Timing is everything for local and incoming hockey players vying for a spot on Major Midget and Junior hockey teams.
There are no-less than seven teams in the Kootenay-Boundary that age 15- to 20-year-old players can tryout for includng the Nelson Leafs camp last week, the Major Midget Kootenay Ice (15-17) camp this past weekend, the Trail Smoke Eaters camp this week, and the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, Creston, Grand Forks Border Bruins or Castlegar Rebels camp this weekend.
“There’s been probably six to eight that were at the Major Midget camp, we have guys from Creston (Thunder Cats) that are here, a handfull of guys from each team,” said Smoke Eater assistant coach Curtis Toneff. “We have a lot of guys that are property of Creston, Grand Forks, Major Midget, Castlegar or Nelson, and Beaver Valley, which is good to have them in our back yard.”
Eleven players and affiliate players from last seasons Nitehawks are at the Smokies training camp this week and depending on their performances, will potentially be back with the Hawks for the start of its camp on Friday, or will continue the season with the Smoke Eaters.
“It all depends on how guys do at the Junior A camps,” said Nitehawks coach and GM Terry Jones. “If we lose a few guys then we’ll have a few holes to fill.”
The Nitehawks coach expects about 10 players to return from last year’s team particularly veteran leaders like Kyle Hope, Sam Swanson, McKoy Hauk and Devon Nemes.
“Those guys are important leaders on our team, and we really look forward to having them back,” said Jones.
Trying out for the Smoke Eaters are 16- and 17-year-old players like Brad Ross, and Tyler and Devon Ghiradhosi, and veterans Hope, Christian Macasso, Karsten Jang, Evan Gorman, Connor Seib, Jake Yuris, Blake Sidoni, and goalie Talon Kramer.
While Jr. B teams like the Nitehawks will see former players graduate to the Jr. A ranks, there are benefits to having the camp following the Smoke Eaters’.
“Everyone does things a little different,” said Toneff. “Some coaches like to see guys battle it out to the wire and other teams are mostly picked by the summer. But it gives Terry (Jones) and other coaches from Castlegar and Grand Forks a chance to have a look here first and see what will maybe shake down and make their decision from there.”
For the Major Midget Kootenay Ice, which is in a transition this season to the High Performance Hockey Academy at J. L. Crowe, the series of camps prove a waiting game, where young players who made the Ice team last week may choose to play with the Smoke Eaters or one of the Jr. B teams in the area the next.
“We have four guys that are trying out for Junior B teams that can probably make it,” said Ice coach Kris Boyce.
For the Ice’s coach, GM Terry Jone’s philosophy holds true; if a potential midget player can make the top two lines of a Junior team then that player should be allowed the opportunity.
“If there’s a standout that’s going to make the top lines, then go for it and play,” said Boyce. “But if you’re going to be a third or fourth liner you may as well come back and play a lot of minutes for this team.”
Boyce and the coaching staff have 18 players on the Ice roster and will watch closely as a handful of those vie for a spot on the Smoke Eaters or one the many KIJHL teams.
“We’re waiting to see what happens with these Jr. B players, because if they move on we have to fill those spots.”
In the meantime, coaches and scouts are watching closely as the trickle down of talent takes effect over the next couple weeks. A players disappointment from not making one team will be a benefit for another, and possibly tip the scales in the hunt for a playoff berth or league championship.
“I don’t blame them (the coaches), there’s lots of talent here, but we can’t take them all,” says Toneff. “A couple guys may fall through the cracks and end up on one of these teams if they want to play junior in Canada.”
The Smoke Eaters camp continues this week with scrimmages going all day today and Thursday, with the final Black and Orange game going at 7 p.m. Thursday night.