Skip to content

Trail Smoke Eaters fall to Vernon Vipers, set sights on new recruits

Trail Smoke Eaters look forward to next season with spring camp this weekend
Smoke Eaters forward Chase Stefanek was ranked in the NHL Scouting top prospects picks for the 2024 NHL Draft. Photo: Jim Bailey

The Trail Smoke Eaters season came to an end after falling 6-2 to the Vipers at Kal Tire Place in Vernon on Friday (April 12).

Vipers forwards Hank Cleaves and Owen Kim each had a pair of goals for the Vipers, while Isaac Tremblay had four assists in the win to take the best-of-7 BCHL Interior Conference quarterfinal series four games to one.

Goaltending was a deciding factor, as Ethan David was key to the Vipers success in every match, including his 38 save performance in Game 5.

“We outchanced them in every game of the series,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Tim Fragle. “We outchanced them, we outshot them, but we didn’t do a very good job on finishing our scoring chances, and timely goals against hurt us.

“We didn’t rise to the challenge, and their goaltender played extremely well and definitely was a difference in the series.”

Smoke Eaters forward Max Potvin opened the scoring just over six minutes into the first period as he spun and fired a shot off the post and in for a 1-0 lead.

However, the Vipers responded with Carson McGinley tallying his second of the playoffs on a deflection past Trail goalie Ryan Parker, and Cleaves scored on a powerplay with 16 seconds left in the opening frame to make it 2-1.

Cleaves tallied his second on the night 1:25 into the second period, and Kim put the Vipers up 4-1 a couple minutes later.

Smoke Eaters defenceman Lucas Lemieux cut the lead in half scoring with just over three minutes left in the second.

The Vipers Luke Bibby potted his third goal of the playoffs on the powerplay 40 seconds into the final frame and Kim added his second goal of the night and fourth of the postseason to make it 6-2 with 11:31 to play.

Trail outshot Vernon 40-39, but special teams were in the Vipers’ favour going 2-for-3 on the powerplay and 1-for-1 on the PK.

The Smoke Eaters had forced a fifth game after a 3-2 win in Game 4 on Wednesday, April 10 in Trail. Jason Stefanek scored twice and Mathieu Cobetto-Roy added the other Smokies marker for the lone Trail win.

Despite the playoff loss, the Smoke Eaters iced a competitive team this season, finishing in fifth place after posting a 28-20-6-0 record. Trail posted eight more wins and a 15-point improvement from the previous season, when they finished in eighth place (20-27-3-4 record), and improved their point diffential from -52 in 2023 to -1 in 2024.

“I think we progressed in the right direction,” said Fragle. “Most years 62 points would get you home ice advantage in the first round but it wasn’t the case this year. We had 15 more points which helped us climb up the standings, so that can’t be lost, there was progress in a very difficult division.”

Trail will see a strong core of returning players from last season, and is already in recruiting mode as the Smokies prepare for its spring camp this weekend April 19-21.

“We have a good core returning, with some of the movement going on in college hockey it trickles down to ours. Essentially, we are graduating eight players so there are a number of guys eligible to return which bodes well.”

Graduating players include 20-year-old forwards Cobetto-Roy, Ethan Mann, Adam Marshall, Adam Parsons, and Max Potvin and defenceman Ethan Warrener.

The team will see 100 skaters take to Cominco ice for the prospects camp, and Fragle is already keeping an eye out for top end forwards.

“We lose more forwards than anything else on our roster, so we will look to upgrade for our graduating forwards. And then also just try to better our team at all positions whether its goalie, defence, if we can improve our team we are pepared to do that. We made progress this year, but we want to take another step next year.”

The Smoke Eaters coaching, scouting and hockey operations staff will be conducting player evaluations throughout the 3-day camp. The Smoke Eaters will also host a camp from May 31 to June 2 in New Hope, Minnesota.

Fragle expects to see the return of veteran impact players like Ridge Dawson, Adam Barone, Judah Makway and Jason and Chase Stefanek.

The NHL Central Scouting identified Chase Stefanek, 17, as a fifth round NHL Draft prospect in its Final Rankings on Tuesday. Chase is committed to Harvard while his older brother Jason is committed to Dartmouth for 2025-26.

“He (Chase) had an excellent year, so it would be great to have him back, and he still has another year before he goes to Harvard,” said Fragle. “We hope its hear in Trail, sounds like he enjoyed his time here. But all bets are off when it comes to the NHL Draft and what can happen, so you never know.”

Residents are invited to watch the Smoke Eaters camp in Trail this weekend and get a glimpse into the Smoke Eaters future.

In other Interior action, the Cranbrook Bucks forced a Game 7 on Sunday with a 4-3 overtime victory over the West Kelowna Warriors. In the deciding Game 7 on Tuesday (April 16), West Kelowna defeated the Bucks 5-1 and will play Salmon Arm in the Interior semifinal. The Silverbacks beat the Merritt Centennials in six.

The Penticton Vees will take on the Vipers after winning their series vs the Prince George Spruce Kings in four straight.

Jim Bailey

About the Author: Jim Bailey

Read more