Brady Marzocca bears down on goalie Cameron Donn of Nanaimo in this close-in attempt on Sunday at the Cominco Arena

Smokies Camp springs new hope

The Trail Smoke Eaters wrapped up their Spring Camp with one committed player and many others looking for a shot.

The Trail Smoke Eaters wrapped up their Spring Camp with one committed player and many others looking for a shot at Trail’s Main Camp in August.

Over 100 players took to the Cominco ice for three days of scrimmages and a chance for the Smoke Eater coaching staff to assess and identify potential Smoke Eaters.

“We were really impressed,” said Smoke Eater interim coach Curtis Toneff. “There was lots of talent out there. The calibre of play surprised us. All the guys impressed us with their character walking around the rink and being good teammates on the bench.”

Victoria born defenceman Ryan Warner committed to the orange and black on Sunday. The former Peninsula Panther of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League is a six-foot-four, 195 pound blueliner who will figure prominently on the backend. He will, in part, replace defenceman Bennett Morrison who has accepted a scholarship offer to play for the University of Hamilton in New York. The 18-year-old Warner scored seven goals and had 19 points with the Panthers last season to go along with 45 penalty minutes.

“We will look for him to be a steady-eddie type of defenceman. We lost Bennett Morrison to Division III, so we’re looking for a guy to come in and fill that void.”

The three-day camp was also a great opportunity for the Smoke Eater staff to build and renew relationships with KIJHL players and coaches, and also for the KIJHL teams to identify young prospects for the upcoming season and future.

“It was a well organized camp with lots of prospects for the Smokies, local KI teams, and Major Midget League teams,” said Beaver Valley Nitehawks head coach and GM Terry Jones. “Curtis, Barry (Zanier) and Craig (Clare) have initiated lots of involvement for local teams in terms of working together to create a great system of development for local players.”

In addition to Jones, a number of KIJHL Kootenay Conference coaches attended the camp and helped coach one of the six teams, including Jeff Dubois from the Creston Valley Thundercats, Bill Birks from Beaver Valley Nitehawks, Jesse Dorans from Castlegar, Mario DiBella of Nelson, and Wade Dubielewicz from Columbia Valley.

The camp attracted players from the KIJHL, Major Midget, Canadian High School Academies and U.S. Prep Schools with an emphasis on development and facilitating the movement of affiliate players and Smoke Eater prospects between Junior B KIJHL teams and the Junior A Smokies.

“The goal of the camp was to form a relationship with the guys that impressed us, and our local guys, for the 99-2000 birth year, down the road we want them in our uniform, and to keep progressing the way they are,” said Toneff. “A lot of those guys got invited back to Main Camp, and we want to have a good relationship with them.”

The six teams played a total of 12 games over three days with two goalie sessions. Toneff says that 20-25 of the Spring Camp attendees will be invited to the Main Camp where 60-80 players will compete for a spot on the team.

With Warner’s committment and the recent addition of defenceman Ethan Martini last month, the Smokies blue line is shaping up with Jeremy Lucchini of Trail, Mitch Stapley, Nii Noi Tetteh, and Cooper Sande set to return from last season’s team. The forwards eligible to return include Max Newton, Spencer McLean, Kale Howarth, Blaine Caton, Ross Armour, Cooper Leitch, Nolan Redler, Kienan Scott, and Conner Brown-Maloski. With the addition of recent committments Ryan Murphy and Henry Rhyu up front, the offensive core looks balanced and skilled but ultimately it will all come down to execution, and how many are at camp in August.

Castlegar Rebels goalie Logan Sawka, 19, is a solid bet to vie for top puckstopper with returning goaltender Linden Marshall, while 15-year-old goalie James Porter of Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho, a standout in camp, is high on the future’s list.

“We can see him (Porter) wearing our jersey one day,” said Toneff. “A lot of the other guys, with a new head coach coming in, we’ll be in touch with a lot of them. But Castlegar’s Logan Sawka, he’ll be at main camp I believe.”

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