Friday, March 6, 2009

Trail Times Letter, Guy Bertrand

I had a letter on the Smoke Eaters printed in the Trail Daily Times today. Before we get to that, I had a chance to talk to their BCHL award winning sports editor Guy Bertrand on Mountain FM's Overtime this week. We broke down this season for the Smokies and what to expect for next year. Here's Guy:

Trail Daily Times Sports Editor Guy Bertrand

Click here to download

As for the letter, it was in response to a letter calling for the Smokies to drop back down to the Junior B KIJHL. I don't want to seem like I'm denigrating that hockey as I think it's an excellent league with great local teams. However, this was my response (the paragraphs are theirs not mine):

After reading the letter from Ben Postmus on moving the Smokies back to the KIJHL I felt the need to respond. I know Ben has had a history of volunteering his time to hockey at different levels so I certainly appreciate his dedication and take on the issue, but I think he's way off the mark.

Ben asked if the Smoke Eaters' time in the BCHL has been a success. I suppose that would depend on your definition of success, but the Trail franchise has one of the most consistent and loyal fan bases in the league.

Over the past six seasons they've never averaged less than 881 fans a game or more than 988. Their average attendance over that span amounts to 13% of the City of Trail's population.

If you ranked teams in the Interior Conference by that mark, Salmon Arm comes in second spot by drawing in only 7.6% of their population. Other small market teams like Quesnel and Merritt draw only 6.7% and 6.4% of possible fans. Those same fans buy merchandise, food and tickets to all the fundraising events every year.

The people here support their BCHL hockey at a higher rate than anywhere else in the Interior. The team also probably has the hardest working staff of volunteers in the league and great corporate support.

How about success on the ice? While it's true that the Smokies have yet to win a championship or reach the league finals, they have hardly been a punching bag. Recently they've finished no lower than sixth and no higher than third in their division. Their overall franchise record is right around .500, they've been in the playoffs eight straight times and they've produced a number of young athletes who have gone on to success in college and pro hockey. Just this season a former Smoke Eater (Brett Skinner) made his debut in the NHL while another (Grant Rollheiser) was drafted by Toronto.

This year's team may have had a long losing skid to close out the season, but no one who regularly attended this season's games could argue they didn't put on an entertaining product. Who could forget the thumping of top ranked Victoria? How about four dramatic overtime wins against Penticton?

This team only returned five players from last season, and while completely rebuilding with 12 rookies they still flirted with first place and were ranked nationally in the fall. There is also lots of reason for optimism with the return of up to 15 players for 2009-10.

Ben mentioning the revolving door behind Trail's bench is unfair given the recent trend. Tim Kehler spent three successful seasons with the Smokies before climbing the ladder to the WHL. Jim Ingram has just completed his second season and signed a three year contract extension that should provide for coaching stability with longtime assistants Barry Zanier (six years) and Brian Youngson (three years). Things have changed.

He also asked what has being part of the BCHL done for Trail. I couldn't properly answer that question in just one newspaper.

First of all, the BCHL franchise provides Trail with the best on ice product in the West Kootenay. KIJHL hockey is very entertaining, but all you have to do is talk to a player who has made the leap to find out how much more speed, skill and physicality you'll see in Junior A. It's simply a higher level of hockey and that's why KIJHL teams take pride in moving players to the BCHL.

Junior A hockey in the region also gives us an opportunity to watch future NHL stars like Kyle Turris as they develop into elite talents.

It gives us a home for local players who are skilled enough to play at this level and earn college scholarships. If we didn't have the Smokies great local talents like Paul Mailey, Travis St. Denis, Justin Brown, Steve Koshey, Patrik Martin and Kevin Limbert (to name just a few) would have had to play their BCHL hockey elsewhere. Would we rather they were playing on the coast or in the Okanagan?

Ben speaks about more opportunities for local kids to play with an additional KIJHL team, but Beaver Valley and Castlegar seem to do the job just fine. If there was such a need for additional KIJHL spots for locals why do the Nitehawks and Rebels have to fill out their rosters with players from other parts of the country?

Any additional team would just dilute the regional Junior B talent pool and make our teams less competitive.

If anything the loss of a BCHL team would probably have a negative influence on minor hockey as they wouldn't have a Tier II team to strive for.

It would also hurt the ability of local KIJHL teams to recruit the high end talent that wants to be close to and on the radar of a BCHL team in Trail.

Local rivalries are great and there's nothing stopping any fans from enjoying games just down the road in Fruitvale, Castlegar, Grand Forks and Nelson. The Smokies also have some very intense rivalries with the likes of Vernon and Penticton.

A couple of early playoff exits in a row and it's time to quit? That doesn't make any sense to me. Why can't we just enjoy having two thriving levels of junior hockey in our region? Ideally we'd be able to follow all the terrific local talent as they move up the ranks from minor hockey to the KIJHL and eventually the BCHL Smokies. If you want to do just that pick up your season tickets for 2009-10 when I'm expecting a whole lot more magic out of St. Denis, Mailey, Brown, Koshey and the rest of the gang.

Shawn Mullin


Anonymous said...

It is unthinkable and wrong, to reverse back to a Jr "B" level. I strongly believe that the team, and "TOWN", deserves to remain a Jr "A" franchise.
The problem that I have seen on countless occasions over the past 3 years, is that, the coaching is just not right!
During a game there seems to be no player/coach chemistry on the bench, and on the ice, the strategy of chasing, working, winning the puck in their own end, (only to reach the opposing blue line), dump and chase, is completly out of date!
I also will note that, If any of the current coaching staff were to pay attention during itermission to the scoreboard screen, they will see the succsessful Trail teams of past, and realize that puck posession is everthing.

If I were coaching. the strategy would be 180 degrees from their current negative losing direction.

We have the most talent of any nation as hockey players, and should be more creative than dump and chase.

Very unhappy fan
"Trail deserves better"

Shawn said...

Well you are of course welcome to your opinion thank for sharing it. I will note that this same style helped them win a ton of hockey games in the fall.

Dave T. from the Peach City said...

I was always under the impression that citizens from Fruitvale to Castlegar and everywhere in between were the most knowledgeable hockey fans in the world. To my surprise, only 99.9% of the fans are. The BCHL is arguably the top tier two hockey league in the world, with the USHL right up there as well, why would anyone not want to be a part of that?

The only benefit of Trail losing their team would be for us here in Penticton, as we could scoop up all your local talent.

Look at a guy like Kevin Limbert. He is what all Junior hockey players should strive to be like. Local guy, works his a** off every day, gives back to the community, etc. etc. Now where is he? He's at the world's top university playing the game he loves and getting the best education on the face of the earth. This doesn't happen in Jungle B hockey, which is why most areas have gotten rid of it.

If people are fed up with the Smoke Eaters and the way the team is heading that's fine, but you should go out, buy a season's pass (they're still cheap in Trail) and then you have the right to start complaining.

And to Anonymous... did you watch any of the games or did you just look at the team's record and make assumptions?

"If I were coaching..." shut up. You're not, it's hard to coach when you come on here like a big shot and post as anonymous, pinhead.

Shawn said...

Thanks for your comments Dave. Actually I think the USHL is a considered major junior or Tier I but the players still retain college eligability. That would mean the BCHL is tops.

Stef said...

To suggest that the smokies should drop down to the junior "b" level is absurd. I don't mean to be rude, but I have had the pleasure to play for the Nitehawks and Smokies and I believe that it would be a mistake.

Firstly, if the Smokies were to drop down to the junior "b" level it would have a negative affect on the Nitehawks. The Nitehawks are arguably one of the most storied franchises in the KIJHL, they have a very loyal fan base, and an unbelievebly hard working group of volunteers. Not to mention the most respected coaching staff in the KIJHL. Growing up, all minor hockey players in the area aspire to play for the Nitehawks before moving on to play for the Smokies, and if the Smokies were to drop down it would take away from that "privelige" and pride that goes along with playing for the Nitehawks. And as you mentioned Shawn, the watered down affect it would have on the Eddie Murdoch Division would be unfortunate, as it has been the most competitive division in the KIJHL and closest thing to Junior "A" level hockey for aspiring hockey players. I can honestly say that if it was not for the coaching staff, great fans, and the hardworking volunteers I would not of had the oppurtunity of playing for the Smokies.

Secondly, Having Junior "A" hockey in Trail has given the fans an oppurtunity to see prospects like Turris, Filatov (and the rest of the outstanding prospects who participated in the World Junior A Classic) Rollheiser, David Jones...ect. I also find it unfair that Anonymous questioned Trails coaching staff. They are an extremely hard working coaching staff. Jimmy is great to his players, and the players respect and enjoy having him as a coach. Same goes for Younger and Barry. It would be a shame to take such great hockey away from the great fans and volunteers of Trail. Although the last couple seasons have been a struggle, there is no other team in the BCHL that does more with less, the Executive does everything in their power to make sure the players are treated well, which is why Trail has a reputation around the league for being a great place to play. Instead of doubting the smokies existence in the BCHL, you should be proud of the acomplishments and reputation the Smokies have built for themselves.

Ben I commend the great work you have done with both the Nitehawks and the minor hockey system, I just respectfully disagree with you.

Stefan Decosse,