A competitive camp and a promising preseason has the Trail Smoke Eaters primed for the start of the 2019-20 BCHL season.
The Smoke Eaters cut their roster back to 25 players before sweeping a home-and-home with the West Kelowna Warriors on the weekend. The results bode well for a Smokies team poised to open the regular season against perennial favourites Penticton Vees on Friday and Saturday.
“I like the fact that we only gave up two goals, and I think it was 40 shots on the weekend, so that’s a big part, is learning how to defend, and not having to win a game 6-4,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “I like that we were in games that were 2-1 and 3-1 and our team got into the rhythm of playing those kind of games.”
Despite winning 3-of-4 in the preseason, the biggest loss the Trail Smoke Eaters suffered was that of captain Philippe Lapointe, who went down hard in a preseason match against the Grande Prairie Storm.
“We had a big setback in week-1 losing a franchise player in our first exhibition game,” said Tambellini. “He (Lapointe) is going to be out for a while, we’re still waiting on the full diagnosis, but we plan on starting the season without him.”
There were few surprises of who remained at the end of the exhibition season, with all the veterans and committed players earning a spot on the Smokies roster.
Smokies veteran goalie Donovan Buskey earned the opening night start against the Vees on Friday, but his backup is yet to be determined. Tambellini says the team will make a decision on either 20-year-old veteran Gabriel Waked or 16-year-old rookie Logan Terness by game time. With Lapointe out with injury, that will bring the Smokies roster down to the required 23 active players.
Terness, whose grandparents live in Greater Trail, carries loads of talent and potential and is a bonafide future starter if Trail sticks with him. However, if the ‘Time is Now,’ then Waked’s maturity and experience may trump Terness’ youth and promise.
“Donovan Buskey is our starter, and by game time Friday night it will be very clear who our goaltenders are.”
Defence may prove to be the Smoke Eaters strength with veteran returnees Diarmad Dimurro, Trevor Isaakson, Kyle Budvarson, Kieran O’Hearn, and Powell Connor back in the line up. Rookies Corey Mcann, 18, Jordan Hendry, 17, and Jackson Murphy-Johnson, 17, round out the top-eight.
“I thought our young guys came in and played very well for the last two and a half weeks. We were lucky to bring in a lot of veteran players, that really took the weight off young guys having to come in and make an impact defensively right away. But we like how prepared they are, and our older guys are ready to make an impact.”
The Smoke Eaters offensive corps was impressive in post-season play collecting a handful of highlight-reel tallies, while outshooting both the Warriors and the Storm by a significant margin. Veterans Kent Johnson, Tyler Ghirardosi, Owen Ozar, and Max Kryski are Trail’s only returning forwards, with 10 new faces (Liam Freeborn, Mike Colella, Braden Costello, Colby Elmer, Corey Clifton, Chase Dafoe, Jaden Senkoe, Connor Sweeney, Walker Erickson, and Lapointe) rounding out the offence.
Trail played fast and physical in its exhibition series games with big hits and a couple of tilts courtesy of Dimurro and rookie Dafoe to set the tone in a Game-1 win over the Storm. The returning veterans led the way against West K, with Kent, Ghirardosi, and Ozar accounting for four-of-five goals and eight points in its two wins. They will be expected to lead the team up front, but should have ample support from seasoned Junior A players like Freeborn, Lapointe, Colella, Sweeney, Costello and Clifton.
“It seems like our team has been kind of set, where everyone is coming in with a role in mind,” added Tambellini. “And so far we’re seeing it in every guy. Once we start the regular season we’ll know more about what guys are ready to bring, but we’re very pleased with the preparation and just the execution for our group in the first two weeks.”
Tambellini and the Smoke Eaters coaching staff has been meticulous in their effort to build a winning team, and although the team is light on local talent, for fans at the Cominco Arena, the potential entertainment value is sky high.
“We’re just looking to be a team that’s extremely hard to play against every night, with the puck and without the puck, and build an identity where we’re going to compete at an extremely high level every time we play.”
Trail hosts Penticton on Friday and Saturday at the Cominco Arena with the puck drop at 7 p.m.
See more on the Trail vs Penticton game in Friday’s Trail Times.