Smokies hire assistant coach

The Trail Smoke Eaters announced the hiring of their new full-time assistant coach this week - Ryan Donald of St. Albert

The Trail Smoke Eaters announced the hiring of their new full-time assistant coach this week.

St. Albert native Ryan Donald will join Smoke Eater head coach Nick Deschenes’ and assistants Barry Zanier and Craig Clair for the 2015-16 season in hopes of directing the Smokies onto a winning track.

“I am thrilled to get started with the Smoke Eaters and work to build a championship caliber program alongside coach Deschenes,” Donald said in a release. “The BCHL is widely recognized as one of the premier junior ‘A’ leagues in North America, and I am excited to return to western Canada where I grew up and played myself.”

Donald opened the 2014-15 season as an assistant coach of the Woodstock Slammers in the Maritime Hockey League and took over head-coaching and assistant GM duties in February. The Slammers finished second in their division with an impressive 36-10-0-2 record, before being upset in the first round of the playoffs by the Miramichi Timberwolves.

While Donald’s coaching experience may be slight, the 28-year-old former defenceman has a seasoned pedigree as a player. Donald played two years in the Alberta Junior Hockey league before receiving a NCAA Div 1 scholarship with the Yale Bulldogs who he captained in his senior year and was all-academic team and ECAC champion in 2010.

After graduation, he went on to play four years in the AHL with Providence Bruins and Charlotte Checkers and ECHL’s Gwinnet Gladiators, where he gained experience coaching hockey while in his final season with the Gladiators.

“He’s a defenceman and we were looking for someone with that knowledge,” said Deschenes. “Ryan’s coaching experience with the Woodstock Slammers, his playing experience in the AHL, ECHL, ECAC, championship experiences, and leadership qualities make him an extremely well qualified coach for the BCHL.”

The position also affords Donald the opportunity to move closer to home, but, more so, he is intent on improving the Smoke Eaters chances and realizing the opportunities of Smokie players.

“My goal is to help each player within the Smoke Eaters organization reach their individual goals, while also growing the footprint the Smoke Eaters have in the community and surrounding area,” said Donald.

The addition of Donald comes just days after the signing of highly-touted goaltender Bailey Macburnie, and former B.V. Nitehawk Kurt Black as the Smokies continue to improve the on-ice product during the off-season. And while Deschenes admits the Smokies may not have as many committed players to start this campaign, he thinks that may be a positive.

“We’re going to only have four commitments so far, but I feel like we should have about 10 players who will generate some interest. It’s a little bit different than last year, but I think having players come in hungry is really going to be a different on-ice product than players that already have their future set.”

According to Deschenes, Donald will be involved in all aspects of hockey operations working alongside assistant coaches Zanier and Clare to continue to grow and enhance the Smoke Eater’s program.

“It’s another small victory for Trail,” said Deschenes. “Adding someone of Ryan’s calibre is not an opportunity that presents itself often and we are fortunate he has chosen to be in Trail for the upcoming season.

“It speaks volumes of the Trail Smoke Eaters organization, as it remains a well recognized and respected brand in the hockey world, and also reflects positively on the BCHL reputation to not only draw top end hockey players, but coaches as well.”

We look forward to welcoming him and his wife Carly to the Trail community. ”