The Trail Smoke Eaters took a good look at over 80 skaters at their training camp on the weekend and while there were no huge surprises, the remaining players are now looking forward to their next test.
The Smokies cut their numbers to 28 players that will lace them up for the Labour Day exhibition tournament this weekend.
“We have six forward lines, we’ll see how people go, obviously some kids will get more ice time than others but every kid here is going to get a game this weekend,” said Smokies coach Bill Birks.
The coaching staff was impressed with 19-year-old forward Chris Romanchuk from Alberta, and others returning from spring camp like forward Dane Gibson, 17, and defenseman Chris McDonald, 18.
“Our defense and goaltending is going to be extremely strong. We lacked a little scoring in camp, which had us a little worried but now that we’ve got it pared down it’s only going to get better.”
The Smoke Eaters lost their top six scorers from last year and will be on the look out for kids that can bury the puck.
“We’ve got irons in the fire all over the place, like I said there is three weeks before the season so there is always guys coming about and floating around.”
As the Smoke Eaters get set to play familiar foe the Powell River Kings (BCHL) and returning tournament guest, the Brooks Bandits (AJHL), a new team will make an appearance: the relatively unknown Wenatchee Wild from the United States Junior Hockey League.
“Our owner and managing partner, Bill Stewart, has been working towards getting us in the tournament for the past two seasons,” said Wenatchee assistant coach Chris Clark.
“It is a great opportunity for our players to play at the highest level of junior hockey in front of NCAA Division I schools.”
Clark played in the BCHL for the Victoria Salsa from 2001-03, then for Minnesota State where he played four years and received a Bachelor of sports management before moving on to the Wild three years ago.
“Having played in the BCHL I have the utmost respect for the BCHL and junior hockey in Canada in general. Trail, Powell River and Brooks of the AJHL are all tremendous franchises and we know that we will need to be our very best in every game we play.”
Wenatchee has 17 new players this year including a few returning players to watch for: D-man Kyle Huson, forwards Shawn Pauly, Ben Carey, Blake Saylor, Evan Shmidbauer and Matt Cope as well as 20-year-old goaltender Greg Lewis.
Clark looks forward to seeing how his players stack up against Canadian junior players.
“The tournament has a great reputation and will allow our staff to evaluate our players against great competition.”
Several junior and college scouts will be in attendance at the tournament.
Wenatchee skate in the first game of the tournament against Powell River at the Cominco Arena at 3 p.m. Thursday followed by the Smoke Eaters vs Brooks Bandits at 7 p.m.
On Friday, Wenatchee plays Brooks at 3 p.m. and the Smokies face-off against Powell River at 7 p.m.
Saturday it’s Powell River taking on Brooks at 10:30 a.m. while the Smoke Eaters close out the tournament with a game against Wenatchee at 1:30 p.m.