Off the Wahl: An important part of Smokies family

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

The Trail Smoke Eaters, like all clubs in the BCHL, have a host of off-ice staff and volunteers. Without their help, the team simply couldn’t hit the ice each winter.

One young man in particular spends more time at the rink, and does more of the “little things” that help the Smokies operation run smoothly, than just about anyone else I’ve seen in my nearly five seasons of watching, covering, and working for this team.

Matthew Eckersley, better known as “Patches” for the embroidery-laden coat he sports on most away trips, typically starts his work day at 7 or 8 in the morning, washing jerseys, socks and under-gear, folding towels, and helping trainer Kim Penner prepare the dressing room either for afternoon practice or a home game.

Before the pre-game warmup, you might notice Patches stacking pucks along the bench dasher, placing water bottles along the boards, shuttling a shopping cart full of towels for the visiting team to use or even taking food and drinks to the Cominco Arena VIP booth. During the game, he’ll usually set up behind one goal and act as goal judge, generally sporting one of his many game-worn junior hockey jerseys in the process.

But as hard as the ardent Colorado Avalanche fan works, his efforts are usually out-matched by his generosity. I can’t count the number of times our players have boarded the bus for an away game only to find a snack or two on their seats, and Patches generally will get each player a little something before they go home for the holiday break too.

He, like all of us who are lucky enough to be a part of this team, lives for the Smoke Eaters brand. A cursory scan of Facebook postings over the course of this past summer would reveal that Patches simply can’t wait for hockey season, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him without a grin from ear to ear whenever we’ve crossed paths at the rink.

On the road, Patches is about as easy a room-mate as you’ll find, too. He’s always eager to help, and always eager to bring back some kind of memento for his mother from his travels across BC. He even made a plaque at the end of last season with game pucks from each of the 16 BCHL teams.

But for all his hard work, Patches, and the other people who live, breathe, and sleep Smoke Eaters hockey each and every day, will never seek credit. He’s as humble a young man as I’ve ever encountered, and I’m proud to call him a friend.`

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