The BCHL is kicking off its season with the Bauer-BCHL Showdown at Prospera Place in Chilliwack this weekend.
The Trail Smoke Eaters have a day off today but will hit the ice on Saturday against the Coquitlam Express and Sunday versus the Powell River Kings.
“I think we have a good group here,” said Smokies coach Nick Deschenes. “The talent level is high and will continue to climb, and the work ethic is there, and for the most part comraderie and sense of team is fairly strong . . . it’s going to be a day-by-day approach, but it’s going to be a good test and we’ll see where we sit.”
The Smokies are coming off a great test last weekend splitting a pair of games with the Selkirk College Saints of the BC Inter-collegiate Hockey League, that included an exciting 5-4 double-overtime win at home on Saturday. The team will likely have a tougher time of it this weekend against Coquitlam, who finished third in the Mainland division, and particularly the Island division Kings, who were vying for top spot in the league for much of last season. A pair of wins would be nice, but at this point, victories over Island and Mainland division teams are not critical.
“They are opponents that we play just two times after this, so it’s not like we’re trying to create some kind of rivalry here,” said Deschenes. “I mean we’ll have an idea, and they will be educated, but our focus is going to have to be to play our game.”
Home tilts against Interior division rivals Penticton Vees and Salmon Arm SilverBacks on Sept. 26 and 27 will indicate just how competitive the Smoke Eaters are this season, as division teams play each other seven times during the year.
“Time will tell, (but) our whole focus and mission is to get Trail back on track and in the playoffs. We’re here to push as hard as we can all year. There will be games made, there will be setbacks, but overall we’re going to come out where we want to be.”
Deschenes likes the balance of the team starting with talent and scoring touch up front with Bryan Basilico, Scott Davidson, Dallas Calvin, Jake Lucchini and new comer Charlie Zuccarini, 19, from Connecticut who was impressive in the pre-season.
“Charlie Zuccarini is a forward that, coming from the USPHL, we weren’t sure exactly how he would fit in this league and with the group, but he was probably our best player throughout the preseason.”
The Smokies are also solid on the blue line with acquisitions like Yale commit Victor Dombrovskiy, Brown commit Conner Wynne, and Army commits Bryan Gerstenfeld and Ryan Swanson, joining the lone returning defenceman Zane Shartz, and former Beaver Valley Nitehawks Sheldon Hubbard and Jeremy Lucchini.
“I thought overall our defensive core was very solid with the puck and made good decisions, miles ahead of the year before.”
Goaltending should be solid this season with Adam Todd returning, and Brett Clark, who backstopped the Nitehawks to a Keystone Cup in April, joining him once he recovers from an ankle injury.
Deschenes and his coaching staff, Barry Zanier and Craig Clare, have done a remarkable job of recruiting this summer, trading or releasing over 10 players and rebuilding a team around a core of character young men.
“We have a lot of different elements on this team,” said Deschenes. “When push comes to shove we have guys that are in it for the right reasons, that want to battle and compete – a little of that with some speed, some skill, some intensity. Everyone brings there own element and so the fun, challenging part of coaching is taking these elements and try to create a team, and hopefully the sum of all its parts may be greater.”
The Smokies, however, will be without Scott Davidson for the first round of games after suffering a concussion in an exhibition match against the Merritt Centennials last week. Nevertheless, the newly minted captain is happy with his recovery progress and proud to join the ranks of Smokie leaders.
“It’s kind of cool wearing the ‘C’ after growing up watching guys like Jon Hanley, Kevin Limbert, and those guys,” said Davidson. “The pressure is on a little bit, but I think our team is pretty strong this year, and we’ll be able to prove what we need to prove.”
The Smoke Eaters got off to a good start even before they hit the ice with a charity softball game and a couple days of intense training with mental and physical trainer Sean Bacon.
“It’s good, after seargent Bacon there, I feel like our team is really tight already and we haven’t even started the season,” said Davidson.
As for the long-term goals, the Smokies are aiming at a playoff spot, and maybe even a trip to Portage la Prairie, Man.
“That’s our ultimate goal, the RBC is in our eyes,” added Davidson. “it should be a good season.”