A pair of wins this weekend will go a long way in getting Trail Smoke Eater players some attention as they head to Chilliwack for the fourth annual BCHL Showcase.
The “Showcase” serves as a launching pad to the NCAA, with nearly 200 scouts from 41 colleges and 23 NHL teams in the stands watching the BCHL teams in action over the next four days at Chilliwack’s Prospera Centre.
The Smokies will play their first games of the year against teams outside the Interior division, facing the Prince George Spruce Kings on Saturday and the Wenatchee Wild on Sunday.
“It’s always a different experience whenever we leave our division,” said coach and GM Nick Deschenes. “We’re just excited to get over there with all the scouts that are going to be there so our big thing is really keying in on how we play and putting our best foot forward.”
Last year Trail graduated a number of college commits including Trail natives Jake Lucchini (Michigan Tech), Craig Martin (Quinnipiac), Scott Davidson (Quinnipiac), and Dallas Calvin (Selkirk College) as well as Charlie Zuccharini (Arizona State) and Bryan Basilico (Lake Superior). On this year’s team, rookies Nick Halloran and John Laurito have committed to Air Force and Army, respectively, leaving about 20 players seeking a similar opportunity.
“We’ve definitely promoted our guys here and made it known to schools whose eligible for what, academically and as well as whose playing well,” said Deschenes. “Two games doesn’t make a scholarship and that’s something we’re going to stress with our guys; it’s a process, and an opportunity to show that you’re ready.”
The Smoke Eaters will face two teams at opposite ends of the Mainland division spectrum. The undefeated 3-0 Wild lead the division while Prince George is winless in four games.
Kyle Stephan, 20, of Barrie, Ont. leads the Wild with two goals and seven points in three games. Wenatchee goalie Chase Perry has played all three games and registered impressive numbers with one shutout, a 1.34 goals against average, and a sparkling .934 save percentage.
“Their recruiting parameters are pretty loose, so basically any player not in the USHL – Wenatchee is a solid option for them if they want to play in the BCHL. So they’ll be a contender for sure this year.”
On the flip side, the Spruce Kings have been the most penalized team in the league with the second worst penalty kill, allowing nine goals on 29 shorthanded situations for a 68.9 per cent PK. The team has also struggled offensively, scoring just two goals in four games while allowing 22.
Trail Smoke Eaters forward Kurt Black leads the team with three goals and seven points, while Bailey MacBurnie has been solid in net registering two wins and a loss while putting up a 3.35 goals against average and respectable 9.09 save percentage. The 2-2 Smokies have struggled on the power play, netting just one goal in 19 power play opportunities, with an 80 per cent kill rate on 25 penalties.
“We’re still hammering out our defensive play,” said Deschenes. “We need that to be better for us to give ourselves a chance to win games, and playing pretty high-end teams like Wenatchee, and Salmon Arm and Penticton coming up, those are very strong teams and we’re going to need to shore up that part of our game for sure.”
The Smokies are coming off a 5-3 victory over Merritt in their only game last weekend. Rhett Wilcox will be back in the lineup after suffering a concussion in the first game of the season, a 5-3 win over Vernon in which he scored two goals.
The Smokies will say goodbye to assistant coach Ryan Donald who will join Yale University as assistant coach. While his stay with the Smokies was brief, the association with Yale might pay dividends in the future.
“It’s not a loss, because that’s the name of the game,” said Deschenes. “We’re happy for him, and it comes at a really good time in his personal life and career so we look at it as, we had him for a month and he made an impact on our group for sure, and hopefully we have an ally down the road . . . Little did they (the players) know they were playing for an NCAA assistant coach.”
The BCHL has 72 players committed to colleges and have averaged 105 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I commitments per season over the last five years.
Trail plays Prince George at 10 a.m. on Saturday and face off against the Wild at 4 p.m. Sunday.