There hasn’t been call for much optimism in the past six months, but for Trail Smoke Eaters head coach and GM, Tim Fragle, the team’s future is starting to brighten.
Trail held its Identification Camp last week with a strong and talented turnout about the same time the provincial health authority announced Phase 3 of its Return to Sport plan.
“It was good, we had about 65 kids in camp, so a good turnout considering everything that’s going on, and considering the time of year,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Tim Fragle. “Overall a real good response.”
Trail had a number of committed players attend, including BC natives Cameron Moger, Ethan Willoughby, Zack Feaver, and Quinn Disher, as well as recent veteran addition and New Brunswick native Connor Michaud.
“The new recruits did look good, and also (Chase) Dafoe skated as well for a few sessions, and he looked really good as well as a returning player.”
One goal of the ID camp is to bring in young skaters and introduce them to the Smoke Eaters culture, while also evaluating their skills and character as potential Smoke Eaters.
“No question it was a younger camp, we had a lot of 2004s and 2003s, so it is looking towards the future,” said Fragle. “However, there was a few players that emerged that we are in the process of getting a commitment out of them.”
The current plan for the BCHL is to run camps and exhibition play from September through November, with the official start of the seasons scheduled for Dec. 1. As a result, teams can commit and carry extra players during the extended camp sessions.
One such product is Maple Ridge forward Nicolas Roussel, who the Smoke Eaters committed to for the upcoming season.
Rousel attended Queens University in Kingston, Ont. last year on a Chancellor scholarship. But due to the pandemic the talented forward decided to take his courses online and return to Jr. A hockey with two seasons of eligibility remaining.
The five-foot-10, 170 pound two-way player is a former defenceman turned forward who plays with grit and finesse. He skated with BC Hockey’s Vancouver NE Chiefs U18 team in 2018-19 under former coach Jeff Urekar, currently assistant GM of the Smoke Eaters.
“I was really impressed with him, he had a very good camp,” said Fragle. “And for a camp that was kind of different, like we had really small teams (4-on-4), because we were only allowed a certain amount of players on the bench, and no contact as well. One of the bigger things that he brings to the table is his physical play, and we didn’t even really get to see that, but I was happy how he played.”
With the introduction of Phase 3 of the province’s Return to Play program, BCHL teams have more flexibility heading into the extended exhibition schedule. Teams will likely now play exhibition games within a four-team bubble, and be able to play full contact.
“It’s definitely good news. I think we’ll be able to get closer to normal hockey training than we have been, that’s the hope. The one unknown still that the league is working through, is in Phase 3 they use the term ‘cohorts’ so that could change our schedule a bit, based on maybe we’re in a cohort of three other teams through exhibition and maybe the start of the season … but that’s just speculation.”
Fragle says the team is shaping up but is still on the lookout for a veteran defenceman and forward.
“We need experience, but outside of that we’re pretty comfortable to start the season with what we have, but always looking to improve if we can.”
The Smoke Eaters begin their fall camp on Sept. 8. and will run to the end of November with about a dozen exhibition games.
Transactions: The Smoke Eaters announced that they sent veteran defenceman Kyle Pow to the West Kelowna Warriors on Wednesday, due to an excess of 20-year-old players in the lineup. The BCHL allows only six 20-year-old players per team.
In another move, the Smoke Eaters also acquired the rights of 18-year-old defenceman Carson Hemenway from the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. A Ladner native, Hemenway split last season between the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and the Penticton Vees, netting eight points in 34 games.