Every season is a new adventure for any hockey team but the impending season may prove even more challenging and unpredictable than most for the Trail Smoke Eaters who embark on their 16th season in the BCHL.
A very different Smokies team from last year will take the ice Friday night against the Westside Warriors, as a dozen fresh young faces join the line up including assistant coach Bob Dever.
But first-year head coach Bill Birks is happy with the progress the team has made since opening camp last month and remains positive about the upcoming season.
“Our young guys are really starting to play. The three weeks have really helped get guys familiarized and playing with each other a little more. We’ve got better and better since we started and I’m looking forward to it,” said Birks.
Familiar rookies Daniel Delbianco, Luke Bertolucci, and Dallas Calvin have added size and speed to go with skilled players like Nanaimo’s Brent Baltus and Sechelt’s Kyle Horsman, while imports Brandon Long, Josh Roberts, Chris Romanchuk and J.J. Beitel are relative unknowns.
Two of Birks’ most dependable defenseman in camp have been rookie Brandon Egli from Victoria and veteran Nicholas Wong, acquired from Cowichan Valley Capitals in the Travis St. Denis trade.
The tandem will be starting on defense and, as expected, the Smokies will go with goalie Matt Larose in net. The 19-year-old goaltender returned last week from the Canada West Junior “A” camp in Canmore, where he was touted to be one of the top goalies, says Birks.
Veteran Smokies like captain Logan Proulx, and assistants Eric Cooper and Clayton McEwan should provide the leadership necessary for the young team to gel and commit to the team dynamic and so far the coach is pleased with the team’s response.
“Our work ethic is by far the best I’ve seen as a team on any team that I’ve been involved with . . . Work ethic will come through in the end, and with the skill (we have), I’m very optimistic about our chances,” added Birks.
Like the Smokies, the Warriors are a little younger this year but will have key returnees in forwards Tyler Krause (11-21-42) and Dru Morrison (14-17-31) and defenseman Michal King and Izaak Berglund.
The Smokies are all too familiar with their opponents, losing to Westside in three straight opening round playoffs, including a Game 7 heart breaker last year.
“I can’t wat to get at it with them,” said Birks.
“I’m not a very big fan of the Westside Warriors, no matter who is there.”
This is the first season the Smoke Eaters have opened up against the Warriors.
Games go Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.