A Storm is coming to the Trail Memorial Centre this weekend.
The Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Grande Prairie Storm blows into Trail to face the Smoke Eaters in a pair of exhibition games on Saturday and Sunday. The games will be the first test for the newly built Smoke Eaters following an intense four days of workouts at the Smoke Eaters Main Camp this week, culminating in a spirited Orange vs Black match up on Thursday night.
“You never really know where each team is at, but … just bringing in different teams where you don’t see them and they don’t see us, it’s a great opportunity for two leagues to come together and compete against each other.”
Trail wrapped up their Main Camp on Thursday, in what was an intense series of scrimmages and instruction, a departure from past camps where players compete head-to-head in full-on scrimmages.
“I just told the guys how impressed I was just to see the levels of the first two days,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “We did it a little different this year, pulling more of a pro-style training camp. We have our 40 guys and we’re working on team stuff, and trying to see how guys execute our concepts, our systems, and the types of plays we want on our team from Day 1.”
The Smokies will be a much different team than last year. Trail has just 10 players returning, so there will be a lot of new talent on this year’s squad, but most highly touted and experienced.
“It’s a different look,” said Tambellini. “Our new groups coming in, we have six junior guys coming in with two to three years experience, and our young prospects have really taken a step forward from last year to both spring camps and now to main camp. So an extremely different group, older group, more mature group, we’re handling things different, and there’s a lot of competition at every spot. There’s a lot of really good players with our group and now they have to figure out who is going to be the guy that starts opening night, and who’s going to get the big minutes.”
Trail looks to be solid on the back end with returning defencemen Diarmad Dimurro, Trevor Isaakson, Keiran O’Hearn, Kyle Budvarson, and Powell Connor.
In goal, Vancouver product Donovan Buskey, 19, returned to the team, and will compete for a spot against committed netminders Gabriel Waked, a 20-year-old veteran from Quebec, and Logan Terness, a 16-year-old Burnaby native, who was impressive in three games with the Smokies as an AP last year.
“To have three goaltenders that play at that level is a blessing,” said Tambellini. “Bad goaltending is a problem. We’ll work it out, but for now we have three great kids who are competing hard for this, and the best guy is going to start opening night.”
The biggest question mark for the Smoke Eaters was their ability to rebuild a depleted offensive corps that saw most of their top forwards graduate or move on to play college hockey. Only Kent Johnson, Max Kryski, Tyler Ghirardosi, and Owen Ozar will return to lead the Smokies offence. However, a relentless recruiting effort by the Smoke Eaters staff has turned up some top-end forwards for now and the future. As a result of the past week and previous camps, Tambellini is confident they are all on the same page heading into the exhibition season.
“When these guys step on the ice, they know what I’m looking for, they know the identity of our team, they know the level they need to be at to make it past tonight (Thursday) and into the weekend.”
Whoever is left, may not be the most talented, but you know they’ve worked their butts off.
“You can out-compete skill, and our biggest thing is we’re going to out-compete everybody and then we’re going to let our talent and our skill take over.”
Trail hosts Grande Prairie at 7 p.m. Saturday night and at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon at the Cominco Arena.