Every new season breathes a little hope into Trail Smoke Eaters’ fans, coaches and players, and this year with new head coach and GM Cam Keith in place, there is perhaps even more reason for optimism.
The Smoke Eaters began camp with over 60 players last week and then whittled that number down to 40 for the final scrimmage on Thursday night at the Cominco Arena.
“Camp went very well,” said Keith. “There were some pleasant surprises out of the mix. For me, some of the kids it was my first look at them and there were some very good local kids that made a very good impression moving forward to the future.”
Keith also made it clear that he plans to nurture the relationship between the Smokies and Major Midget and Jr. B teams in the area by inviting Major Midget (MM) GM and Beaver Valley Nitehawks GM and coach Terry Jones and MM Ice coach Kris Boyce to patrol the respective benches for the Smoke Eater camp’s final Orange and Black scrimmage game.
“Our focus is to develop young kids in this area, keep them in this area, and make sure that they’re getting the ice time that they need,” said Keith. “That’s where Beaver Valley, Terry Jones, and Kris, with the MM program, become vitally important that we work together and be on the same page where kids are with their development and where they need to be so that we can make sure they’re not moving up too early, so that they’re getting the ice time and developing properly so that when they are playing for Trail, that they are playing the right minutes and are able to have a positive effect with our team.”
The Smoke Eaters will ice 27 skaters in the exhibition games against Penticton this weekend with 15 forwards, nine defenceman, and three goalies. Last year’s back up Linden Marshall, 18, will battle for the number-one spot with former Salmon Arm Silverback Zach Dyment, 20, and 19-year-old Cole Sears from Red Deer.
In addition, Trail native Ethan Martini will join the Smokies this week after attending the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos camp. The six-foot-five, 16-year-old defenceman will be a notable presence on a backend that many regarded as undersized last season. The recent commitments of six-foot-four defenceman Ryan Warner and six-foot-one d-men Cole Williams and Troy Ring, as well as a more physical and talented presence up front with the addition of Josh Laframboise, Andre Ghantous, Luke Santerno, and Ryan Moon, should make the Smoke Eaters more competitive against teams like the Penticton Vees or the daunting RBC Cup champion West Kelowna Warriors, a team loaded with size and talent.
“Our top three lines will be big and strong; we will battle teams, and kind of be a blue-collar style of hockey where we just grind teams down.
“It’s been a lot of work but it’s been a good process, so far we’re pretty excited about everything. If the stars align, I think we’re going to be competitive this year and fight for a playoff spot, and, down the road, we’re going to be very good.”
Keith, along with coaching staff members Curtis Toneff, Barry Zanier, and Craig Clare, have until Sept. 8 to cut the team down to 22 players when the Smokies open the 2016-17 season against the Warriors in West Kelowna. Those crucial decisions will be based on performance in practices and the two upcoming exhibition games against the Vees on Friday and Saturday.
“You always want to see how you measure up against the best,” added Keith. “So it will be a really good test for some of these younger guys to see if they can handle BCHL speed at its best.”
The Smoke Eaters play in Penticton on Friday at 7 p.m. then return for their only exhibition match at home on Saturday at the Cominco Arena with the puck drop at 6 p.m.