With the BCHL Jan. 10 trade deadline looming, the Trail Smoke Eaters did the inevitable, they traded two of their best players.
The Smoke Eaters dealt 20-year-old assistant captain Braden Pears to the West Kelowna Warriors on Tuesday and Travis Stephens, also 20, to the Victoria Grizzlies for future considerations Wednesday.
“I communicated with our 20-year-old players that if there was opportunities for them to play playoffs that I would try to make that happen,” said Smoke Eater coach Nick Deschenes. “This is a conversation I had before Christmas, so as deadline looms things are moving quickly so we were able to make that happen for them.”
The door into the playoffs is all but shut tight on the Smokies, so the trade is an opportunity for Pears and Stephens to make a run into the playoffs and garner additional attention from University scouts.
In return for Pears, Trail received the playing rights to six-foot-one defenceman Zane Shartz and future considerations. Shartz, a Texas native, has bounced around this season, starting the year playing for the Surrey Eagles in which he dressed for 10 games, before going to the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta league for 14 games, and West Kelowna for 15 matches. The 19-year-old tallied four goals and nine assists over that time.
While Deschenes sees Shartz as a good addition with offensive upside, he realizes that replacing Pears on the back end will be difficult.
“He (Shartz) probably won’t fill Braden’s shoes – I don’t know too many defenceman that could in the league. But again for us it’s eight more weeks, while for him (Pears) it could be three or four months.”
Pears was the Smokies’ third leading scorer and arguably their best defenceman counting 2-21-23 this season in 41 games. Pears came to the Smoke Eaters from the Coquitlam Express at the beginning of last season and in 50 games he scored six goals and added 29 assists in the 2012-13 campaign.
West Kelowna, which currently sit in third place in the tight Interior division, will be Pears’ sixth BCHL team after starting his career in Powell River in 2009 as a 16 year old. He also saw action with the Victoria Grizzlies, Salmon Arm SilverBacks, and the Express. In 223 games Pears has counted 14 goals and 64 assists including 75 minutes in penalties.
Stephens, meanwhile, led all Smoke Eaters in scoring this season and emerged as one of the team’s best players, netting 13 goals and 30 points in 40 games, his best production by far over his three full seasons in the league.
The Victoria native is returning home to finish the year with the Grizzlies who lead the league with 57 points, are the top-ranked BCHL team (eighth) in the country, and look to go deep into the playoffs.
The youthful Smoke Eaters have just one 20-year-old remaining in rookie goaltender Dustin Nikkel, and they likely aren’t done either as they look to fill an open card by Friday’s 8 p.m. deadline.
The Smokies have managed just three points in it’s last 15 games and sit in last place in the Interior division with 20 points. While these transactions aren’t expected to transform the team, the remaining games will test the metal of the players as they look to finish the season on a positive note.
“These moves are going to allow players to fill bigger shoes and grow, then hopefully welcome the challenge and take it on head first and move forward from there,” said Deschenes. “There’s a lot at stake here for Trail and the history it has had with hockey and so I fully intend on restoring that pride and success, it’s just going to take a little more time than I anticipated.”
All teams in the BCHL must finalize their rosters at a maximum of 22 carded players and a minimum of 20 by 6 p.m. on Friday for inter-branch (i.e. BCHL to CJHL) transactions and at 8 p.m. for trades within the BCHL.