About 40 players will hit Cominco Arena ice on Monday for the Trail Smoke Eaters training camp in preparation of its 20th season in the BCHL.
The team is already in a better position than last year when coach Nick Deschenes and assistants Craig Clare and Barry Zanier had to start from scratch. With only four returnees, the Smokies brought in 18 new players last season, so to begin their 20th BCHL campaign with over 10 returning players is a step in the right direction.
“We have our goaltending situation sorted,” said Deschenes. “At forwards we have some pretty good depth, and on defence we have a few good pieces that are coming back and we’re just waiting to see how everyone prepared themselves, and have they elevated their games through training (in the summer).”
With the graduation of goaltender Adam Todd, the Smokies signed 20-year-old Bailey MacBurnie of Beverly, Mass. and 17-year-old six-foot-three backup Linden Marshall of Victoria to tend the nets.
The Smokies also have four returning defenceman including Trail native Jeremy Lucchini, and up to seven returning forwards, along with quality post-season acquisitions like Kolby Livingstone, Rhett Wilcox, Jake Kauppila and former Beaver Valley Nitehawk Kurt Black.
“We made some pretty key trades and brought in some experienced veterans that are going to give the team a different identity,” said Deschenes. “We’re only going to have, I think, four scholarships to start the year, so we’re going have a whole boat load of players knocking on the door and looking for that opportunity.”
In addition, the team also announced the acquisition of Toronto native Quinn Syrydiuk, a six-foot, 172 pound forward who played with the Toronto Lakeshore Panthers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League for the past two years. Syrydiuk, a versatile forward, netted 14 goals and 33 points with the Panthers in 49 games, and played in the 2014 RBC Cup.
“The opportunity came up and its hard to pass on a player of this calibre,” said Deschenes. “He’s been a part of two championship teams in the OJHL . . . He had a solid playoff and had 15 points in 20 games for them. He’s capable of playing wing and centre, and to keep up with everyone else in our division we have to find the best players.”
The Smokies will also see Montrose native Spencer McLean and Rossland’s Ross Armour round out the local contingent of players. Both played Affiliate Player roles with the Smokies last year and were impressive in their performances. As for returning players, Deschenes is expecting big things from Max Newton who scored 17 of his 24 points in the final 22 games, and Lucchini can also look forward to a bigger role on the back end.
“A lot of guys are poised for breakout seasons, so if everyone breaks out then we’re in the running, but if we stumble a bit, we’re going to have to change things quickly, and not let the lapse happened that did in December of last year.”
Deschenes also hopes to identify potential Smoke Eaters at the camp, giving a confident nod to Trail’s Ethan Martini, a 14-year-old defenceman who played with Edge School Bantam Prep last season in Calgary.
With a strong core of returning players, quality off-season acquisitions, and solid goaltending, the Smoke Eaters chances, at least early on, look good, but as for competing for a playoff spot in the always tough Interior division – never an easy prospect.
“It’s the million dollar question,” said Deschenes. “With the group we had last year, I thought we had some really good pieces in play, and at time showed our potential and that we were definitely capable of more last year as a group and it just never played out.
“This year we have a different make up, a different identity and we’ll see. This will be year two. The test as a coach is that we brought in a lot of players and they’re carrying over and hopefully everything, our program, has gotten them to a place where they are going to have a good impact this year.”
The camp gets underway on Monday starting with practice at 10 a.m. and game going 7-9:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena. The camp goes at the same times for Tuesday, with the final Black and Orange game dropping the puck on Wednesday at 10 a.m.