The Trail Smoke Eaters lineup is decimated by injury, but rather than paying the price for icing raw talent, Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith has embraced the fresh affiliate troops from the KIJHL and turned adversity into points.
“These kids in Beaver Valley and Creston their habits are great, and naturally fit into our systems here,” said Keith. “I have to give a lot of credit to the KIJHL teams we’re using right now.”
The Nitehawk’s Tyler Ghirardosi played in his sixth match on Friday and was named the Fortis Energy Player of the Game in a 2-1 loss to Penticton, while fellow Nitehawks Bradley Ross, 16, and Rossland’s Karsten Jang suited up for their fourth game in the past three weeks on Sunday, and defenceman Trail’s Jake Yuris saw action in two Smokies’ matches.
“With how (Nitehawks head coach and GM) Terry (Jones) runs his program, the kids just play so hard, and their habits are just tremendous,” said Keith. “Especially, because the kids are mostly local kids and the whole point of having a team in Trail is giving local kids the opportunity to play junior hockey, and if they can, I want to make that happen.”
The Smoke Eaters picked up two points in four games, losing to BCHL powerhouses Wenatchee Wild 5-4 Sunday and Penticton Vees in overtime 4-3 Wednesday and 2-1 on Friday, and tying Salmon Arm Tuesday. However, Trail has been riddled with injuries, and, most recently, without three of their top scorers in Kale Howarth, Josh Laframboise and Ross Armour. In addition, regular forwards Mitch Stapley and Ryan Murphy, and defenceman Tyson Slater and Kyle Chernenkoff were also watching from the stands.
“If you look at our schedule, it was kind of a murderer’s row schedule this last week (four games in six days),” said Keith. “But we came away with some points and we played some good hard games, and that’s going to help us moving forward against Merritt and Vernon in these last four games.”
The Smokies went into last week’s odyssey having lost just once-in-five games. Creston AP Justen James, Ghirardosi and Ross played on the same line and created some chemistry with James scoring the winning goal against Merritt on a setup from Ghirardosi, and Ross adding two assists in an 8-3 victory over Coquitlam, and were instrumental in a huge 6-3 victory over Penticton on Jan. 28.
“They didn’t look out of place,” said Jones, the Nitehawks coach and GM. “They made good contributions offensively, turned some shifts around, had some great possession, drew some penalties, so they were definitely a factor.”
Although the Nitehawks miss having its top players in the lineup, as far as Jones is concerned, it’s a win-win for both the teams and the players.
“There’s no question that helps them,” said Jones. “They go to that level and they get a taste of what it’s like at the Jr. A level, the speed of the game … It’s a great experience for our boys to be a part of that, so it’s exciting and hopefully that’s a spot that’s in the future for them.”
Both Trail and B.V. are in action this Friday, as the Smoke Eaters host the Merritt Centennials at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena and the Nitehawks play their final regular-season home match against the Kimberley Dynamiters at the same time at the B.V. Arena.