Smokies hire assistant

Castlegar man named Trail Smoke Eaters’ assistant coach.

The Trail Smoke Eaters hired a new assistant coach this week, adding some good Kootenay experience behind the bench.

The Smokies added Castlegar resident Brent Heaven to their coaching staff on Friday. Heaven comes with six years experience coaching junior hockey, in addition to a one-year stint with the Major Midget Kootenay Ice in 2010-11.

“I’m obviously very excited,” said Heaven. “I played back in the BC Hockey League back in the 90’s and remember playing against Trail, and really liked the arena and its heritage.”

Last season Heaven coached the KIJHL Creston Valley Thunder Cats and is a 2009-10 Neil Murdoch Division coach-of-the-year recipient with the Castlegar Rebels, where he spent three years behind the bench, taking the team to the league final. Heaven also played for the Quesnel Millionaires and Powell River Kings of the BCHL, before finishing his junior career with the former Osoyoos Heat of the KIJHL.

He came to the Kootenays in 2005 to coach the Rebels, but his  goal was to get to the BCHL level and to be able one day coach with the Smoke Eaters.

Heaven and Smokie coach Bill Birks built a good relationship this past year. The former Creston coach made AP’s readily available for the Junior A team and impressed Birks with his commitment to the players and the game.

“He recruits, he’s got some great ideas for community events with the kids, he’s got some really good ideas for power play and penalty kill, and just brings a fresh set of eyes in,” but most of all says Birks, “He is eager as hell to work, and that’s the biggest thing.”

Part of the 32 year old’s unique skill-set is an education in business and his work as head coach with IDT player development at the Okanagan Hockey Academy, in addition to conducting numerous hockey schools and power skating clinics.

“My hockey background is the developmental side of the game,” he said. “That’s one thing I’ve prided myself on in my seven year career coaching junior hockey is to help the young kids get to the next level whether that be to Junior A or Major Junior or college.”

The Smokies look to have a strong core of young talent returning this summer for training camp, and while Heaven will continue to help the Thunder Cats find a new head coach, he will also be working to strengthen the Smoke Eaters.

“With Bill coming in as a first year head coach, he did a good job bringing in some good core players,” said Heaven. “You need good goaltending and defense but if you can’t put the puck in the net you’re going to have a tough time winning hockey games.”

The Smoke Eaters were plagued by injuries throughout the season, particularly the last half when in many games the team could only dress 13 players. Heaven’s goal is to help coach Birks bring in the best talent they can, and hopefully include local players as well.

“We’re going to look to add some scoring and gain stability all the way through the line up . . . but try to get a lot more Kootenay flavour into the lineup. I know it’s been tough over the years, but that’s something I’m really going to try to help with.”

The Smokies executive fielded about 25 applications before deciding on the local talent.

“We’re going to work really closely, hand in hand together, and try to get the Smokies into the tops in the league,” said the new assistant coach.

Heaven’s record in Creston was 30-17-0-5 last season, and an impressive 99-51-2-10 in Castlegar.