As the Trail Smoke Eaters finish off training camp this weekend, they look forward to their only exhibition game at home against the Selkirk College Saints in a game that will showcase lots of local talent in the historic first meeting Tuesday at the Cominco Arena.
“I expect it to be a pretty good game they’re a pretty good team, so it will be lots of fun,” said Smokies d-man Braden Pears. “I have some friends on that team too so looking forward to it.”
It’s the first exhibition game of the year for either team, and the first chance for Smokie fans to get a glimpse of this year’s talent, led by team captain Adam Wheeldon of Nelson, and assistant captains Scott Davidson of Trail and Victoria native Pears.
“I’m completely excited for this year,” said Wheeldon. “We got a great group of guys out there already and everyone seems to get along, it’s going to be awesome, I can’t wait.”
Selkirk College won the BC Intercollegiate Hockey League championship last season, and although it is the inaugural meeting between the Smokies and the Saints, Selkirk College coach Jeff Dubois says it could be the start of a popular annual tilt.
“I think it’s great and hopefully a game that gets some local interest,” said Dubois. “Before I came to Selkirk, I was at SFU and we did a game with the Coquitlam Express in the BCHL and it was always competetive and it always something that got a bigger crowd than a typical BCHL versus BCHL exhibition game, and it was a good way to expose our program to that team.”
The Smokies will ice returning Trail natives in Davidson and Jake Lucchini, as well as Fruitvale’s Mitch Foyle, and last season’s AP Riley Brandt of Trail. Throw in Jesse Knowler of Castlegar and Wheeldon, Adam Maida, and Linden Horswill from Nelson and the home team has strong Kootenay representation.
Similarly, when the Saints come marching into Cominco Arena they’ll be led by former Trail forward Logan Proulx, as well as new recruit Garrett Kucher of Trail, formerly of the Osoyoos Coyotes of the KIJHL, and Fruitvale’s Arie Postmus who finished his junior career with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks last season.
“There’s some cool connections there, I mean Logan Proulx was the captain in Trail for a short time and Darnell Dyck who is one of our incoming first year guys played in Trail, and some local kids and relationships there, so I think there will be some friendly rivalries,” said Dubois.
The Smokies will likely carry 27 skaters into the exhibition game against Selkirk, a team that is made up of college age players, but as Davidson says, “It should be fun playing Arie Postmus, and Mason Spear, and they’re pretty good so it will be a challenge for sure.”
Despite the edge in age, Dubois expects it to be a good game, with the teams evenly matched.
“You have a bit of advantage in some cases with older guys, but the flip side of that is just the physical condition that junior age players keep themselves in. I expect that they’ll be raring to go, and certainly my experience playing college teams against junior teams has always been a competitive experience.”
While the Smokies wrap up their camp on Saturday, the Saints won’t have a chance to hit the ice until Sunday.
“We’re on the ice the first day the ice goes in on Sunday in Castlegar, so we’re going to be playing Tuesday night on a fairly quick turn around,” said Dubois.
Trail has a good core of players returning this season, but there are some noticeable absences from camp in Marley Keca, Shane Poulsen, Austin Adduono, and Luke Sandler.
“Obvously coming in and losing Sandler and Adduono, two key players, was kind of uneasy about it,” said Davidson. “But seeing a bunch of the kids that have come out gives me an optimistic feeling.”
The Smokies also welcome the return of goalie Adam Todd, d-men Valik Chichkin and Braedon Jones, and the return of a healthy Bryce Knapp. After coming so close last season, Trail will look to take the next step into the playoffs this year.
“Honestly I think if we play the way we can, there’s no doubt we won’t make the playoffs,” said Wheeldon.
As for the Saints, with 15 players returning from last years championship team, the coach is confident his team has the potential to repeat.
“There’s always talk of the championship hangover,” added Dubois. “I think we’ve got a group of guys that won it last year, certainly we’re a skilled team, but the X-factor was the work ethic and the compete level, and I suspect that guys are going to come back very hungry to do it again.”
The Smokies continue camp today at 6 p.m., and culminate with game on Saturday at noon. The Smokies play the Saints Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.