The words strike you as you enter the Trail Smoke Eaters’ dressing room in the Cominco Arena.
On the back wall in large capital letters is the word ‘accountability.”
That’s more than just a catch phrase; it’s an attitude the team is trying to foster as it prepares to hit the Cominco Arena ice for the first time in the 2012-13 regular season.
That first home game always provides reason for optimism.
It’s a time of year when optimism reigns supreme. It’s a time when every team is in the hunt. And a time of year every player sets his sights on lofty goals.
The same holds true for hockey fans that share that optimism.
And perhaps it’s all that “accountability” that factors into things as the team opens its 2012-13 home schedule against the West Kelowna Warriors at the Cominco Arena.
Although fans only got one glimpse of this year’s squad in the exhibition season, the Smokies head into tonight’s game with four regular-season games under their belt and a 1-3 record.
Yet even that record goes out the window tonight, as the players are eager to set a positive tone in front of the partisan crowd.
“We’re excited to get home and show the fans who we are,” said head coach Bill Birks.
Who the Smokies are will be a season-long question as the club aims on erasing last season’s dismal 11-42-1-6 record.
It was that record that prompted Birks to add 13 new players to this year’s roster.
“When you win only 11 games, and it was a rebuilding year, I kept what I and the rest of the coaching staff thought, were the best kids, the talented kids and the kids with character. We made a few trades and got some older players.”
Deals have brought in a busload of players with a mix of veterans and rookies.
“We have some local players – Scott Davidson, Jake Lucchini and Mitch Foyle – who have come in and made the team,” added Birks.
Add another local face to the roster as Jesse Knowler was expected to join the team for tonight’s game.
He’ll provide a big boost up front but the Smokies are still focused on defence first.
And that means the tandem of Lyndon Stanwood and Braden Krogfoss will play a huge role in dictating how the Smokies fare out of the gate.
“Our goaltending is good,” said Birks confidently.
With a young but solid defence in front of them, Stanwood will be expected to match his solid and, at times, spectacular play from 2011-12 and Krogfoss will be called upon to learn on the fly.
It all spells for an unpredictable and hopeful start to a new season.
“We’re not going to be the prettiest team,” admitted Smokies captain Garrett McMullen. “But we’re a hard working team.”
That’s all the fans ask for in what is a usual dogfight to simply make the playoffs in the Interior Conference.
“That’s our goal – to make the playoffs,” said McMullen. “Every game is going to be tough but everyone can beat everyone in this league.”
Birks said the Interior Division would be another battle with all the teams on fairly equal footing.
“It’s going to be a dogfight for the playoffs spots but I think there are four playoff spots wide open for the taking.
“But in this division you can t go on losing streaks or you’ll get buried.”
That’s where it will come down to the players to right any listing ship and avoid the prolonged pitfalls that come with a slump
McMullen is sporting the captain’s “C” on his sweater but feels it’s the job of all veterans to set the tone in the dressing room and on the ice.
“I try to lead by example,” he said.
So far so good. In four games, the 20-year-old Rochester, N.Y. native has four goals including the overtime winner in Prince George last weekend.
The four road games proved to be a good introduction for the players and nothing bonds a team like a 13-hour bus ride to Prince George.
But with the bus parked tonight, the team is eager to hear hometown cheers.
“It’s less nervous butterflies but more excited butterflies,” admitted McMullen.
He already notices a difference in the team since the start of the season two weeks ago at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack. They dropped both games that weekend, as players got accustomed to new linemates and new defensive partners.
“But each period we’re getting more and more comfortable with each other,” he said.
That will go a long way towards achieving the goal set by the team at the outset of the season.
“Our goal we set is to make the playoffs,” said Birks. “That’s what we’re focused on.”
McMullen agreed but added the team has to keep the task at hand at the forefront.
“We have short term goals too. We’re not just looking at the big picture but also game by game.”
And playing the first game of the season on home ice against the despised West Kelowna Warriors serves up another tangible short-term goal, said McMullen.
“Win,” he said without blinking an eye. “Hopefully with a lot of goals.”