A depleted Trail Smoke Eaters roster will get a full dose of Mainland division teams as the Smokies embark on a three-game road trip this weekend.
The Smoke Eaters will be without six of their starters when they face the 17-12-1-0 Coquitlam Express on Friday, followed by their first season-tilt against the 15-15-1-0 Langley Rivermen, and top it off on Sunday with a game against the 23-9-0-0 Chilliwack Chiefs.
“There’s no easy weekends coming up,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “We have a lot of bodies down, but sometimes it’s good, you get to a spot where you’re really undermanned and it’s up to guys to really take a step. Sometimes when you’re up against that kind of adversity, roster wise, it makes guys step up.”
Trail lost both ends of a home-and-home to the Penticton Vees last weekend, but its greatest loss may have come between the pipes when goalie Tanner Marshall requested a trade.
“Tanner came in my office last Tuesday and said he wanted a change, wanted to be traded, and it was disappointing for us because I knew we had a really good back-up goalie and a young player we wanted to see develop and take off,” said Tambellini. “So at the end of the day when players don’t want to play on our team, I can’t bring them through, especially with the Dec. 1 deadline … but we wish him nothing but success.”
The Dec. 1 deadline requires teams to have their rosters set at 23 players (from 25), and while it was difficult trading a goalie like Marshall to the AJHL Brooks Bandits, it may turn out in Trail’s favour.
The Smoke Eaters emergency replacement for Marshall was 16-year-old netminder Logan Terness of the BC Major Midget Vancouver NE Chiefs. Logan is the grandson of Trail’s Pat Zinio and Montrose residents Paul and Grace Terness and he played lights out in the limited action he saw against the Penticton Vees on Friday.
“Logan came in and did a great job for us on Friday night late in the game,” said Tambellini. “He has impressed us right from the first time we saw him in the spring (camp) last year, and every time we’ve given him a test or challenge he’s done well.”
The Smoke Eaters had committed Logan earlier in the week, but hadn’t intended to use him until the following season.
“As fate would have it,” said Tambellini. “He became the backup pretty quick so he’s going to be with us until Christmas and we’ll see how he does in a couple games, but a bright future for a young goaltender like that and we’re happy to have him.”
The Smokies have room for one more 16-year-old on their roster, but may send Terness back to the Chiefs for more playing time and development. Kent Johnson is the other 16-year-old, and the Port Moody product has been outstanding scoring 10 goals and 22 points in 31 games. Tambellini says, Terness will get a couple of starts this month and will have the first shot at the position.
The Smoke Eaters continued their rebuild also signing Trevor Isaksson, a North Delta native, last week. The 18-year-old defenceman was brought on board after veteran d-men Kyle Chernenkoff and Powell Connor went down with injury leaving only five defencemen.
“We needed a body and for him to come available at that time – he was on our radar early on last year, and he’s a moulded defenceman that we really like. He’s a big kid, plays mean, but can really make a play, so he fits in with the identity that we’re trying to build.”
Mack Byers also suffered a concussion against the Vees in Penticton Saturday, and will be out of action until the New Year. The Long Lake, Minn. product has been a bright spot, is used in all situations, and has scored nine goals and 16 points in 32 games. Joining Byers on the inactive list are Max Kryski and Layne Sniher who are both out of this weekend’s line up due to illness.
“We’re in a tough spot, we have some big injuries in our line up,” said Tambellini. “Mack Byers has been probably the unsung hero of our group all year. He’s done everything right from Day 1, probably our hardest worker, him and Braden Tuck every night, so it’s a major loss for our line up.”
The Smokies offence hasn’t been firing on all cylinders of late scoring just 11 goals in six games. Players like Tyler Ghirardosi, Michael Hodge, and Spencer McLean put in a solid effort every night, but have been snake bit with Ghirardosi going 10 games without a point, and McLean and Hodge just one point in seven games.
“It’s going to give a big opportunity for a couple guys to step up, and we have some guys on our roster who probably don’t feel to good with the start they’ve had, who are really looking to take a bigger role, and they’re going to have a good opportunity for the next nine games.”
For Ghirardosi, the second year forward was impressive last season with 19 goals and 40 points in 57 games, and expectations were high, but the Montrose native’s production has fallen off, with five goals and 13 points at the mid-point of the season. Tambellini has gone through similar droughts in his own career, and says staying positive is the best remedy.
“I think he (Ghirardosi) is a young guy coming into his second year, where the role is different, he’s not in a supporting role, he’s in a leading role now,” said Tambellini. “He’s a young man that wants to have success … him and I talked the other day, and said ‘Hey it may not be a year where you go for 50 points, but you can have the best second half a guy could have and have an unbelievable playoff.’”
The Smoke Eaters return home with a game against the Vernon Vipers on Wednesday at the Cominco Arena at 7 p.m.