The Trail Smoke Eaters lost one hopeful but managed to seal a number of deals with promising young players as they prepare for camp in August.
After the Smoke Eaters spring camp in March, coach Bill Birks was bursting with optimism at the crop of talented skaters but committing and signing them proved to be two different matters.
After a verbal camp commitment from Dryden Hunt of Nelson, who played four games as a 14-year-old with the Smokies last year, he decided to sign with the Westside Warriors.
While Hunt’s decision is disappointing to the first year coach, the signing of 16-year-old Luke Bertolucci and 17-year-old Jesse Knowler more than made up for it.
“It’s a good thing we got Luke on board, he is probably more highly sought after than Dryden, so to get him committed and play here is going to be good.”
Bertolucci and Knowler were teamates on the Major Midget Kootenay Ice. Bertolucci, a Montrose native, also played on Team BC at the Canada Games.
Knowler from Castlegar, captained the Ice and played great as a call up for the Rebels as they went to the KIJHL championship.
“He is going to be the biggest surprise of them all, that kid’s going to be a great, great player.”
Matt Larose returns between the pipes. He sported a 2.87 goals against average and two shutouts in 15 games for the Smokies last year.
“We’re still looking for a backup but I’ve got seven or eight guys coming to camp that are going to fight it out.”
Other high-end signings include Daniel Del Bianco, 16, from Coquitlam and U-17 B.C. Cup grads Brandon Egli, 16, from Victoria and Kyle Horseman, 16, from the Sunshine Coast as well as Chris Derochie, 18, from the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
The Smoke Eaters main camp goes at the end of August but Birks also confirmed attending teams to their Labour Day tournament, September, 1-3.
The Wenatchee Wild from the North American Hockey League is a new entry while Brooks Bandits from the Alberta Junior League and the Powell River Kings from the BCHL make their third appearance. They will join the Smoke Eaters in the three-day season primer that attracts college scouts from across North America.