A talented mix of rookie and veteran players is generating a lot of optimism at the Trail Smoke Eaters Main Camp.
The Smoke Eaters recruiting last season and over the summer has created one of the most intriguing camps in recent years, with 11 Smoke Eaters commitments standing out among the 60 players competing for positions over the three-days of scrimmages.
“We’ve been really impressed with the players that we committed to to come and play for us,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Jessie Leung. “For our money, they’ve been the best players every time they’re on the ice.”
The coaching staff, led by head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini, is also giving fans a glimpse into the upcoming season with line combinations that included a trio of Smoke Eater veterans in Carter Jones centring Tyler Ghirardosi and Levi Glasman, and Braeden Tuck playing on a line with highly-touted Burnaby Winter Club commits Kent Johnson and Sean Donaldson.
“Potentially, we had a couple of combinations that we thought about throughout the off-season that we thought might work and give us some things to work with,” said Leung. “And as we’ve gone through it, a lot of them have worked out as we thought, and some better than we thought.”
Tuck, a three-year Smoke Eater vet,is pumped about the camp’s emerging talent and says the 11 returning veterans are even more confident for the upcoming season.
“It’s going good,” said Tuck. “Everybody is looking good, and all I know is the returning guys are eager and wanting to go farther than we did last year, and win a championship, so it’s exciting.”
Tuck and his Burnaby linemates generated more than a few dazzling scoring chances on the first day of scrimmage Tuesday with creative passing and a quick finish.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Tuck. “They have a lot of chemistry so I try to just help them out and they help me out too, so it’s been nice to play with them.”
Johnson, a 15-year-old turning 16 in October, comes to camp after committing to the Smoke Eaters in December, not long after Burnaby teammate Donaldson. The Port Moody native played three games last season for Trail as an affiliate player, and was excited to join the the club.
“I think it’s an awesome staff, and great facilities, awesome fans and just a top-notch organization all the way through,” said Johnson. “It’s nice to come in with a guy you’re already familiar with and someone you have chemistry with on the ice too. It makes it a little easier coming in.”
Nashville Predators scout Glen Sanders was also impressed with the new Trail recruits, and pleasantly surprised with the quality of defencemen the Smokies assembled after losing all but two of their blueliners.
Veteran defencemen Jeremy Smith and Diarmud DiMurro play with poise and confidence and will compliment the leadership of returning d-men Kyle Chernenkoff and Trevor Zins.
“I think we have a great set of dynamic defencemen, and the ones I hadn’t seen yet have come as advertised, if not better,” said Leung.
Like Tambellini, Leung believes this year’s team will have four strong, dynamic lines, and that depth will be the Smoke Eaters major strength going forward.
“We’re very happy with the depth and the breadth of quality we have here,” said Leung. “There is a tremendous skill level and a lot of dynamic players within that group – some puck transporters, some puck movers – and we’re just really happy to know we have an incredible amount of depth to work with.”
In the past, Trail had trouble competing with rival BCHL teams for top-end talent, but that is all changing and the proof is becoming more apparent every year.
“I think you look at some of the players we were able to commit to and bring to camp and these are players that are high-profile, top-end talent that any team would love to get,” said Leung. “It’s credit to the work we’ve done here as a coaching staff, and as a team staff, and clearly credit to Rich and Annie (Murphy) for coming in and really changing the landscape of what we can do here.”
The Smoke Eaters will cut the camp numbers down to two teams for the Black vs White game Thursday at the Cominco Arena. The evening scrimmage will highlight immediate and future prospects as the team prepares for it’s exhibition season that starts in Wenatchee against the Wild on the weekend.
“In terms of depth, in terms of high-end, and just the variety of talented players we have here, I think this is higher than we had last season, so we’re very excited what we’re able to do this year, and what this means for us in the future.”
Trail plays four exhibition games, two in Wenatchee on Saturday and Sunday, and a home-and-home with West Kelowna on Aug. 31 in Kelowna and Sept. 1 in Trail.
The Black vs White game goes Thursday night at 6 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.