Time was, when the players were all local, fans knew from year to year who would be on, or trying to make, the local junior hockey team roster.
These days, not so much.
So, every season fans need to re-learn to support the, “local,” team. It helps that there are usually several local, or relatively local (Castlegar, Nelson, Nakusp, even Grand Forks, Spokane and even the East Kootenay can count here) players, among whom are important pieces of the team puzzle.
Quite often the, “local,” teams are staffed predominantly with, “imports,” from all over North America and beyond, which makes it just a bit harder to learn to love the roster.
That learning can be further hindered when, after spending the off-season anticipating those players eligible to return and further fulfill apparent potential will return and help the team step up a notch, and a few standings places, are nowhere to be found when training camp begins.
That is true this season. The 2012-13 Smokies looked to be losing six or seven players, max, from the team that finished strongly, but out of the playoffs. It looks now like that count will be 12 or 13, including at least a few who were/are expected to fully blossom as Junior A elite players this season.
Sometimes those deletions come by way of trades and are announced to the press/fans. Sometimes fans are pleased with the trades, sometimes not.
Sometimes, however, players are just not there when the team comes back, which cuts a hole in the emotional link the fans have developed with whatever roster existed the last time they saw the team play.
Insiders often have the skinny on those happenings, but most fans spend little time in the off-season quizzing those insiders about the new season – until the new season arrives.
Then, the, “learning to love again,” process can begin.
The 2013-14 junior hockey season approaches apace, so even though the arena entrance looks to be protected from incursions by everything but razor wire, ambitious Smoke Eater supporters can begin the process of learning the team anew, grabbing their season or block passes and hoping for the best.
The only exhibition game at Cominco Arena is Tuesday. The first regular season game is Sept. 13.
Here’s hoping fans of junior hockey stay hopeful, and get committed – a strong start by the team would help in that regard – because junior hockey is a significant part of the winter economy here and the teams’ books must, eventually, balance for the enterprises involved to stay afloat in the area.
See you at the rink.