Despite their late addition to the league, the Trail Smoke Eaters will help light the candles to celebrate the BCHL’s 50th year with big promotions and slashed ticket prices for this weekend’s game.
The Smoke Eaters joined the BCHL in 1995, thanks to the efforts of a devoted group of Smokies supporters, but it was not the first time the group had tried to team up with the junior A organization.
“A couple years earlier we had tried to join by buying a brand-new franchise, but they turned us down,” said former Smokies president and co-investor Rob LeRose.
It was not until the Bellingham Ice Hawks franchise went up for sale that the Smokies group was given the green light to buy the team and join the BCHL, although at the time, they received a hefty fine for leaving the Rocky Mountain Hockey League.
The step up to the BCHL was an enormous stride for the Smokies but one that was well worth it says, LeRose.
“As a citizen of Trail I would think it was definitely a plus to have a B.C. Hockey League franchise in your town. I think it’s a better caliber of hockey, higher level of competition and for local hockey players, it’s a good stepping stone for those kids who want to move onto hockey scholarships.”
Since then the team’s relationship with the league has been a healthy one and promoting the event something that can only benefit the Trail Smoke Eaters and the BCHL.
“The whole idea is to get some new people out to the rinks . . . here’s a good opportunity for families to make it to the game – for five bucks we can’t make it any cheaper,” said Smokies current president Tom Gawryletz.
In recognition of the event, the team is selling tickets to Saturday’s game for a mere $5, plus fans can get a hotdog for only 50 cents. AM Ford will mark the occasion with an airplane toss for a Smokies jersey as well as the more traditional puck toss and 50/50 raffle.
The BCHL has also partnered with KidSport and the Smokies will donate funds raised to the group.
“We’re already tied in with numerous groups, events and charities but this is one the whole league decided to support, and I think it is a great idea,” said Gawryletz.
KidSport offers funding for registration for kids interested in playing a sport but whose families have financial barriers.
“Our team marketers and sales people have really embraced this challenge and come up with some great ideas to promote their team and the history of their franchises and the league,” said BCHL communications director Brent Mutis.
“I’m impressed with the initiative shown by our teams and hope fans get on board with the festivities too.”
It’s also a good time to thank organizers and supporters of the team that do all the heavy lifting but receive little recognition.
“I think people really need to recognize guys like Tom for the commitment he makes to make that hockey league viable and in town,” said LeRose. “I take my hat off to the guy.”
The Smokies play the Westside Warriors in a home-and-home series this weekend with Saturday’s match going at 7:30 at the Cominco Arena.