Bus pays dividends as team struggles

The Trail Smoke Eaters embark on their longest road trip of the year this weekend and with the new bus already paying dividends.

The Trail Smoke Eaters embark on their longest road trip of the year this weekend and with the new bus already paying dividends on the road, the team is also hoping to turn things around.

The Smoke Eaters are off to Prince George this weekend, as well as a tough start with only a win and tie in seven games. The players and coaches know the next two games against the Spruce Kings are critical.

“Worse case scenario would be a split,” said assistant coach Bob Dever. “I mean it would be nice to get both but we’re pretty banged up and sick.”

With Kyle Horsman out with a broken wrist, Adam Wheeldon in the stands after an appendectomy, and Brandon Egli ill, the Smokies desperately need something to go right and a pair of wins would definitely give the team a boost.

In Saturday’s loss to Salmon Arm the Smokies played well enough to win but came up on the short end of a 3-2 score.

“We played really well, but we snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory,” added Dever.

The Smoke Eaters have had a number of guys in and out of the lineup so finding stability may take time.

“That’s the hard part, when you lose 16 guys – it takes a while. We don’t have the luxury of Vernon or Penticton and Westside where players come to you . . . we have to work harder and, like I said, we’ve just had some crazy injuries.”

The Smokies are looking to sign Garrett McMullen a forward acquired from Powell River.  While the New York native may help offensively, some are wondering why few locals are on the roster.

“It’s getting a little frustrating, I have to be honest,” said team president Tom Gawryletz. “I don’t think there is a whole lot out there. The kids that have come in have been late cuts from other teams and they’re no better than players that we’ve got . . . It’s time we start working with what we have and see what happens.”

While the team has sruggled on the ice, the team bus has run smoothly and is helping the Smokie’s bottom line.

The team tracked costs in the bus’ first trips to Salmon Arm and Kelowna and are pleased with initial numbers.

“We’re saving about two-thirds of what we paid before,” said Gawryletz.

In past years, a trip to Prince George would cost about $6,000 while this year’s ride should come in less than $2,000 for fuel and drivers, he added.

Ron Simpson from Fruitvale and Castlegar’s Elmer Williams will split driving duties on the bus. Simpson has a dozen years experience as a professional bus driver while this is Williams’ rookie campaign.

“It’s beautiful,” said Simpson. “It drives nice, rides nice, and is in good condtion.”

The 1999 Prevost H3-45, 56-passenger unit was purchased earlier this year to avoid expenses from renting a bus. A campaign to buy the bus started last season and with generous help from the community the team is cruising to fiscal responsibility.