The Silver City is a long way from Toronto, but for Trail Smoke Eaters’ newest addition, Jeremy Smith, it was the best place to finish off his Junior A career and pursue a college commitment.
The 19-year-old defenceman was acquired by Trail last week, after playing for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens of the Ontario Junior Hockey League the past two seasons.
Smith, along with his father, visited Trail on Tuesday, met Smoke Eaters staff and players, got a tour of the facilities, and a taste of West Kootenay life.
“After having a pretty successful year with the Canadiens, and talking with my family and what would be the best for me was taking the extra step to go to the BCHL,” said Smith. “Because this is a pretty elite league and I wanted to push myself to get to the next level.”
With only two defencemen, Trevor Zins and Kyle Chernenkoff, set to return to the Smoke Eaters line up, the coaching staff was on the lookout for skilled and experienced blue liners to lead the team and help out first-year commitments Jimmy Darby and Kieran O’Hearn. Smith was the first piece of that defensive puzzle, soon followed by 19-year-old New York native Diarmad DiMurro and Red Deer commitment Kyle Budvarson, 18.
“I think the strength of the program now, there is a reputation around Canada that the Trail Smoke Eaters is a great place to play and a great place to develop,” said Tambellini.
The Smoke Eaters were approached by Smith’s agent, and after an evaluation, the Smokies staff considered the Toronto native a good fit.
“We had a chance to identify him and do some research and go through the body of work he’s had in junior, and it’s really exciting that Trail, British Columbia and the Trail Smoke Eaters are getting high end players that really want to come across the country to play for our team,” said Tambellini.
Smith almost doubled his offensive output in his second season with the Jr. Canadiens going from 17 points in 42 games his first year to 33 points in 33 games in his 2017-18 campaign, while accumulating 61 penalty minutes. Smith says his adjustment to the BCHL should be quick, and his ability to move the puck and create offensive opportunities, while playing with an edge, will serve the Smoke Eaters well.
“There are some top teams in the OHL, but I think the transition here, night in and night out is going to be a big game, the speeds going to be a little bit different but I don’t think it’s going to be too much to handle,” said Smith.
Smith’s experience and skill set will help stabilize the Smoke Eaters blue line and fill a creative and offensive void left by graduating Smoke Eater d-men Jeremy Lucchini (40 points) and Connor Welsh (34 points), and the Detroit Red Wings third round draft pick Seth Barton (33 points).
“I think, definitely, I bring offensive aspects to the game, so I think just a little bit of a different dynamic to the game than most defenceman, and also being smaller, it may be a surprise, but I’m also pretty physical,” said Smith.
The Smoke Eaters added five players to their roster in the past 10 days. In addition to three defencemen, the Smokies added size and skill up front with forwards Hayden Rowan and Michael Hodge. Tambellini, who was hired as the Smokies’ head coach and GM at the end of April, has made the most of his first two months, and with the support of director of player operations, Craig Clare, and assistant coaches Jessie Leung and Barry Zanier, has bolstered a back end that was suspect just days ago.
“I’m a big believer in you have to have guys on the back end, especially experienced, veteran guys that can make plays so you’re not spending too much time in the defensive zone, and to add a player of Jeremy’s calibre were excited to have him and Diarmad DiMurro, and Kyle Budverson, who we think is going to be a young star,” added Tambellini.
“We think we’ve done a great job of building a back end that can play a lot of different ways. They can play hard, they can play skilled, they can move the puck, they can shoot the puck, so we think we’ve built a really well-rounded group.”
As for Smith, who understandably didn’t know much about Trail prior to his visit, his decision to come West to play for the Smoke Eaters is getting better every day.
“I’ve definitely heard the name (Smoke Eaters) before, it’s a pretty iconic name, but I didn’t know where it was and much about it. But I definitely knew it was time to move out of Toronto and my family advisor (agent) reached out to Jeff and made the connection, kind of got the ball rolling.
“This is my first time out here, but everything I’ve seen so far, I’ve absolutely loved,” said Smith. “I’m nothing but excited and looking forward for the season to start.”