Saying the Trail Smoke Eaters are eager to hit the ice is a serious understatement, as the team’s 14-day quarantine comes to an end on Friday (Mar. 26) and the BCHL season gets set to drop the puck April 2.
“The first few days was okay but it’s getting old now,” said Smoke Eaters GM and head coach Tim Fragle. “I think everyone was under the assumption that we were all in our own bubble as it was, but then having to quarantine, nobody was pleased to hear that.
“But we’ve made so many concessions this year, we weren’t going to let that stop us.”
The team has been in quarantine since Mar. 12 in preparation for an 20-game season in a Penticton bubble beginning with their first game against the Vees on April 2.
The Smoke Eaters and all BCHL players have not practiced or seen any ice time during the quarantine, as they get set to travel to their respective bubbles.
Fragle says keeping the players engaged and working out has been a challenge but, like most of the season, the players have adapted.
“We’re doing a few zoom calls every day, one of them would be to go over a daily workout that Dustin [Korlak] our assistant coach is putting together,” said Fragle, who also set up zoom calls with NHL goalie coach Dustin Schwartz and Calgary Flames forward Derek Ryan. “And then the other zoom meetings we’ll show them clips from NHL play, and keeping them engaged with some Ice Breakers and Team Building stuff.
“I’m seeing some smiles on their faces, so I think they’re okay with this.”
Smoke Eaters veteran goalie Logan Terness along with roommate and rookie forward Nic Roussel have made the best of the tough two week quarantine at his billet house.
“We’ve built a pretty nice gym set-up at my grandparents house,” said Terness. “So me and my billet bro Nic Roussel have been probably getting three hours a day of physical activity, so it’s something anyway.”
The past year has been difficult for Trail and all of the BCHL, particularly for veterans like Terness and Chase Dafoe. The cancellation of playoffs last season in March, 2020, came just after the Smokies’ sweep of the Prince George Spruce Kings. Then a hopeful start to this season was soon followed by the season postponement at the end of November.
“It was definitely disappointing for sure,” said Terness, who earned the 2020 BCHL Rookie of the Year. “Last year, we had a chance to go all the way with the group we had, we had a pretty special group.
“Then coming back with hopes we’d be able to go shortly, then the date kept getting pushed back and back and wondering when it’s going to end.
“At least we got something we can use now so our whole team can show what they got, and it will help us move on to the next level.”
Dafoe, the Smoke Eaters assistant captain, is one of the few players who is billeted by himself, and admits adapting to the COVID season had its ups and definite downs, but is excited to get back into action.
“Having experience from last year, and being one of the only returners made it easier to come in as a leader this year, and it was nice to get some games in,” said Dafoe, who had seven points in nine exhibition games.
“Obviously we didn’t think we’d be taking this long of a break in between games. There’s definitely been some tough days just not knowing if we were ever going to play, but everyone did a really good job of staying engaged and looking forward to being back at it.
“When we heard the news, everyone was really pumped.”
Dafoe plans to return to the Smoke Eaters next year but Terness will be moving on to the University of Connecticut. Both want to make an impression over the last 18 games and use that momentum for next year season.
“It’ll be fun to move on and go on to the next level, and play with all those elite players,” added Terness. “But I definitely enjoyed my time in Trail for sure.”
Starting Apr. 2, the Smoke Eaters will play 10 games against the Cranbrook Bucks and 10 versus the Penticton Vees at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Playoffs remain uncertain, but for Fragle and the rest of the Smoke Eaters just being able to compete is consolation enough.
“We were saying all along we would take just playing one team so when we found out it was a pod of three we were excited,” said Fragle. “The alternative with no games is not where we want to be so we’ll take what we can get.”