The Trail Smoke Eaters filled what is arguably the most important position in hockey this week, committing to a goaltending tandem for the 2017-18 season.
Following the graduation of 2016-17 Smokie goalie Zach Dyment from the BCHL and Linden Marshall’s move to NCAA, the Trail Smoke Eaters crease was empty heading into June. But Trail coach and GM Cam Keith resolved that issue, trading for Spirit River, Alta. native Brandon Wells on Monday and committing to 17-year-old goalie Brandon Peacock of the Okanagan Hockey Academy the following day.
“Wells is considered one of the best Jr. A goalies, as a 19 year old last year, in Canada,” said Keith. “I don’t think I have to say anything more than that, it’s a great pick up.”
Wells actually played in four games for the KIJHL’s Beaver Valley Nitehawks early in 2015 before moving up to the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) where he started 60 games over two seasons.
“When I told (Nitehawks coaches) Terry (Jones) and Bill Birks I traded for him, they were probably more excited than I was,” said Keith. “They said he was unbelievable, great kid, works hard, and I kind of heard that about him already, but it was nice to hear from coaches that you trust.”
The Smoke Eaters sent defencemen Ryan Warner and Tyson Slater to a rebuilding Millionaires squad in exchange for the highly-touted puck stopper.
“It was tough, I mean both kids were really good for us last year, and had a lot of pride playing in Trail, and it wasn’t an easy decision especially when you have to give up two kids,” said Keith. “But we’re put in a spot where we needed a number-1 goaltender and it’s not an easy task to find an older number-1, because most teams, if they have a number-1, won’t trade him.”
In his rookie campaign with the Millionaires, Wells was named the team MVP, playing in 36 games with a 3.40 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage on a team that finished last in the 12-team SJHL. The six-foot-two, 180 pound goaltender followed his MVP season up with an even more impressive run, playing 24 games and posting a 2.80 GAA and a .924 save percentage, before being traded to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Spruce Grove Saints where he continued his strong play, going 7-3, with a 1.91 GAA, and .926 save percentage. He was traded back to the Millionaires at the end of the season.
Wells also joined Smoke Eater forwards Kale Howarth and Ross Armour at the Canada West tryout camp, and is excited about coming to Trail.
“He’s already getting his pads done and a custom paint job on his mask and helmet,” added Keith.
Peacock, meanwhile, is a six-foot, 180-pound Quesnel native who patrolled the crease the past three seasons for the Okanagan Hockey Academy and is poised to back up the more experienced Wells.
“Peacock came to our Spring Camp and we had heard that he was an up-and-coming goaltender,” said Keith. “Anytime you bring in a 17-year-old goaltender there’s going to be a time period for development.”
Peacock joins the Smoke Eaters in much the same position Linden Marshall did two years ago, joining the team as a 17-year-old back up to 20-year-old starter Bailey MacBurnie.
“I knew we needed a solidified number-1 that can carry the load, and work with Brandon (Peacock) as a goalie for the future,” added Keith. “He has that kind of high athleticism, he’s big, he works hard, he’s a kid from northern B.C.. All the signs point to he’s going to be a bona fide number-1 potentially after next year.”
In 39 games, Slater, from Courtenay, scored five goals and 10 points for the Smoke Eaters, while Warner, a Victoria native, tallied eight-points in 40 games with 22 minutes in penalties.