New era for Trail Smoke Eater faithful

Behind the scenes of the Trail Smoke Eaters with Chris Wahl.

The Nick Deschenes era officially began Tuesday afternoon on Cominco Arena ice, and after an October to forget, it’s full steam ahead for the good ship Smoke Eater as Trail tries to claw their way back into the Interior division race.

Deschenes, who took perennial strugglers Grand Forks to a very respectable 6-7-0-1 record through 14 games this season, will bring new energy, new direction, and maybe most importantly a new focus on conditioning to a group badly needing a figurehead following popular coach Bill Birks’ departure two weeks ago.

The numbers don’t lie. Trail has been outscored 36-17 in third periods this season, including giving up a staggering 20 goals in their last six third periods away from home. For a team looking to erase a two-year playoff drought, that simply won’t do.

Deschenes inherits a team that lacks punch, a trait that can be traced back to mid-August when two star players, including the team’s top returning eligible scorer, decided to try their luck south of the border in the USHL.

Fair play to both of them for making their respective teams, although at the time of writing, the two players in question, Luke Sandler and Austin Adduono have combined for ONE goal in a combined 20 games played; Sandler leads the league in penalty minutes. You can certainly make the argument that the departure of those dynamic forwards, plus 20 year-old d-man Marley Keca to Concordia University, were unexpected blows from which this team hasn’t yet recovered, and might well have cost Birks his job.

Deschenes’ teams in Grand Forks were hard-working, physical yet he allowed his players to exhibit some creative flair (at one point this year, Bruins forwards Jackson Purvis, a Smoke Eaters affiliate, and Connor Gross were 1-2 in KIJHL scoring).

His ability to bring that type of player to a Border Bruins franchise that hasn’t finished above .500 since 1997 speaks volumes of his recruiting prowess, too. A decade long college and pro career has surely helped Deschenes’ Rolodex, and it’s no surprise that Purvis and Gross both hailed from Deschenes’ home province of Alberta.

Birks was a passionate, loyal coach, and far and away the most engaging and honest interviewee among bench bosses in the BCHL. Deschenes has all the tools to become all that and more, and I for one can’t wait to see what he brings to the table this weekend when Trail hosts Victoria, Friday, and visits the West Kelowna Warriors, Saturday, in an effort to turn this season around.

For those who say it can’t be done, I leave you with this. Between Dec. 14, 1985 and Jan. 7, 1986, the Calgary Flames lost 11 consecutive games, culminating in a 9-1 shelling at home at the hands of the Hartford Whalers. In May of 1986, those same Flames reached the Stanley Cup Final. Don’t count this team out yet.