Trail Smoke Eaters fans can get a glimpse of the team’s future this weekend as the Smoke Eaters host their Spring Camp at the Cominco Arena from today to Sunday.
The Smoke Eaters will welcome over 100 players to the camp ranging from young up-and-comers to Junior-A ready prospects.
“Our enrolment for Spring Camp has been really good,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith. “There’s about 30 of the 2002 (14-15-year-old) age group, and you need that base as well, especially the 2002s that are from the Kootenay area. And there’s a large contingency of 1999-2000 kids that are playing for spots for next year. It’s going to be very competitive.”
The camp runs over three days, with the players divvied up into six teams that will face off against each other throughout the weekend in an effort to match the intensity and competitive play of Jr. A hockey.
“What we’re focusing on this year is making it more competitive by bringing in the kids you would normally commit, but we want to see them play first and so we’re kind of giving them an opportunity to come in and use this Spring Camp as a tryout,” said Keith. “So that should definitely raise the calibre of the camp.”
While elite Jr. B players from the Nitehawks and Creston Valley Thunder Cats won’t be able to attend due to the Cyclone Taylor Cup that goes in Creston this weekend, the coaching staff has identified a number of high-calibre players both local and from afar looking to make an impression.
A number of BC Major Midget League players will be in camp including Kelowna Rockets forward Rayman Bassi, 16, a talented playmaker who netted 33 assists and 49 points last season, and Logan Bromhead, 17, from the Vancouver NE Chiefs, who registered 46 points. On the backend, the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Swift Current Legionnaires captain and top-scoring defenceman Zach Ziegler will also attend.
But goaltending will be a priority for the Smoke Eaters, with RPI commit Linden Marshall’s return to the Smokies still uncertain, Trail hopes to identify a potential starter and backup in the upcoming camps.
Two promising young prospects are Brandon Peacock, a 2000 goalie who played for the Okanagan Hockey Academy last season, and the KIJHL’s Kelowna Chiefs starter Tanner Marshall, 16, who played in 30 games for the Chiefs with 13 wins, three shutouts, a 3.07 GAA and .911 save percentage.
Standouts at the Spring Camp are invited back to the August Main Camp, where final selection of the Smoke Eaters roster will be made. Ryan Moon was one of the Spring Camp attendees who cracked the Smokies roster in 2016 and proved vital to their success down the stretch. Keith is hoping to sift more gold from the spring sluice box at this year’s camp.
“Last year we got Ryan Moon from this camp so there is definitely some value, and we’re using it as a competitive tryout. We want kids who have stayed in shape from the end of their season, so those are the kids that should excel at this camp.”
The spring camp starts today with Green vs Black at 2 p.m., Red vs White at 4 p.m. and Yellow vs Blue at 6 p.m. The games continue on Saturday starting at 8 a.m., with the final game of the day at 6:30 p.m. Sunday’s matches go at 8, 9:45, and 11:30 a.m.
In addition to recruiting, the Smokies staff is also on the lookout for a new assistant coach to replace the outgoing Curtis Toneff, who will begin his head coaching position in Nanaimo for the VIJHL Buccaneers next month.
The Smoke Eaters are also working to find commitments for graduating players like Connor Brown-Maloski, Josh Laframboise, and Carter Cochrane, who surprisingly went through the season without securing a place to play next season.
“We’ve been dissecting things from last year, and been working at trying to move a few kids onto CIS and also NCAA this year,” said Keith. “There’s still a few kids we want to get them a place to play for next year, and then we’re also recruiting for next year.”
The recruitment process continues when the Smokies join forces with the Major Midget Kootenay Ice’s and the Beaver Valley Nitehawks’ coaching staff, as they travel to Whitehorse next month for a prospects camp and a development camp for younger players.