Although it’s still early, 2011 is already looking up for the Trail Smoke Eaters.
With the Smokies down nearly $75,000 last year, some were raising questions of feasibility and even the possibility of selling and moving the team.
But at Tuesday’s AGM, there were smiles all around, as the executive happily announced a surplus.
“We had a turn around of $95,000 over last year,” said Smoke Eaters president Tom Gawryletz. “It speaks volumes for how hard you guys have all worked, everybody in the community has supported us.”
The team finished close to $22,000 in the black, a monumental achievement considering most teams in the league lose money.
Much of the increase came from game-time ticket sales, season ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, but fundraising efforts also proved more successful in 2011.
Both the Smoke Eaters Golf tournament and Steak and Lobster Dinner fundraiser netted the team over $21,000 and the spring hockey camp was a huge success, bringing in over $13,000, as opposed to less than $5,000 last year.
Travel costs again accounted for most expenses, up $7,000 from last year to almost $110,000. The expense is largely made up of fuel and leasing the bus that set the team back $70,000 while $40,000 was spent on meals and accommodation.
However, with the purchase of the new bus and recent rule changes limiting travel, next year’s road costs should be down significantly.
The executive also introduced Bill Birks as the new head coach, along with assistant Barry Zanier and trainer Steve Mears.
“We’ve got lots of young kids coming in, lots of high-end skilled kids and with the mix of guys coming back I think we’ll be pretty good . . . other than that I can’t wait to get going,” said Birks.
Coach Birks also announced that the main camp is scheduled to go the end of August, followed by the Smoke Eaters’ Labour Day Tournament with most teams already committed.
The coaching staff expects to sign five or six local boys that will also reduce billeting costs but for the coach, “the best thing about it is that they can play.”
The Smokies saw seven players leave for scholarships and while it left the water a little low in the talent pool, it’s an accomplishment the team should be proud of, says Gawryletz.
But local supporters did have questions about the recent BCHL rule changes.
“What’s behind the idea of only four teams making the playoffs?” asked Tiger Milburn.
The rules reduced rosters from 23 to 21 players but the most controversial move was cutting the number of playoff teams from six to four.
The president explained that the move will be voted on again next year but it was necessary to accommodate the late start and finish to the season in order to compete in the Royal Bank Cup. The four western leagues are considering axing the RBC Cup and creating a western championship. He also suggested alternative motives to the league’s agenda.
“I believe a lot of these things they’ve adopted is to slowly weed out the teams they don’t want, so as long as we stay strong and we have the money and we can produce a team, nobody is going to push us anywhere.”