The Trail Smoke Eaters are happy to be back on home ice as the team held its August ID camp on the weekend at the Trail Memorial Centre.
About 85 players attended the camp, which included many local up-and-comers and returning Smoke Eaters.
“We had about three-quarters of our returning guys, not all of them obviously, logistically with travel and what not,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Tim Fragle. “But we did have a good contingent of returning guys come, and that helped raise the pace, which was good. Then you can see how close the players are to playing, and some that might need another year of development.”
The players were put through a skills session on Friday, before being divided into six teams to compete in game-like scenarios complete with referees on Saturday and Sunday.
Fragle liked what he saw from the group and was impressed with committed Smoke Eaters.
“For the most part, all our new recruits that are coming in, they all made a very good impression,” said Fragle. “They were all where we hope they would be, so that was good to see.”
Despite many minor hockey players not having a season, the Smoke Eaters also had a strong contingent of local ‘04s and ‘05 players.
“One of the players that impressed us was Judah Makway, he had a really good camp, and then there were four or five other locals that showed really well, and they’ll be back to our main camp in September.”
The Smoke Eaters iced a young squad in their 2019-20 season, and competed in a three-team pod in Penticton for 20 games.
Trail came out of the pod in second place playing all games versus the Penticton Vees and Cranbrook Bucks, while staying in relative isolation in a hotel room for more than a month.
“We have a good group returning,” said Fragle. “There still has to be some moves to be made, we have a lot of ’02s returning, but they won’t all be back, and as we get closer to a season, there will be some transactions.”
Fragle says of all the positions, the Smoke Eaters are on the look out for a natural goal scorer up front. In addition, Trail will see 18-year-old Cayden Hamming return to the crease, but with the departure of Logan Terness, Fragle is looking for a solid counterpart in the net.
“We have some good goalies we like, but are looking to add the right one, so those are two areas we’re looking for.”
Recruiting has been more difficult this year, particularly with U.S. born players. With the Canadian border closed until just this past Monday, uncertainty prevailed.
“Their families have a lot of questions on the border, and obviously with the opening today we’ll see how that goes, if that changes their minds,” said Fragle. “We did commit a number of Americans and they’re fully expected to come but that was one hurdle for sure.”
Another emerging challenge is that many players didn’t play a full season, as a result, college/university players were afforded another year of eligibility, so some BCHL committed players, instead of moving on to the NCAA will likely stay to play another year in junior.
“Now some of those kids that were suppose to go, aren’t going, and that trickles down from junior to now minor hockey, and U18. Some of these kids that may have gotten an opportunity are going to have to play another year at the level they were at, so it’s just a real trickle down effect.”
Neverthless, there is more cause for optimism both on and off the ice in 2021-22 and the ID camp was a strong indication of better things to come.
While attendance was restricted to family, scouts, and staff only, it is the first time the Trail Memorial Centre has seen people in the stands for more than 17 months.
“It was really good to see people in the rink and good to see refs out on the ice, and a good contingent of a scouting staff there. And just getting back to what we do, it was sure a good feeling.”
The Smoke Eaters will also be running minor hockey camps for U7-to-U18 from Aug. 16-26 and will run their main camp Sept. 17-20, with the BCHL season start scheduled for Oct. 1.
“We went with a really young team, and that year was really a different year,” said Fragle. “No one had a road map for how to handle that. We went a bit younger, and we hope that will pay off this year and make us a better team.”
For more info on August minor hockey camps go to trailsmokeeaters.com/august-camps.
Read: BCHL announces 54-game schedule