Smokies provided fun ride

A disappointing end to a promising season for the Smoke Eaters. There was little difference among the top five, maybe even six, teams in the interior division – testament to that is that third place Salmon Arm is leading its series with second place Penticton heading to its home barn and fourth place Westside, just a couple of plays away from losing to the Smokies, has taken home ice advantage from first place Vernon in that series.

Back to the Smoke Eaters.

For the most part, they provided outstanding hockey entertainment this season. If all the age-eligible Smokies were returning (four, at last count, were off to college and at least one is part of a futures deal with Prince George) that would be guaranteed for 2011/12 as well.

At least half the squad is moving on.

Among those movers is the all-time leader in games and minutes played, captain Paul Mailey, who worked and sweated on behalf of the team for five on and off-seasons.

We’ll never know what his presence may have meant to the team in game seven, but we know he did, for all five seasons, put everything he had into the team’s fortunes.

It all began with a game winner in his first ever-home start in orange and black. There were highs a lows for the team along the way, but Paul’s motor was always revving and we can be proud of and grateful for all of his efforts.

Lots of turning points for the team, the things that took the season from potentially great to merely good.

Having younger players good enough to miss several games due to call-ups to elite-level play didn’t help the team’s chemistry – or a coaching staff trying to get some lines set – even though the events themselves were positive for those players and the team’s reputation.

Injuries, too, played a part, especially a spate of them impacting the Smokies’ very solid defensive group. Key there, I think, was the devastating damage to newcomer Rajan Sidhu from a dirty hit in Prince George. Up to that point, Sidhu was as good as any d-man in the league. Afterwards, his long layoff and the lingering effects of the injury had him a still good, but lesser, player than his early season had promised.

I truly hope he comes back ready and able to fulfill that promise.

There will be good players returning, and, one hopes, more good ones recruited. That’s for next year, which begins with a spring camp here in a week.

For this year – thanks guys, it was a fun ride.

*****

There will be, for hockey fans, lots of local talent on display in Castlegar Saturday night (7p.m.). Fernie, which has former Smokie Thomas Abenante as its top playoff scorer and features other former Smokies on its roster, meets Castlegar, which has loads of area kids in its mix, in game four of the KIJHL semi-finals. As of Thursday morning that series was tied.

Good time to check out futures to recommend to the Smoke Eater staff.