The Trail Smoke Eaters have lost the services of goaltender Donovan Buskey.
The Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats acquired the 19-year-old North Vancouver native’s playing rights from the Prince Albert Raiders on Monday in exchange for 18-year-old goalie Matthew Presenti. Buskey decided to seize the opportunity and make the move back to the Dub, leaving a big hole in the Trail net.
“It was (a surprise) for us, because Donny promised us that when we made space for him at the start of the year that he was going to be with us all year,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “But at the end of the day, the player has to make the decision that is best for him.”
The sudden move leaves Trail without a backup to rookie goalie Logan Terness, and the Smokies will use an affiliate player for Wednesday’s game in Penticton against the Vees. On a positive note, Terness’ excellent play has softened the blow of Buskey’s departure, and while Trail will need to make a deal for another goaltender, the move is not as pressing as it could have been.
“There’s always lots of options, but the priority is finding the right fit for our group. We’re going to have guys coming off the injured reserve pretty quick so we’re at 25 guys and we’ll have to get down to 23 anyways when everyone gets healthy so there were going to be roster changes coming either way.”
Trail captain Philippe Lapointe and defenceman Trevor Isaksson have started skating and are expected back from injury within the month.
The Smoke Eaters acquired Buskey last season at the Jan. 10 BCHL trade deadline after Prince Albert failed to deal his rights to another WHL team. It turned out to be good timing for Trail as starting goalie Adam Marcoux went down with injury and Buskey came in and played his way into the starting position. He backstopped the Smokies to an upset win over the number-2 seed Merritt Centennials in Round 1 of the playoffs, before bowing out to the Vernon Vipers in Game 7 of the Interior Division semifinal.
“It’s too bad, we had very high expectations for Donovan especially after what he did for us in the playoffs last year, but we’re looking for a new back up goalie right now.”
Buskey was named Trail’s starter this season, but had a rocky start and registered a 3-4-0-0 record with a 3.78 goals against average and an .862 save percentage, ceding the crease to Terness.
“I think it’s really hard for young players to have success when they’re not fully committed to a team,” said Tambellini. “Any time someone is half-in half-out, it’s hard to have real success. He was up against it, getting pushed by a younger goalie, and he lost his spot to a 17-year-old and I think it’s difficult for older players when they lose the starting position to a young kid coming in.”
Prior to his time with the Smoke Eaters, Buskey also appeared in 37 WHL games with the Raiders and Spokane Chiefs, going 19-13-0-1 with a 3.48 GAA, an .870 save percentage and one shutout. Regina’s goaltending has struggled mightily this season, opening the door for Buskey and a Pats team that currently sits last in the WHL with jut two wins and 10 losses and has allowed the most goals, 53.
“We are happy to add Donovan to our group,” said Pats VP of Hockey Operations and General Manager John Paddock. “He brings some good experience in the league to our team.”
Buskey was originally drafted by the Spokane Chiefs in the third round, 53rd overall, in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft.
Terness, meanwhile, is 6-3 this season with a 1.86 GAA and second in the league in save percentage with a sparkling .944 SP.
“Our players have such confidence in Logan, so we’re looking to find a new backup, and really nothing changes,” added Tambellini. “He’s 6-0-1 in his last seven games and one of the top goalies in our league, so it doesn’t change a lot for us.
“But it’s great to figure out the players that want to be a part of our team going forward, and the ones that don’t. The faster we can sort through that, usually the better off we are as a team.”
Pesenti, from Saskatoon, was a listed prospect for the Pats. He has been playing with the Kindersley Klippers this season, where he has 2.43 GAA and a .927 save percentage in five games in the SJHL.