The Trail Smoke Eaters fired their head coach and GM, Cam Keith, on Monday.
The Nelson native was conspicuously absent at the City of Trail ceremony that honoured the team Monday afternoon, and it was revealed later in a press release that Keith had been relieved of his duties that morning.
The 37-year-old’s dismissal comes three days after the Smokies historic playoff run that saw the team fall in five games to the Wenatchee Wild in the Interior Division final on Friday.
“It was a difficult decision, and a decision we didn’t take lightly,” said Director of Hockey Operations Craig Clare. “But it was a decision we needed to make. We need to get better and that’s our intention here.”
The decision to let Keith go is surprising to many as Trail improved each of the two seasons the former professional hockey player and coach was behind the bench.
When asked if Keith was fired for disciplinary or performance reasons, Clare could not comment, but said he was involved in the decision-making process that precipitated the move.
“We’ve done a lot of great things here with wins and losses, but it was a difficult decision, and one that needed to be made.”
Keith spent two seasons as an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL before coming to Trail, and prior to that played 11 seasons in the CHL, ECHL, AHL, and Europe. He also played 55 games for the Smoke Eaters in the late ’90s, before moving on to the NCAA University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
Trail signed Keith to a three-year contract as head coach and GM in June of 2016. On Dec. 1, 2016 Minnesota businessman Rich Murphy bought the team and began a significant transformation of the team and its facility.
In his first season, Keith led the team to a third-place finish in the Interior with a 26-26-5-1 record and a berth into the playoffs, where they beat Salmon Arm in the first round before falling to the Vernon Vipers in the semifinal series. This season the Smoke Eaters placed fourth in the Interior Division but with a much improved 32-21-4-1 record. Trail was contending for first place in the league after 25 games, but a series of injuries and absences to their top players sent the team on a 10-game losing skid in December that dropped Trail out of contention.
The team got back on track in January, and went on to sweep the West Kelowna Warriors in the first round, and then defeated the top-seeded Penticton Vees in Game 7 to give the Smokies a shot at the Interior Division title.
Clare also confirmed that current assistant coach Jessie Leung will stay on as assistant coach, and that the search for the head coach-GM position is underway.
“We’re working hard here to get someone in place,” added Clare. “The right person, and I’m confident that we’ll do that … and get someone with a great track record, who fits our program, and will make us better.”
A release by the team Monday evening read: “As of this morning, the Trail Smoke Eaters have relieved Cam Keith of his head coaching and GM duties. The Trail Smoke Eaters organization would like to thank Cam for his work with the team these past two seasons and wish him success in future endeavours.”
The Trail Times could not reach Keith for comment.
SMOKE EATER COACHES
1995-96: Danny Bradford
1995-96: Hank Deadmarsh
1996-98: Kelvin McKay
1997-99: Dennis McKinnon
1999-01: Gary Davidson
2000-02: Bruno Campese
2002-03: Aldo Iaquinta
2003-04: Mike Mondin (interim)
2003-05: Gary VanHereweghe
2004-07: Tim Kehler
2007-11: Jim Ingram
2011-13: Bill Birks
2013-16: Nick Deschenes
2016-18: Cam Keith