Thursday, April 30, 2009

Merritt Back for 2009-10

According to Brian at the Making Cents blog the Merritt Centennials will continue to operate for the 2009-10 BCHL season:

"I've received confirmation that a local group has stepped up financially to ensure that the Centennials continue to operate in Merritt as a non-profit society for at least the 2009-10 season.

Also, the team's current Board of Directors has voted against offering head coach and GM Al Glendinning a contract for next season."
What I can put together from that brief statement is that the team isn't being sold at this time, but some local investors are sinking money into the non-profit society to keep it going at least one more year. To me that would indicate they must be at least somewhat confident that one of the potential private ownership groups is going to come through at some point. If not, why would they just sink more money into a hopeless cause? There's got to be some reason for optimism if they're getting the money to continue on.

As for Glendinning being let go, this is no surprise from a hockey perspective. The Cents were awful in the past two seasons. That alone would be enough for a coach to lose his job. However, it was also revealed here that Glendinning was actively kicking the tires on the idea of moving the team to Kamloops. Given that he's not an owner of the Centennials one could only speculate as to what his motivation was. However, could someone that was looking into moving your franchise really be trusted to put the best product on the ice? If you were looking to buy and move a team wouldn't it be easier if they were awful and the games were poorly attended?

I also wonder if they still owe him any money.

While this is good news for Merritt fans it sure took a long time to surface. My understanding was that most people involved from players to staff had no idea what the future was for the franchise before this news got out. That means they are already way behind the 8-ball in a very important recruiting season. They didn't have a spring camp, their very existence was up in the air and now they don't have a coach or general manager to get started on a late recruiting drive. Merritt's executive is going to have to act fast. Will Bill Birks be the new man in charge? If not, will he at least be allowed to act as interim GM while they search for someone? It's almost May and most teams have locked up the majority of their commitments. They're already looking at what's left instead of the whole field.

The same problems that I documented in January still exist. This is a team that is now essentially on life support thanks to generous local investors. Without a sale and an influx of new blood and new ideas, how will next season be much different than the last two? Glendinning is gone, but you can't tell me that he was the only reason for the franchise's struggles. There is still a ton of work to do before this franchise can be considered saved.

I think the fans, staff and volunteers in Merritt are wonderful and dedicated hockey people. There just aren't enough of them. Without new ownership it's hard to imagine there will be enough money to sink into doing what is necessary to lure more back. Even with a bigger budget for marketing and staff and player recruitment I still wonder if a franchise can thrive in that building and in that community. I don't say that because I want them to fail, I'd love if they have tremendous success. I suppose I'd just call myself skeptical.

Hopefully a white knight comes along before someone has to pull the plug.

At the very least it sounds like I'll be enjoying a few trips back to that old barn next season. The program I took from the last game of 08-09 can go into the recycling bin because it's no longer much of a souvenir.... and I'm glad to hear it.

UPDATE: Brian now has an interview with the new financial group's spokesperson on his blog. I can't seem to listen to it on this computer but you can feel free to go and check it out! He also mentions that they are searching for a new coach and GM. I know you want to make the right hire because it's an important one, but hopefully somebody is actively recruiting while they carry this process out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Beckwith Speaks

The newest Smoke Eater was a guest on Mountain FM's Overtime tonight. I also talked to Jim Ingram about his new goaltender. Lots of interesting stuff here in my view. He talks about deciding to play in Trail, what he learned this season and describes his unique style. For more information here's the post I had on Saturday.

Garrett Beckwith

Click here to download

Smokies Coach Jim Ingram on Beckwith

Click here to download

Monday, April 27, 2009

Millionaires Sold

I heard rumblings of this months ago and now it's official:
Quesnel Millionaires sold to local group following approval of BCHL Governors

Burnaby, BC -- April 27, 2009 -- The British Columbia Hockey League’s Board of Governors has approved the transfer of ownership of the Quesnel Millionaires Hockey Club to a group of local investors, the league announced Monday. The team’s new owners, who purchased the franchise from a community-based non-profit society, will immediately assume full operations of the Millionaires. The transfer was completed after a lengthy planning and review process that was approved following a presentation to the BCHL’s Board of Governors.

“On behalf of the British Columbia Hockey League and its Board of Governors, I would like to welcome the new ownership group of the Quesnel Millionaires,” BCHL Commissioner John Grisdale said. “Committed local ownership is a hallmark of a successful junior hockey franchise, and I’m certain that this announcement signals a positive long-term step for the Millionaires organization and their fans.”

“We are very excited to be a contributing partner to the BCHL and look forward to working with the league moving forward,” said Millionaires governor Bob Sales. “On behalf of the entire organization, I wish to thank the league and our fellow governors for their tremendous support throughout this process. This is an exciting time for the City of Quesnel and our franchise and we are honoured to be a member of the best Junior A hockey league in Canada”
There goes another community ownership group. It seems like it was a necessary move for the Mills. I'm glad that a team of devoted local investors was able to get together here. Hopefully that will mean good things for Quesnel. Now they need that arena.

More details at their official website.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Beckwith to Trail

(Beckwith during his stint with Westside)

Big news today for Smokies fans; they've received a commitment from KIJHL goaltender of the year Garrett Beckwith. The 1990 born New Jersey native will join the Smoke Eaters next season to form what should be a heck of a tandem with Paul Barclay. I imagine they'll push each other hard to earn starts, and that can only mean good things for Trail.

Beckwith started last season with the Westside Warriors. They opened the year with he and former Nelson Leafs goaltender Devon Murtagh, but then quickly added Kevin Jebson in a trade. Jebson took over the starting role while Beckwith and Murtagh were spot starting and taking turns as back up.

Beckwith's first BCHL start was actually a 4-2 win in Trail for the Warriors, so he's got a win at Cominco Arena already. His next action was a 7-5 win over Merritt in relief of Jebson. Beckwith only gave up a single goal despite his team being down 4-1 when he got into the game. In two games he allowed three goals and won both times. The numbers (while a small sample size) are excellent. He was 2-0 with a 1.75 goals against average and a 0.927 save percentage in two BCHL games. The reward for his fine play? He never played another game for Westside and was released to Nelson of the KIJHL.

Beckwith didn't sulk though. He went to a power house Nelson squad and put up unbelievable numbers. He lost once (in a shoot out) in 20 regular season games with a 1.84 goals against average and a 0.924 save percentage. He was just as good if not better in the playoffs. Beckwith won all fourteen of his starts to lead Nelson to a KIJHL championship with a 1.99 goals against average and a 0.921 save percentage.

Garrett also went 3-1 at the Cyclone Taylor Cup, but unfortunately for the Leafs their only loss happened to be in the championship game. The Richmond team that beat them went on to win the Keystone Cup to become Western Canadian Junior B champs.

When you put his entire season together, Beckwith played 40 games and only lost once in regulation and once in a shoot out. That's unheard of.

This move also means that Trail has recruited the top goal scorer in the KIJHL (Matt Wilkins) and the top goaltender in the KIJHL. Not a bad start to the off season with talk of a whole lot more good news to come.

In talking to Jim Ingram today he told me that more than anything else it was Beckwith's competitiveness that got the Trail coach's attention. Beckwith will not give up on any puck or any game. He plays a unique style that's hard for even him to describe, but it's one that Smokies fans are going to enjoy watching. Beckwith is also an excellent puck handler who will bring that added dimension to the team.

I watched him play quite a number of times during Nelson's playoff run and that's why I'm convinced this is an excellent move by the Smokies to more than solidify the goaltending position. I firmly believe that Beckwith and Barclay will be as good as any goaltending team in the Interior. If Garrett is anything like the last Nelson Leafs goaltender to join Trail (Grant Rollheiser) than there's lots to look forward to!

Tune in to Mountain FM's Overtime on Monday night for interviews with Jim Ingram and Garrett Beckwith. They both have some interesting things to say and you won't want to miss the interviews. If you don't live in our broadcast area, I'll have the audio up sometime after Monday. I've also got some interviews with Kevin Limbert, Grant Rollheiser and Cam Brodie coming up sometime this week.

(#30 Beckwith and the Leafs celebrate the KIJHL Championship)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Wilkins Speaks, Jones Talks Championship

(Wilkins in the orange and black - Photo Randy Emery)

Matt Wilkins is a player I've heard a lot about over the last month. His name has been on the lips of a lot of Smoke Eaters fans as rumours of his commitment to Trail made the rounds. He was the top goal scorer (in terms of goals per game) in the KIJHL last season. The word from some folks I talked to that saw him at the spring camp is that he has tremendous skill. The 1991 born Kimberley native also has another huge key for success with the Smokies in the BCHL... the right attitude. I had a chance to chat with him tonight on Mountain FM's Overtime. Here's what he had to say about choosing Trail, his KIJHL success, making the jump to the BCHL and his connection to Scott Jacklin...

New Smoke Eater Matt Wilkins

Click here to download

I'm sure a lot of Smokies fans are hoping goal scoring additions like Wilkins and the natural development of last year's young talent could lead Trail to a BCHL Championship. Powell River was very close to getting it done so we know community owned teams can get there if they make the right moves. That being said, it was Montrose's Jones Twins and the Vernon Vipers who took home the Fred Page Cup. The Jones' topped the Vipers in playoff scoring (18 points each) and for the third straight season proved they had the ability to get the job done when the going gets tough. I talked to Connor Jones about the victory, the additions (like former Smoke Eater Cam Brodie) that put Vernon over the top, the Doyle Cup and more. Here's the former Nitehawk on Mountain FM's Overtime last night...

Vernon Forward Connor Jones

Click here to download

Congrats to the champs. I'm sure the Smokies will enjoy putting them to the test in 2009-2010.

I hope to see you all at AM Ford Fight Night tomorrow. Remember money from the concessions helps out the hockey club. Should be a great card too!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wilkins to Trail

Sorry for the lack of updates. I've been on a long needed vacation and I have a lot to catch up on! For example, congratulations to former Smoke Eater Grant Rollheiser and Boston University for their huge win in the NCAA Frozen Four. Also congrats to former Smoke Eater Cam Brodie and the Vernon Vipers for their Fred Page Cup victory. As much as the Vipers are not popular in Trail, I'm sure we're all hoping they can bring the Doyle Cup back to the BCHL. Overtime is back and I'm excited about checking out AM Ford Fight Night this Saturday. Don't forget to head to the spud shack during the event to help raise some cash for the hockey club.

The Trail Smoke Eaters have committed to 1991 born forward Matt Wilkins for 2009-10 BCHL season. Wilkins joins the Smokies from the Kimberley Dynamiters in the KIJHL where he was the league's top goal scorer last season. Wilkins' 31 goals placed him fourth in the league, but he did it in only 42 games. That goals per game ratio (0.74) is higher than that of any other top scorer in the league. He also had 30 assists for a total of 61 points in 42 games. His 1.5 points per game put him in a tie for fourth in the KIJHL with a group of older, veteran players. He did it all as a 17 year old playing only his second year of junior hockey.

Coach Jim Ingram told me tonight on Mountain FM's Overtime that they knew Wilkins was a player, but they were blown away by his skill at the spring camp last weekend in Princeton. This is a player Smokies fans should be very excited about. Maybe he and fellow Kimberley native Scott Jacklin will find some chemistry?

This announcement is just the first of what should be several exciting additions to Trail's roster this off season. They won't be turning over near as many players as they did last summer, but I've heard rumblings about some other great talent that we can expect to hear about. The phones are still ringing and the recruiting continues. You can expect Jim Ingram will be working non-stop to make the team better next year. The nice thing is that a lot of the improvement will come just from the fact that all of last year's rookies will be one year older, wiser, stronger and better.

Here's Jim Ingram on this year's spring camp in Princeton and Wilkins...

Smokies Coach and GM Jim Ingram

Click here to download

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fools!

Did we suck any of you in? This morning on Mountain FM's Rudy and Johnson show we played an April Fools Day prank on local hockey fans. Our sportscasts and show content featured very serious sounding stories reporting on the sale of the Trail Smoke Eaters and an impending move to Campbell River. Thanks to Jim and Tom for playing along. I hear they got more than a few phone calls this morning. If the reports upset you... frankly, I'm glad to hear it. We were just having some fun, but it's important to remind ourselves how good we do have it with a BCHL team in Trail. It's great hockey and everyone involved in making the community owned team possible deserves our praise and thanks. Just look at Powell River to see what a community owned team can accomplish with hard work and good hockey men. I believe that's in the midst of happening here. It'd be a huge shame if we ever lost it. This is how it went down this morning for those of you who missed it...

Mountain FM's April Fools Joke

Click here to download

Campbell River is a beautiful city... but no, they're not getting our Smokies.