during the season.
Last year as a 16-year-old with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, Calvin scored 17 goals and 23 assists in 40 games. Bissett netted 27 goals and 29 assists in 36 games in Vancouver last season.
One piece of the puzzle that is still missing and most likely lost for good, is forward Chase Kaiser who was part of the Travis St. Denis trade with Cowichan. Kaiser did not report to camp and is currently under suspension.
“Until further notice his hockey career is over, or until I get a trade done for him,” said Birks. “In the long run we got other kids who want to be here so we’re way better off.”
The win over Salmon Arm is a positive but their next game will likely be a much tougher test as the Smoke Eater’s travel to Vernon Friday to take on the Vipers.
But as Coach Birks told Calvin, “The only way you’re going to get better is if you work hard.”
The Smoke Eaters hold a fundraiser for assistant coach Barry Zanier’s daughter Kolby who is suffering from a heart condition in an Edmonton children’s hospital.
The Smokies play Thompson River University on Saturday night at the Cominco Arena at 7 p.m. All tickets are $6 and proceeds go to the Kolby Zanier trust fund.