When the Trail Smoke Eaters hit the ice on Monday for their first day of Main Camp, recent commit Philippe Lapointe was thrust into an unfamiliar role, with an unfamiliar team, in an unfamiliar town.
But for the new Smoke Eaters captain, he’s okay with that.
“It’s been good,” said Lapointe. “It’s a lot of responsibility to take that on, especially being a first-year guy, but with the returners that are here, they are making it really easy on me. There’s not a bad guy in that room and each day I’ll grow more comfortable into that role, so I’m taking it one day at a time.”
Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini announced Lapointe’s commitment to the team on May 6, and at the same time, promoted him to captain.
“We’re so excited to have him coming to Trail,” said Tambellini. “He’s been an assistant captain in the USHL the past two years, he’s been brought up by an NHL father, who has a great pedigree, and groomed him to be an outstanding leader. Right when you meet him, he’s a young man that does it right on the ice and off the ice, and has a desire to be a top player.”
The 19-year-old forward is committed to the University of Michigan for next season, and played two seasons in the United States Hockey League before coming to Trail. He was a hot commodity when his rights became available after the USHL’s Central Illinois Flying Aces folded. BCHL teams Nanaimo and Penticton wooed the talented two-way forward, but he decided on the Smoke Eaters thanks to an encouraging visit with Tambellini and the Silver City.
“The biggest aspect for me when looking at a team was the investment in the coach and Tambellini really believes in me,” Lapointe said in a release. “We had a good connection when we first met and said things that really caught my attention. I think the biggest thing is that relationship between a coach and a player … and it felt like a perfect fit for me.”
Lapointe is detailed orientated and competes hard, and wants to bring that same attention to detail and work ethic into the Smokies room. With his first two days of camp under his belt, the Chicago, Ill. native is already leading by example and letting his experience guide the new recruits.
“Trying to teach the young guys – you can have all the talent in the room, but if you’re not doing those things to treat your body right, on and off the ice, then you’re not going to go far. That’s the kind of thing that separate the good from great players.”
Lapointe comes by that knowledge honestly. Philippe is the son of 15-year NHL veteran and two-time Stanley Cup champion, Martin Lapointe, of the Detroit Red Wings, and one of three committed Smoke Eaters with NHL ties – including Chase Dafoe, son of L.A. Kings goalie Byron Dafoe, and, Connor Sweeney, son to former Bruins and Sabres centre Bob Sweeney.
Martin Lapointe has been a positive influence on his son’s career while growing up, but for Philippe, the biggest part was letting go.
“He’s been huge, but the last couple years he’s kind of taken his foot off the gas with advice and everything. He knows that I know what I need to do and he’s put me in a position to learn and make my own mistakes, so he’s been huge growing up for me and I can’t thank him enough.”
As for the camp, the Trail Smoke Eaters will whittle down it’s 40 players that have attended camp to two teams on Thursday for its annual Orange vs Black match up. Tambellini has been intent on building a competitive team before going into camp, so the three-day affair hasn’t been as much of an evaluation process as it has been in the past, but more about preparing the team for opening day.
“On ice we’ve been getting into our systems right away, so everyone is going to be on the same page going into our first two exhibition games,” said Lapointe.
In a relatively short time, the relationship between the coaching staff and captain has grown and Lapointe is upbeat and confident heading into the new season with a team that is becoming more familiar with each passing day.
“It’s very comfortable. They have a lot of trust in me and the communication there is huge. They made it a big point from Day-1 that it’s an open-door policy and if they need anything from me or if I need anything from them to come to them first. Just to have that open communication at all times is really great for me.”
The Smoke Eaters play their Orange vs Black game at 6 p.m. on Thursday, then take on the AJHL Grande Prairie Storm on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in a pair of exhibition games at the Cominco Arena.