The Trail Smoke Eaters are already making moves to ensure a solid foundation for next year.
Following the spring camp at the end of March, the coaching staff signed AP forward Brenden Heinrich from Boswell, and defenceman Braeden Jones, an Edmonton native, who played Midget AAA with the Edmonton Knights of Columbus Pats last year. The team also let go assistant coach Bob Dever.
Heinrich skated with the Castlegar Rebels notching 14 goals and 18 assists and also dressed in a number of games for the Smokies.
The two 17 year olds stood out among the 70 or so other players, and will be two of about 20 invited back to the main camp in August.
“The Jones kid was sent down to us by one of our Edmonton scouts, and he was by far probably the best player on the ice the whole weekend,” said Smoke Eater president Tom Gawryletz. “I know he’s young but I don’t think he would have had any problem fitting into the top two or three of our team last year as a 16 year old.”
Coach Bill Birks hasn’t taken much time off either since spring camp, and is currently on the road scouting potential Smokies.
However, Gawryletz recognizes that courting players to commit to the Smokies is often a struggle when competing with larger centres, and believes a new approach might be worth investigating.
“We liked him (Heinrich) all year,” he said. “He had a lot of offers and we’re finding that every kid we talk to has offers somewhere else, so we either have to jump on them now or wait until August and be left out in the cold.”
This year the Smokies plan to head into camp with a strong group of 30 to 40 character players, including up to a dozen from last year, rather than try to weed through 70 or 80, he said.
The Smokies are also looking for a new assistant coach after Bob Dever’s contract was not renewed for the 2012-13 season.
“We’re talking to a couple guys right now, and are hoping that in a week or 10 days we’ll have an announcement on that as well,” Gawryletz added.