The Trail Smoke Eaters head to Chilliwack this weekend, boasting a new leadership group for the 2021-22 BCHL season.
The Smoke Eaters named Coalson Wolford the team captain earlier this month. The 20-year-old from San Jose, Calif. enters his second year as a member of the Smoke Eaters and a three-year veteran of the BCHL.
“It was a big honour, and I am super excited to lead the team to a winning season,” said Wolford. “Just really excited to take on that role.”
Wolford is a skilled and physical player, who is not afraid to go into the tough spots and knows his teammates are right behind him.
“The way we want our team to be is we want everyone to hold each other accountable and pull their own weight, and I think everyone does that,” said Wolford. “The letters don’t really mean anything at the end of the day.”
His assistants are defenceman Jordan Hendry, Ethan Willoughby and forward Nicolas Roussel. Both Roussel and Hendry were also part of last season’s leadership group.
Willoughby is entering his second year in the BCHL with the Smoke Eaters, and at six-foot-three, 190-pounds is a big presence on the back end.
“They are are all guys who lead by example too, and always in the gym putting in work, and showing the guys how to do things the right way,” said Wolford, who is both a vocal leader and one who leads by example.
“I try to use a mix of both, and sometimes I might yell at them a bit too much or get too heated in the game. But at the end of the day, leading by example and going over the edge is never a bad thing sometimes.”
The Smoke Eaters face off against the Surrey Eagles and Langley Rivermen this weekend, and while it’s been more than 20 months since they faced a Mainland team, the Smokies are confident going in.
Surrey is 1-3 to start the season and Langley 3-0-0-1. The 2-2-0-1 Smokies are coming off a three-point weekend, stealing a point in an OT loss in Penticton Friday and defeating Wenatchee in OT at home on Saturday.
“We’re optimistic going forward,” said Smoke Eater head coach and GM Tim Fragle. “We’d still like to better our team, potentially one more forward and one more defenceman, but we’re optimistic with our group and what we have now, we’re pretty happy with.
“Over the last two weeks we feel like we’re trending in the right direction, so, it’s not a panic button where we need to improve today. If we just stay the course, we believe there’s a good group here.”
The Showcase will see every team in the league converge on Chilliwack where they will play two games in front of NCAA coaches and pro scouts. Due to the pandemic, players were denied that privilege last season, and for players like Wolford, a commitment to an NCAA school would be a welcome progression from the BCHL.
“It’s a good opportunity for uncommitted guys, like myself, who have a chance to show yourself to a large group of scouts,” said Wolford. “In my three years I’ve never been to Chilliwack before, so it will be cool to go there.”
As an imported player, Wolford has abided by the many and varied pandemic protocols rolled out by the government. He couldn’t leave BC to visit his family in California last Christmas, but was able to return this past summer. And despite the pandemic, his experience in Trail has been a positive one.
“I love the staff, and love to go to the rink,” added Wolford. “We have some of the best facilities in the BCHL here, so it’s great to be around a rink that’s as professional as you want to be playing hockey. And it’s just reallly nice to be in a good hockey community.
“I’ll go to Starbucks, and be wearing Smokies stuff, and I’ll get three guys asking me about the game, so it’s cool to see how the community backs us.”
Trail is making its first extended road trip since the onset of the pandemic in March, 2020. Their only road games to date this season have also been to Cranbrook and Penticton, but at least, says Fragle, there are fans in the rink.
“It’s so much more exciting to have people in the rink,” said Fragle. “Even though it’s at 50 per cent, it’s still a great feeling with what we had to play through last year in quiet buildings. So it’s great to see fans and supporters out.”
Trail plays Surrey Saturday at 10 a.m. and Langley Sunday at 2 p.m.
Fans can catch the action on HockeyTV or visit the trailsmokeeaters.com for online score and play-by-play.