Trail Smoke Eaters back on ice for Lower Mainland camp

Off-season recruiting a major part of Smoke Eaters coaches duties

The season is never over for the Trail Smoke Eaters as the team readies for a Summer Identification camp at Planet Ice in Delta this weekend.

The Smoke Eaters expect to have up to 75 players attend the camp, with scrimmages beginning Friday evening and workouts going on and off the ice until Sunday.

“It’s a pretty intriguing mix of younger players coming out of midget or the academies, players from Junior B, a couple of Americans, and a couple kids coming out of the American midget programs,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Jessie Leung. “There’s also a few kids that skated here in Trail and we want to give them the opportunity to get them in front of Jeff (Tambellini) and letting him form an opinion and create a relationship for him as well.”

The Smoke Eaters held their Spring Camp at the Cominco Arena in early April, but it was during the Smokies exciting and extended playoff run, and prior to current coach and GM Jeff Tambellini’s tenure. Tambellini was hired Apr. 27, following the firing of former coach and GM Cam Keith after the Smokies fell in the Interior Division final to the Wenatchee Wild.

Tambellini will get his first real on-ice look at current and upcoming talent in Delta. Despite the loss of Andre Ghantous, Ryan Moon and Daine Dubois to trades, the Smoke Eaters expect about a dozen veteran players to return, and with top-end commitments like forwards Bryce Anderson, Sean Donaldson, Logan Harris and Kent Johnson and d-men Jimmy Darby and Kieran O’Hearn in the mix, spots are limited.

“I’m excited to get to this camp,” said Tambellini. “There’s so many guys I haven’t seen play yet. Even the guys I’ve watched on tape, it’s always better when you actually get to watch them on the ice, and get to deal with them one-on-one. I’m excited to get on the ice with these guys and really start building for what we’re going to have next year.”

The Smoke Eaters will also look at potential goaltending talent with five goalies attending, even though the Smokies expect netminders Adam Marcoux and Tanner Marshall to return.

“At this point we’re pretty set,” said Leung. “We’re expecting the return of both goalies, the only thing that would change it, would be if someone blew our socks off, in terms of beating somebody out for a spot.”

Both Leung and Tambellini will get up close and personal with the camp invitees, running the on-ice workouts and patrolling the bench during scrimmages.

“That’ll give myself and Jeff a really good opportunity to get to know these players, get to work with them and communicate with them and really get a feel and a connection with them so that we have the better handle on them as far as hockey players and people, and they get a good understanding of who we are and again create a relationship that if it’s not a fit this year, perhaps it’s a fit next year.”

The Smoke Eaters are coming off one of their best seasons, posting a 32-21-4-1 record, and upsetting the league’s top team, the Penticton Vees, in the Interior Division semifinal.

The Smoke Eaters resurgence and state-of-the-art facilities, courtesy of owners Rich and Annie Murphy, are attracting higher-end talent and Leung says he expects 10 to 15 players from the Lower Mainland camp to be invited to main camp to compete for a position.

“The exciting part is we’re seeing the benefit of the turn-around and our success and the support we have from the town (Trail), and that’s translated into players really wanting to be here, which is a great thing,” added Leung.

Smoke Signals: On May 8, Trail Smoke Eaters defenceman Ethan Martini was drafted by the Central Illinois Flying Aces of the United States Hockey League in the fifth round, 78th overall, of Phase II of the USHL draft.

The draft doesn’t mean the 17-year-old Tambellini is heading south, but he does have that option. He was selected by Waterloo in the 20th round of last year’s USHL Draft, but did not sign with the team.

Smoke Eater commit Kent Johnson was also drafted in the eighth round of the Phase 1 draft on May 7. Phase 1 targeted 2002 birth-year players only, while Phase 2 includes all eligible junior players. Kent, a Port Moody product, played with the Midget Prep Burnaby Winter Club last year.

Last year, the Merritt Centennials leading scorer from 2016-17, Zach Risteau, defected to the same Flying Aces to start the season, but returned to the Centennials before the January, 2018 trade deadline.

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