They have 12 rookies on the roster, not including a boatload of inexperienced affiliate players – so we should expect a lot of growing pains – but even knowing that didn’t prepare me for what transpired last Friday at Cominco arena.
After a competent first period the Smoke Eaters proceeded to play perhaps the worst 20 minutes of hockey I have seen in the BCHL in years.
Salmon Arm – and not one of the offensive dynamo Silverback squads that show up every so often – simply cruised to five goals as the Smokies appeared defenceless.
Trail players seemed transfixed by the underwhelming Salmon Arm skaters, who simply went wherever they wished – out of their own zone, through the middle of the ice, and anywhere they wanted to in the Trail zone.
I actually think the 18 shots the Silverbacks were credited with was a significant undercount – and the ones that got counted were basically uncontested efforts from point blank range.
How that got turned around the next night in Salmon Arm, when statistically and on the play Trail should have won going away, is a little mysterious, but brings some hope.
It’s fair to say this was always going to be a rebuilding year (small budget teams have to rebuild, they can’t just reload like the bigger clubs) and on the evidence of that one game it seems the rebuilding is going to be a painfull thing to watch for a while.
On the positive side, there is some talent evident among the newcomers, some hope that at least a few of the holdovers will step up once the team gets organized, and the team is quite young, so individual players may progress quickly.
The current trip to Prince George should provide enough stress (through both travel and play against what seems a pretty solid Spruce Kings squad) to accelerate the bonding process (“Team Building,” in modern PC talk) and we should expect to see a few lineup changes in the near future as the coaching staff comes to some conclusions regarding their initial roster decisions.
Meanwhile, there will be some good hockey at the local barn when Trail returns to home action next weekend – we just need to hope the quality is not all on the visiting side.
I will, of course, make every effort to be there in support of the home team.
The Smoke Eaters have given me a lot of hockey-watching pleasure (and a little pain) since Junior A was re-established here just 16 years ago.
That is, of course, what supporting local efforts are always about, and it’s always worth the personal effort to take part in the community in that way.
Not just local efforts, either.
As a long time sports buff, I am in a season where the pro teams I follow, the Dodgers, the (Liverpool) Reds, the Canadiens and the Bears, are, respectively: pawns in a divorce battle between two self-absorbed jerks; not playing in Europe for one of the few times in my lifetime; too small and injury-prone to compete with the good NHL teams; playing with such a weak offensive line their big-time quarterback may not survive half the season.
Considering all that, watching the Smokies develop can be a highlight of my year.
And when they come together I will be able to say, “I was there through it all.”