The Trail Smoke Eaters selected another Trail native to lead the charge as the Smokies get set to play the two top-ranked teams in the BCHL this weekend.
Coach and GM Nick Deschenes announced on Wednesday that Jake Lucchini will wear the ‘C’ for the Smoke Eaters following the departure of former captain Scott Davidson in a trade to Chilliwack on Saturday.
“I think Jake has really emerged as an impact player both on and off the ice,” said Deschenes. “He embodies the spirit and energy of the team and has a pretty positive outlook on things, and I think he relishes that role.”
The 19-year-old forward is a recent commit to Michigan Tech and has been a force offensively, scoring 18 goals and adding 28 assists for 46 points in 39 games this season. Although, he will miss his good friend Davidson, Lucchini says he is honoured to follow in the footsteps of home-grown captains like Davidson, Logan Proulx, Paul Mailey, Kevin Limbert, and others.
“It’s hard to see Scotty go, he’s one of my best friends, but I’m excited and it’s a good opportunity for me,” said Lucchini. “Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to play for the Smoke Eaters, and getting the captain just kind of puts icing on the cake.”
Linemate Charlie Zuccarini was also named as assistant captain, a fitting promotion for the Connecticut native who leads Trail in scoring, one point ahead of Lucchini, with 24 goals and 23 assists for 47 points.
“He is more of a quiet leader,” said Deschenes. “I think his leadership is more shown on the ice, as far as how he plays and competes as well as in practice.”
Last weekend’s trade deadline took its toll on the players and coaches, says Lucchini, but now that it is past, the team is looking forward to getting back on the ice and winning one game at a time.
“I think everybody the whole year was worried about playoffs, and I don’t think we’re out of it, but no one is thinking about it really,” said Lucchini. “We had a lot of pressure going into this year and I think it really got to everyone, but now it’s kind of blown over, and now everyone is just worried about playing and I think that will help us out a lot.”
The loss of Davidson and Griffyn Martin (to Merritt) may be significant as both were character players on the ice and in the room, but Trail will be bolstered by new additions – veteran defenceman Evan MacEachern, and 18-year-old forwards Sheldon Brett and Jordan Passmore.
Trail faces the Nanaimo Clippers tonight and the Penticton Vees on Saturday, two teams that were ranked in the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s Top 20 with the Vees at number 3 and the Clippers ranked 15th in the nation.
“It’s a great opportunity to play top teams,” said Deschenes. “Hopefully everyone elevates their game and performs, it’s a big test.”
Trail is coming off a dramatic 5-4 victory over Alberni Valley last Friday and while the Smokies have yet to claim a point off the high-flying Vees this season – struggling mightily against Interior division opponents with just three wins in 22 games – Trail holds a winning record against the Island division, 6-and-4, and Mainland division teams, 4-and-3.
“Our focus moving forward is to minimize our goals against, we’ve been way too loose in that department and we’ve kind of forced ourselves to have to score five-plus goals to win games, so we’ve been working on that a lot in practice,” Deschenes added.
Nanaimo leads the Island division with a 28-11-0-1 record, and its 57 points is second only to Penticton, 67, in the BCHL. Nevertheless, in their last meeting Trail played stride-for-stride with the Clippers until a late goal in the final three seconds gave Nanaimo a 2-1 victory. Union commit Brendan Taylor leads the Clippers with 20 goals and 43 points while goaltender Gillaume Decelles leads all goalies with 25 wins, and sports a 2.41 goals against average, and a .930 save percentage. The only goalie who has a better goals-against-average, 1.79, and save percentage, .932, is Penticton netminder Hunter Miska.
With 19 games remaining and 16 points out of a playoff spot, the Smoke Eaters have a Herculean task ahead of them to make the post season, but stranger things have happened in sport. Trail has four more games against the fourth-place Merritt Centennials and a sweep can put them right back in the hunt.
“There is always so much to play for, I don’t think it will be too challenging to make sure we get these players back . . . well not back-on-track necessarily, because we are on track. We’re right in all these games, but it’s more just letting the dust settle, and allow everyone to breathe and get back to the task of being better hockey players.”
With Craig Martin and Dallas Calvni back in the line up, the Smoke Eaters are finally almost healthy and expect Adam Todd to be back in the net this weekend.
Trail faces off against Nanaimo and Penticton at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday respectively. Saturday’s missed game against Merritt has been rescheduled for Tuesday in Merritt at 7 p.m.