Trail Smoke Eater linemates commit to NCAA schools

Lucchini committed to Michigan Tech University Huskies while Zuccarini will head to Arizona State to play for the Sun Devils.

Trail Smoke Eaters linemates Charlie Zuccarini and Jake Lucchini received early Christmas presents from NCAA colleges over the Christmas break.

Lucchini committed to Michigan Tech University Huskies while Zuccarini will head to Arizona State to play for the Sun Devils in the 2015-16 season.

Lucchini talked to the Michigan Tech University recruiter at about 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve and agreed to attend the NCAA Div. 1 school in Houghton, Mich.

“I’m really excited,” said Lucchini. “I’ve been talking to them for a little bit, and then a week ago they offered me a scholarship, and I accepted it. I am excited, my family’s really excited, it was a good Christmas dinner.”

A scholarship to play in the NCAA is the goal of every player in the BCHL, and has been for the Trail native since beginning his junior career with the Smoke Eaters two years ago. But this season, the 19-year-old forward made giant strides on and off the ice, as Lucchini has netted 18 goals and 27 assists and currently sits one point behind Zuccarini for top spot in scoring on the Smokies. The two forwards are currently in eighth and ninth spots overall in the BCHL points scoring race.

“It has been my goal, ever since I was 17, my first year in the league. I had a slow start to my junior career, and kind of picked it up and it’s something that I really wanted.”

Lucchini trained hard in the off-season and his efforts have paid dividends, making him bigger and stronger, and able to compete with the best players in the league.

“I worked out in Castlegar and that really helped me out, with Jeremy, my brother, Scott (Davidson) and Craig (Martin), we kind of pushed each other and it worked out really well.”

Michigan Tech was ranked as high as Number 1 in NCAA Div. 1 hockey earlier this year, but a 2-0 loss to the now 2-11-1 Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday, despite outshooting them 47-19, has dropped the Huskies to Number 8 in the Pair Wise Rankings. But a Top-10 school in a relatively small community attracted Lucchini and sealed the deal for the former Major Midget Kootenay Ice player on Christmas Eve.

“They have a really good hockey program, obviously their schooling is through the roof too, and they’re one of the best teams in the country right now, and I wanted to be on a winning team so it was an easy decision – and I was talking to the guy and he said it was like the size of Trail.”

Lucchini will join former Smoke Eater Brent Baltus on the Huskies and ex-Merritt Centennial Dane Birks son of former Smoke Eater coach Bill Birks.

As for Zuccarini, he started the season with a five-goal game and hasn’t looked back.

In his first full year in the BCHL, the 20-year-old Shelton, Connecticut native has 24 goals and 22 assists in 37 games. In addition, Zuccarini has been a clutch performer, scoring four game-winning goals for the Smoke Eaters.

The Arizona State Sun Devils won the 2014 American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) National Championship. The Sun Devils recorded their best ever season in 2013-14 with a 38-2-0 record.

Arizona will be transitioning to NCAA Div. 1 status over the next three years, playing a hybrid schedule with a mixture of Div. 1 NCAA and ACHA competition in 2015 and in 2016 they will play a full NCAA Div. 1 schedule independent of conference alignment. In 2017 the team will compete in full conference NCAA Div. 1 competition.

Zuccarini will join former Castlegar Rebels goaltender Jordan Gluck on the team as well as former BCHLers West Kelowna’s Jordan Masters, Merritt’s Jake Clifford and Victoria’s Brett Gruber.

The pair of commitments now puts the number of Smoke Eaters with NCAA schloarships at nine and growing.

“That’s what it’s all about really,” said Trail Smoke Eater coach and GM Nick Deschenes. “I mean you want team success, but you also want the players to move on and continue their careers. You feel good about them getting that opportunity as a Trail Smoke Eater and hope that what we can do here is prepare them as best we can.”

The Smoke Eaters tandem will next see action in Salmon Arm tonight and return to the Cominco Arena to play Alberni Valley on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and travel to Merritt on Saturday.