Trail Smoke Eaters still building for upcoming season

The Trail Smoke Eaters announce commitments to three players this week

It may be summer, but the Trail Smoke Eaters coaching and recruiting staff is still hard at work.

The Smokies committed two veteran forwards to their line up and one up-and-coming defenceman this week. Trail announced the addition of 20-year-old Michael Colella and Liam Freeborn, 19, as well as 17-year-old defenceman Jackson Murphy-Johnson.

Related read: Smokies make huge acquisition

Murphy-Johnson played with the BC Major Midget’s Vancouver North East Chiefs and played in all but two games over the course of the past two seasons. The six-foot-two, 180-pound rearguard played in 78 career games with the Chiefs, tallying 5 goals and 22 assists for 27 points while accumulating 89 penalty minutes.

“Jackson Murphy-Johnson is our final addition to our non-junior recruiting class,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini in a release. “He is a powerful young man who defends with contact and was regarded as one of most difficult defenceman to play against in the BCMML.”

Colella is a five-foot-seven, 161-pound winger and played last season with three different teams in the United States Hockey League including the Omaha Lancers, Tri-City Storm, and Lincoln Stars. The Turnersville, New Jersey native is also committed to attend Colorado College in 2020, and if he is anything like former Smoke Eater Nick Halloran – another diminutive forward who went onto a stellar NCAA career at Colorado – then Smokies fans will have a lot to cheer about.

“Mike Colella is going to be a great addition for our hockey team,” said Tambellini. “He is a dynamic scoring winger who is coming off a high production season in the USHL. Mike has a relentless style of play and his enthusiasm for the game can be seen every time you watch him play.”

Related read: New recruits impress at Trail Smoke Eaters camp

At six-foot-one 185-pounds, Freeborn played all his minor hockey in Calgary, and is a graduate of the Royals Midget AAA program. He tallied 18 goals and 36 points in 34 games in the Royals’ 2016-17 season to lead his team and finish sixth overall in league scoring.

He made the jump to the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) in 2017 and played 17 games with the Spruce Grove Saints before being moved to the Calgary Mustangs. In the 2018-19 season, the power forward tallied 20 goals and 53 points in 58 games, and put up an impressive 77 penalty minutes.

“Liam Freeborn is a very important addition to our hockey team,” said Tambellini. “He is a big, right shot, right winger who has high-end playmaking abilities that will compliment our forward group.”

In May, the Mustangs were forced to take a “leave of absence” from the AJHL after a failed attempt to relocate to Strathmore, making the Mustang players including Freeborn available.

“It is very exciting to add a veteran player who is coming off a 53-points season and going into his third year of junior,” added Tambellini. “His frame will add to an already big forward group and we believe his character and professionalism will have just as much impact as does his physical size.”

The Smoke Eaters are in serious building mode and announced a number of commitments in the past months. In early May, the Smoke Eaters committed to 19-year-old forward Phillipe Lapointe, and also named Phillipe, the son of two-time Stanley Cup champion Martin Lapointe, the Smoke Eaters’ captain.

Just prior to that announcement the Smokies signed up a pair of six-foot-two veterans in 200-pound forward Braden Costello and Connor Sweeney, son of another former NHLer, Bob Sweeney.

Trail is now counting down to their Main Camp at the end of August when the players come together to compete for a position on the final roster.

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