The Trail Smoke Eaters wrapped up their ID Camp on Sunday at the Trail Memorial Centre with high hopes for the future.
The top 40 players from a contingent of 100 attendees met in a spirited, fast and physical matchup to end the camp.
“I was really happy with the calibre of the top-40 game, I thought it was a really good game,” said Smokies coach and GM Tim Fragle. “That’s what we stressed to all the kids when the camp started on Friday. We expect our team to be a hard working, competitive team, that’s what we expect here in Trail. And I thought as the games went on, we started to see more physical play and competitiveness, and I thought Sunday was a good example of that.”
In addition to the compete level, the coaching staff was also impressed with its up and coming Greater Trail skaters.
“We thought all our committed players looked really good, and I was actually really happy with our local contingent as well,” said Fragle. “A lot of guys made some really good strides. Watching from where they were in September to where they are now, some of the kids that played in the KI in particular, I thought they showed really well.”
The Smoke Eaters had no home-grown players on last year’s squad other than affiliates Judah Makway from the KIJHL Beaver Valley Nitehawks, Joe Davidson from Nelson Leafs and Jacob Smith from the Revelstoke Grizzlies.
“Nobody wants more local guys, number-1, than Craig (Craig Clare – director of hockey operations), but I’m a close second,” said Fragle. “Even as a coach, you want to have the best players, but you just think how much the town can benefit from having local players at the highest level, and it is a win-win.”
In order to effectively evaluate the 100 players who attended, the Smoke Eaters coaching staff brought in a few extra expert eyes for the camp.
“We had a great support staff here this weekend,” said Fragle. “We had over 12 scouts in attendance, so that was necessary with obviously that many players.”
Each scout focused on a certain position, and would evaluate and assess individual players. They provided feedback to the coaching staff and then the players in each of their exit interviews.
“It’s a long couple days to meet with each kid, but I honestly believe that it’s necessary,” said Fragle. “You have to provide face-to-face feedback.”
The Smoke Eaters are looking to improve from last season, and the spring ID Camp is the first step in the process. The teams were unable to have camps the past few years due to COVID, and relied primarily on video.
“I feel more comfortable because I can actually see the kids live. The last three years, seeing the kids on video has been extremely difficult, but we can’t make excuses because it was the same for everyone. I just feel a lot more comfortable with where players are at seeing them in live action.”
Fragle says the team will likely commit to three or four players from the top-40 game, before shifting focus to their second camp scheduled for Vancouver on June 10-12, where Fragle expects to see more players from the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and the U.S.
By holding the camp in June, it allows more players from the U.S. to fly direct to Vancouver, and also gives the recruits a better idea of their potential following the NAHL and USHL drafts in May.
“We’ve talked to a number of prep-school kids from the states but they are hard to get here to come in April, they’re still in school,” said Fragle. “They’ll be more willing and able to come to the June camp.”
The camps will give players an opportunity to make their case for an invitation to the Smoke Eaters Main Camp on Sept. 2.
The Smoke Eaters returning cohort is definitely more robust than last season, with six returning defenceman and six forwards that includes a strong foundation in veterans Brady Hunter, Quinn Disher, and Ridge Dawson.
The team would like to bolster the blue line with one or two defencemen, as well as a few more forwards.
“We want to have a little bit better balance left shots versus right shots,” said Fragle. “We had predominantly lefties this year from our forwards. I’m not so set on that but it sure helps your strategies, when you have lefties and righties and they can make plays on their forehand, it’s a lot stronger.”
The Smoke Eaters had a good start to last season, but in the new year fell from fighting for fourth to finishing in eighth spot in the Interior Conference with a 20-29-2-2-1 record.