Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Post Game Audio: Trail 5 Salmon Arm 5

(Mailey and St. Denis against SA last season - Photo Randy Emery)

Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey September 29th Highlights

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Smokies Assistant Coach Brian Youngson

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Forward Justin Brown

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Defenceman Steve Koshey

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Forward Travis St. Denis

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Post Win Audio

(Mellor snaps
one - Photo Randy Emery)

Smokies Coach and GM Jim Ingram

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Goaltender Kiefer Smiley

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Forward Sam Mellor

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Forward Matt Wilkins

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Forward Tye Lewis

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(Lewis and St. Denis drive the net - Photo Randy Emery)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Trail 7 Williams Lake 2

(Sam Mellor scores his second of the game - Photo Randy Emery)

Trevor Lewis and Sam Mellor both had two goals and an assist in a 7-2 Trail win over Williams Lake today. Matt Wilkins had three asists while Travis St. Denis added two points. It was also a celebration for Eric Walker, Ben Matthews and Marc-Antoine Chaput as they each scored their first BCHL points. Mellor's first goal was his first BCHL marker. Kiefer Smiley stopped 36 of 38 shots for the win in his first start as a Smoke Eater. It was the second straight game that the Smokies put up more than 40 shots. There was lots to like about this afternoon's game, but the biggest thing is that the "monkey" is off their back. Now the team should be looser and more able to perform up to their ability. We'll have all sorts of interviews and reaction tomorrow night on Mountain FM's Overtime from 6pm to 10pm. Trail's next game is Tuesday night in Salmon Arm.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Post Game: Quesnel 5 Trail 1

(Photo Randy Emery)

It's easy to look at the 0-6 record for Trail and focus on that. Instead at first I want to talk about tonight's game as a stand alone entity. Trail out shot the Millionaires 43-36 tonight including 31 shots through two periods. The forwards were creating traffic and chances, but Kirby Halcrow was terrific in the Quesnel goal. He didn't seem to make any spectacular saves, but he was in the right place at the right time. Reminded me a lot of Grant Rollheiser in that he made tough saves look easy. There was a reason we selected Halcrow as the first star today. His performance so far has him among the top ranked goaltenders in the BCHL.

However, it wasn't a 2-1 game. Quesnel broke it wide open with 4 goals in the second period. So what happened? How were the shots so even and actually in favour of Trail, but Quesnel came away with a four goal win? Because tonight's game was the ultimate example of what specific defensive break downs can do. 95% of tonight's game I would say the play was either even or Trail actually had a slight edge in the play. That's a positive step, but the break downs killed them. On the first goal Hertz was allowed too much space in front of the Trail goal to one time a puck home. On the second goal a neutral zone turn over turned into a 4 on 1. On the third goal the Mills were allowed about five whacks at the puck in front of the Trail net before being able to knock it in. On the fourth goal Holst was allowed free access from the corner to the front of the Trail net. Finally, the fifth goal was a breakaway.

Not one of the goals was a floater from the point or say the top of the circle. It's also not like Quesnel was overwhelming Trail with perfectly executed rush after perfectly executed rush. Again, the play was very even and in my view entertaining. Unfortunately, a hand full of broken plays ended up in the back of the Smoke Eater net and was the difference in tonight's game. In my view it was that simple. I'm sure there are a lot of fans who will see the score and demand full scale changes. The talent is there and they've shown the ability to carry the play... but these broken plays are killing them right now.

Of course taking a step back from tonight's game and looking at the bigger picture you also have to acknowledge the mental/emotional side of this situation. I posted a couple of Vince Lombardi quotes earlier basically about how hard it is to overcome fragile confidence when you're losing. I had a conversation with one fan who said to me basically that the guys just had to suck it up and battle through the confidence problems. That is absolutely one of the truest examples of something that is easy to say and an absolute ***** to do. Think positively, believe in yourself, battle through it... and then you get down 1-0 and suddenly it's 2-0 and how do you fight that natural instinct to get anxious?

For example, I had an awful second period tonight in the broadcast booth. Everything was going wrong. I dropped my papers into the stands, I got interrupted two or three times, I got messages saying the broadcast wasn't working and I just wasn't sharp. Add that to the always difficult task of getting to know what was basically a brand new roster for Quesnel and it was probably among my worst periods in a long time. In the intermission I took a moment to compose myself. I did my best to get it together and put it behind me. The third started pretty well, but as soon as I stumbled a little bit here or there I felt the shadow of my bad second period hovering over me and shaking me a little bit.

I don't consider myself "mentally soft" but that impacted my work a little bit, and I'm not competing in a high tempo sport against 20 perfectly conditioned elite athletes. In hockey even the smallest hesitation or fraction of doubt can turn into one of those major break downs that was the difference between a close game tonight and a 5-1 final. This is not an easy thing to fight through. You can't just snap your fingers and break out of it. Coach Ingram can't just make one magical move or say one perfect thing in the dressing room to break the boys out of it. They've just got to keep plugging.

I know there are probably some people close to the team that feel like I've been hard on them lately. I don't relish it. I have to call the games as I see them as much as it pains me to be negative. I have immense respect for the coaches, players, board and everyone involved in this hockey club. If I had a talented son I wouldn't hesitate for even half a second to send him here under the guidance of Coach Ingram, Coach Youngson and Coach Zanier because I know they'd come back to me a better player and most importantly a better man. They are too smart and talented for this to last.

I promise you this Trail Smoke Eaters team will not have too many more nights like this all season. As soon as they get this monkey off their back the tide will turn and the the lights will come on.

Bank on it.


I had a brief chat after the game with former Smoke Eater Skyler Smutek. He's playing some very big minutes this season for Quesnel after being an All-Star with Drayton Valley last season. The biggest thing I noticed in talking with him is that Skyler seemed content and comfortable. I'm really glad to see that. I think as much as it may have been tough at the time, the trade last year was the right thing for him. The ice time he got in the AJHL wasn't available in Trail. He got to spend a year on a bad team playing all sorts of minutes... and he really matured as a player. Now Skyler is older, stronger, more experienced and playing a big role back in the BCHL. He's off to a strong start and really deserves it.

Quesnel is a tough team. I talked to someone today who has seen all the northern teams and strongly feels that the Mills are the top team in the Cariboo. They only lost 2-0 in Vernon. They lost in the last minute of the game against Wetside. This is a good hockey club. They've got a reliable core of vets on the back end. Their goaltending is perhaps the best in the Interior so far. Their best players are doing what your best players have to do by producing key points for them early in the year. They move the puck decently and have at least two lines that can burn you. There's no question in my mind they'll be a playoff team and could even be a dark horse for home ice advantage.

The hockey fans in the Q have suffered for a long time and really deserve better. It looks like they're getting it.


The Williams Lake Timberwolves have proven to be a very hard working team that perhaps is a little short on high end skill. That's to be expected when they are essentially an expansion franchise who didn't have a single "returning" player. They're also finishing off a three day road trip that took them from Prince George to Vernon to Trail tomorrow afternoon. This is a team that is likely going to play some desperate hockey and will look to come out of the gate hot. There is obviously a good chance they could run out of gas late. That being said, tomorrow will be Trail's fourth game in five nights. The Wolves have one win and Trail has none. This is the set up for two very desperate teams to go head to head tomorrow.

I expect a physical, gritty and energetic battle tomorrow. However, I also think the first goal is going to be huge. Both teams are struggling and confidence is sagging. Whichever team can jump out ahead could have a huge emotional advantage. I think the first five minutes of tomorrow's game could really set the tone.

Tomorrow will also be the first chance for the four Castlegar Rebels that joined Williams Lake this season to return home. Three of them (Keagan Little, Anthony DeLong and Darren Tarasoff) are locals. Expect a pretty decent turn out of their friends and family that may create a bit of a Wolves cheering section. Former Nelson Leaf Dane Rupert also plays for Williams Lake. It'll be his first chance to face his former teammates David Piccard and Garrett Beckwith. Those are just a few of the story lines we can dig into tomorrow afternoon. I hope to see you there. If you aren't in town buy the PPV or you can just listen to the broadcast. I expect our feed won't be so shaky tomorrow. It's usually among the best video broadcasts in the BCHL. Our team really does an excellent job behind the scenes.

Keep the faith, Smokies fans! See you or talk to you tomorrow.

Game Day: Quesnel at Trail

"It's easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you're a winner,
when you're number one. What you got to have is faith and discipline when you're
not a winner."

Vince Lombardi
Tonight starts a big weekend for this year's edition of the Trail Smoke Eaters. Obviously game 6 of the season isn't "do or die" but it's important. Win or lose tonight the Smoke Eaters have to show they have the right attitude to win. Now I say that, but a win this weekend is absolutely vital. Frankly they really could use two of them. As Vince Lombardi said, "confidence is contagious, so is lack of confidence."

The Smoke Eaters need to remind themselves that they are good hockey players and have what it takes to win. They've all done it at one time or another... at one level of hockey or another. There's a reason they're here. There's a reason the coaching staff got several calls this week telling them to keep their chins up and this talented group will come around. This is not a basement team. These guys have a lot of pride and a lot of skill. They just need to remind themselves of that and have some fun again.

Quesnel is not a "weaker sister" team this season. If you look over their schedule so far you won't find any blow outs. This is a team that fights, scratches claws and battles for everything. They won't give you an inch out there. They've also got a very dangerous top line and some solid young players. Don't expect two points because they're wearing the powder blue. They'll make Trail earn that first victory. Now these boys in the orange and black have to show that they can do just that. Hopefully we'll see a big crowd out tonight and tomorrow afternoon (against Williams Lake) to help them right the ship. It should be a good one.

Here's Coach Ingram on the roster changes yesterday and righting their attitude...

Smokies Coach and GM Jim Ingram

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Smiley to Trail, Murtagh and Malenstyn Released

(Kiefer Smiley)

Late breaking news tonight that the Trail Smoke Eaters have made a change in goal. Devon Murtagh and the Smoke Eaters parted ways today as the veteran 20 year old goaltender just could not get his career in Trail off the ground. Everyone I talk to about Murtagh stresses how classy and mature he is. I know Jim Ingram told me today that Devon will succeed at whatever goals he decides to pursue in life, and they're very disappointed that it didn't work out in Trail. That being said, the goaltending tandem will now change as the Smoke Eateres have acquired Kiefer Smiley from the Cowichan Valley Capitals for future considerations.

Smiley went into this season as the starter for the Capitals but seems to have been supplanted by the arrival of 16 year old Laurent Brossoit from the WHL. Kiefer is a goaltender Coach Ingram knows well as he coached him as a 16 year old in the VIJHL. Smiley had a very successful season under Ingram with the Kerry Park Islanders and I know Jim has been following his career ever since. For Kerry Park, Smiley had a 2.86 GAA and 89.31 save percentage in 32 games as a 16 year old. Smiley spent last season bouncing between Cowichan Valley and Quesnel as the Capitals loaned him to the Millionaires when that northern squad ran into some serious injury troubles between the pipes. Perhaps this move will give Kiefer a positive change of scenery and a chance to establish himself in one place.

Two seasons ago as a 17 year old Smiley had a save percentage over 90% in over 30 games. He can play at this level. Ingram expects him and Garrett Beckwith to form a very solid tandem for the Smokies that will give his skaters a chance to win every night. He also mentioned to me that he's very happy with the way Beckwith has played while under siege every night recently in the Trail net. The compete level is something Ingram stresses when discussing both of these goaltenders. He says Smiley is excited to come to Trail and may even get into one of this weekend's games.

There was also another move today as the Smoke Eaters sent Matt Malenstyn home. Malenstyn gamely converted to forward this season after playing his entire career on the blue line. He worked his butt off to try to make it work, but it appears the experiment in Trail at least is over. I hope that this hard working and classy young man gets another opportunity to take his career to the next level. There should be plenty of chances for a 6'7 monster who has the right attitude.

I know I personally hate to see anyone go and can't imagine how hard a GM's job is at this level. I wish both Malenstyn and Murtagh the absolute best of luck in whatever they end up doing next. As for the Smoke Eaters, they need to put a smile (Smiley?) on their faces and force themselves to enjoy the game again this weekend. Suck it up and get that losing vibe out of their system. We'll see if these guys have the character to fight out of this hole and play the hockey they are capable of this weekend at home.

I'll see you at the rink tomorrow night against Quesnel and Sunday afternoon when Williams Lake is in town. Tune in to Mountain FM just after 8pm tonight for an interview with Coach Ingram on tonight's changes. It'll be up on the blog later.

Game 5: Westside 9 Trail 2 (Post Game Audio)

What can you say about last night's game? A few bad goals early spiralled into a huge blow out and an embarrassing loss. There are a lot of good hockey players on this Trail Smoke Eaters team who need to work themselves out of a serious funk. This team isn't as bad as the score would indicate. They just aren't. I'm not a hockey genius but I know that much. However, losing is contagious and they need to battle to get a couple of wins. They need build some positive vibes and momentum. The guys also need to have the right attitude going into this weekend because Quesnel and Williams Lake are not going to role over for anyone. They've both won against tough opposition and tested some other very good teams.

This is a very important weekend for the future of most of these players. We won't see a ton of moves before tomorrow's game... there just isn't enough time... but games like last night and the home opener could very quickly earn a few guys a ticket out of town. I hope that doesn't happen. I also hope the Trail fans don't jump right off the bandwagon so early in the season. The team needs a strong crowd now as much as they ever will. Here are the highlights from our broadcasts of Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey and a post-game chat with Brian Youngson.

Smokies Assistant Coach Brian Youngson

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Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey: Trail 3 at Penticton 5

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Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey: Trail 2 at Westside 9

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Game Day: Trail at Westside, Jacklin Interview

Familiar foes face off for the first time this season as Trail visits the Westside Warriors. Trail only managed one win against Westside last season despite the fact that almost every game was decided by a goal or two. The Warriors swept the Smokies in the playoffs, but two of the games went to overtime after Trail held early leads. The Warriors just had Trail's number late in the game last season, but this is a new look Warriors squad with a new coach in Darren Yopyk. That being said, the Warriors do have several players who were dynamite against Trail last year. Trevor Bailey and Cam Reid are part of the first line with Scott MacDonald that has been tearing up the BCHL so far this season. Bailey and Reid were also Trail killers last year. Kyle Singleton and Alex Grieve had some of their best success against last year's Smoke Eaters as well.

However, the Warriors are without their one/two punch of Justin Schultz and Corey Pritz now that both players have moved on. They were the straws that stirred Westside's drink for the past two seasons and now it's up to returning vets like Brendan Ellis and Joel Woznikoski to carry the load. It will be interesting to get our first look at this year's Warriors. Traditionally these are two hard working teams that role four lines. However, Mark Howell is gone and we'll see what kind of game plan Darren Yopyk throws at the Smokies.


You can click here for Ryan Pinder's recap of last night's game.

The Smoke Eaters may have lost 5-3 last night in Penticton, but the team is focusing on the positives. After getting down early (despite some great chances and another crossbar) the Smokies battled back and won the second half of the game. Their special teams also improved significantly in holding Penticton to 1-7 on the power play and in converting 2 out of 3 of their own power play opportunities. The forward lines all seemed to have a lot more jam and success on the attack. They still need to do a better job of converting their chances around the net, but that was the best the forward group has looked since the start of the season.

Trail does need to do a better job clearing the front of their net and in clearing their zone when given the opportunity. Too many open clearing opportunities ended up on a Penticton stick early in the game. Both first period Vees goals were scored on rebound scrambles in front of the Trail net. It's something Coach Ingram addressed and feels they were improving on in the remainder of the game.

I caught up with Smokies forward Scott Jacklin after the game. He had two points in what was a very strong game for the Kimberley Konnection line (Jacklin, Sam Mellor and Matt Wilkins) last night.

Forward Scott Jacklin

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Jacklin is one of two Smokies (Tye Lewis is the other) who are currently at a point per game pace. Some of the other veterans are going to have to start putting pucks in the net for Trail to get their first win here tonight.



Lidster-St Denis-Lewis








As always you can hear every road game on Mountain FM at 104.1 in Trail, 99.3 in Castlegar, 103.5 in Nelson and 96.7 in Grand Forks. It's also available online at our website. We'll have the City of Trail pre-game show starting at 6:45. I also want to say thank you and welcome to our new broadcast sponsor Nelson Ford. As of today our games will be known as Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters hockey. Thank you to the folks at Nelson Ford for being a big part of making our broadcasts possible for this season!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Game Day: Trail at Penticton

(Trail vs. Penticton - Photo Randy Emery)

Trail at Penticton Game Intro

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Click here to listen to our broadcast on the Mountain FM website. It's available on the radio at 104.1 FM in Trail, 99.3 FM in Castlegar, 103.5 FM in Nelson and 96.7 FM in Grand Forks. Watch my twitter for updates as well.

One Shot Scorer, News and Notes

(Tye Lewis showing another side of his game in the USHL)

As the two playoff overtime games against Westside slipped away from Trail to end last season there was a great cry from Smokies fans... if only we had that "one shot scorer" who could break a game open with one flick of his wrists. If only we had a sniper to convert all the chances our hard work generates. If only... Tye Lewis had been in town a little early?

Perhaps the search for that elusive one shot scorer is over. Through three games Tye Lewis has scored 2 out of 4 of Trail's goals. He didn't do anything fancy. There was no one timer or spectacular deke. Lewis just came down the left wing and ripped one shot far side and the other shot short side. He plain and simple beat two different goalies with clean and open shots. Professional quality shots.

Lewis' game isn't completely polished. He's a good enough athlete with a good enough shot that if his game were totally polished he'd probably be in college already. He has played in the USHL and the NAHL with his share of success. Now in his 20 year old season he has to prove he can be a go to guy in a top level Junior A league. However, he's got all the tools to absolutely be one of the best offensive players in the BCHL. It also gives Trail a look they haven't had since Jim Ingram took over. Most of the team's goals will still be scored by battling, driving the net, tipping pucks, making passes... but now they also have a guy who can flick his wrists and put the puck top corner. When the opponent has to respect that weapon they also have to leave some other space open elsewhere in the offensive zone. His addition should also make a difference on the man advantage though we haven't seen much from the power play yet.

Am I jumping the gun here? Probably. But you don't need to see a guy shoot the puck a thousand times to know what kind of a shot he has. That doesn't mean he's going to take advantage of his gifts the way he could. It doesn't mean he doesn't have to keep improving his all around game to be an overall plus player on the team. It doesn't mean his teammates are going to do a good enough job getting him the puck. It just means suddenly Trail has a one shot scorer who can change the game with that shot. I caught up with Tye last night on Mountain FM's Overtime and asked the junior hockey veteran about the team's reaction to Coach Jim Ingram's frustration with their recent play...

Tye Lewis on Mountain FM's Overtime

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Tye seems to understand that he has to develop his whole game in order to move on to the next level. It's the age old story of a player with all the tools who just needs to keep learning how to use them. He of course isn't the only one. There are lots of players with offensive tools in their toolbox on this team. So far we haven't seen enough use out of them. Paul Mailey and Nick Sandor have the talent to be point per game guys and they've yet to get on to the score sheet. Colin Lidster and Darnell Dyck said this summer they want a chance to prove they can produce in the BCHL with more ice time, but they've yet to get on to the score sheet. Riley Loyst, Justin Brown and Sean Nugent all play a strong two-way game, but we haven't seen any scoring yet. Only two Smokies have more than a single point! Those are just a couple of names out of a whole team of players who have to start making things happen offensively or they're not going to keep getting those opportunities.

It is absurdly early and I'm not saying it's time to write anyone off. However, a couple of goals and an assist in four games should not mean that Tye Lewis has been involved in 75% of Trail's goals. If you want to be a go-to guy and earn a chance to continue your career in college and in the pros you have to produce against the best. Playing Vernon is no excuse if you want to play against Boston University. This game against Penticton is another opportunity for these guys to test themselves and see what they're made of.


...Beaver Valley lost 3-1 to Spokane in KIJHL action tonight. 1992 born Braves forward Dylan Tappe scored a goal and has 12 points in 6 games so far. That's after scoring 50 points in 52 games as a 16 year old. How is this player still in Junior B? The loss means BV and Spokane split their two games this week as the Nitehawks beat the Braves 4-3 on Sunday. Spokane leads the Neil Murdoch Division, Nelson is 2 points back with a game in hand, BV is third, Castlegar fourth and Grand Forks fifth. There are players from Trail's spring camp and training camp all over this division. It's also a league that has produced a lot of future BCHL talent.

...As you read on the new Trail Smoke Eaters website, D Kodi Sawkwa (90) has been dealt by Trail to the Laronge Ice Wolves of the SJHL to make room for Marc-Antoine Chaput's addition. I only met Sawka briefly, but I could tell he's a class act and someone who deserves to find success if he does head to Laronge. If not, I could see him heading back to Lloysminster to lead his team to another provincial Junior B championship. Kodi is tough, smart and seemed to me to have good hockey sense. I think he could at least be a 5-6 guy for most teams at this level. Unfortunately the numbers game and being a 19 year old rookie can catch up to you even if you're good enough for the job.

...The BCHL message board is ripping Penticton Coach Fred Harbinson for trading forward JC Lirette (89) to the Winkler Flyers for the playing rights of Sam Gemmell and future considerations. When someone moves in and out that quickly perhaps it just wasn't the right fit? Why does every trade have to be seen as a broken promise? Until you have an actual reason to believe that there was some kind of "betrayal" involved I don't think it's fair to speculate. Of course that's an easy game to play on an anonymous message board. I will admit all too often teams and players are all too willing to break commitments they made to each other. However, there is no reason to believe that was the case in this situation.

...Quesnel also made a deal with Winkler by trading D Josh Martin (90) to the MJHL team for future considerations. Martin is a solid stay-at-home type who hadn't played yet this season so obviously needed to find some playing time. I wish him luck in Manitoba, but I can't help but think of one thing whenever Josh Martin's name comes time mind...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ingram Fires Warning Shot

Smoke Eaters Coach and GM Jim Ingram is one of the nicest guys I know. He's very easy to get along with and has rarely if ever allowed frustration to seep into our many interviews. That's how you know he was legitimately and seriously angered by what he saw in Trail's two games against Vernon this weekend. Anytime you talk to another coach about a Jim Ingram team the first thing that always comes up is work ethic. His teams are known for giving everything they have shift in and shift out. That work ethic was a big part of Trail's run to the top of the standings last fall. It's what took them to overtime with Westside twice in the playoffs last spring. It's a big part of why Ingram was nominated for Coach of the Year last season. Even when his teams have been decimated by injuries or got stuck in slumps, they never stopped giving it their all. When they win, they win by leaving it all on the ice. Coach Ingram felt like in the 7-1 and 5-1 losses to the Vipers the team didn't do that. Perhaps they did it for 40 minutes on Saturday, but the let downs late in that game and early in Friday's games were unacceptable. It's one thing to lose to a team as talented as Vernon. It's another thing to get what Ingram called an ass kicking. He reminds every player on the team in this interview that no one's job is safe until January 10th. If you're not going to bust your butt every second of every game... you might as well not even show up to the rink. That includes returning veterans. Those guys need to set the tone and show what it takes to be a Smoke Eater. They can't rest on their laurels. This is Jim Ingram as frustrated as I've ever heard him. If the guys don't come out with passion and intensity on Wednesday in Penticton and Thursday in Westside the roster could soon have a completely different look. It's that simple. As easy going as Coach Ingram can seem when you're just sitting and chatting with him on the bus, he takes the game very seriously. He's very passionate about Trail's reputation and he won't hesitate to send a skill guy packing if he isn't willing to pay the price. If you don't believe me just listen to the interview he gave me tonight on Mountain FM's Overtime...

Coach Jim Ingram on Mountain FM's Overtime

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What did I tell you? A very passionate Jim Ingram sends a clear message. I'm sure his actual conversation with the team went well beyond what he said there as well. Trail's next action is Wednesday night in Penticton and Thursday night in West Kelowna against the Warriors. They'll play four games in five nights by coming home against Quesnel on Saturday night and Williams Lake on Sunday. For a look at the enemy check out Boston Pizza Vees This Week with Ryan Pinder on his Vees Blog. I make a cameo at some point but I'm sure you're all getting sick of me by now. Stay tuned to Mountain FM's Overtime for a likely interview with Trail's new sniper Tye Lewis tomorrow night. There will also be a Tuesday night KIJHL game when Beaver Valley hosts Spokane.

Smokies Poll

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Game 3: Vernon 5 Trail 1 (Post Game Audio)

(Smokies run into a Vernon wall - Photo Randy Emery)

September 19th: Vernon 5 Trail 1 Highlights

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The Vernon Vipers are a great hockey team. They've got 14 returning players from a national championship and are already playing like a well oiled machine. There's so much talent on that squad that their power plays at times seem effortless. On the other hand, Trail is a team that is still coming together and getting to know one another. They're a team with a significant amount of inexperience at the BCHL level on the back end. Playing the best team in the country is not the best way to work out the kinks. Mistakes end up in the back of your net.

It is a good way to test yourself. The 12-2 combined score at the surface looks awful of course. However, it's not something to panic over. I've been reading some people on the internet who are jumping off the bandwagon already. In 4 out of 6 periods this weekend the goal differential between Trail and Vernon was only 2. The first period on Friday and third period on Saturday created the massive difference. Most of those big goals came on the power play. The Vipers were 3/4 on Friday and 3/6 on Saturday. As one fan who watched the games told me the Smoke Eaters were right there with the Vipers 5 on 5, but the special teams were the key.

These all sound like excuses and they're not. You can't excuse those periods getting out of hand. The penalty kill has to be much better. The Smokies also have to make sure they don't have such big emotional let downs when things don't go their way. Their intensity can't take the kind of dip it did when it was 2-0 and 3-0 on Friday or when it got to 3-1 and 4-1 last night. Those moments turned what would have been reasonable games into lopsided losses. What Saturday made clear is that Trail has the talent to go toe to toe with the best in the country. They just need more games under their belt, they need to convert on their opportunities, they need to do some serious work on special teams... they need time. They just happened to be up against a team that already seems to be in mid-season form. How patient fans are is up to them.

Some strong performances that stood out for me include Garrett Beckwith in goal. He stopped 23 of 25 shots in relief on Friday before playing tremendous hockey on Saturday. Beckwith had some trouble with rebound control against Merritt last week that he has really tightened up. I also know Devon Murtagh will rebound from his first start perhaps as soon as the next game. I hadn't seen Ben Matthews in action before this weekend and the 18 year old's solid play really stood out for me. He's big and strong, makes the simple plays and reads the play very well. He was a nice surprise. Tye Lewis has a pro quality shot. He's a guy who could really surprise some people this season and could be the sniper Trail was looking for. I saw good things out of everyone over the weekend. It's just a matter of putting it all together over sixty minutes.

The next Smoke Eaters game is Wednesday in Penticton and then Thursday in Westside. They'll be back home against Quesnel on Saturday and Williams Lake on Sunday afternoon. Sunday's game is Mountain FM day at the Cominco Arena. We'll have some fun stuff planned for you so don't miss it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Game Day: Trail at Vernon

(Paul Mailey and Connor Jones - Photo Randy Emery)

As I said on twitter earlier today, a true test of a team after a blow out loss is how they respond. The Vernon Vipers will without question be among the elite of the BCHL this season. That being said, this Trail Smoke Eaters club is way too talented to lose 7-1. Time for some of these guys to step up. You can hear our broadcast on Mountain FM at 104.1FM in Trial, 99.3FM in Castlegar, 193.5FM in Nelson and 96.7FM in Grand Forks. It's also available on our website.



Mellor-St. Denis-Mailey



Scratches: Malenstyn, Wilkins, Walker


Kane-C. Jones-K. Jones



Scratches: George, Short, Robak

Friday, September 18, 2009

Game Day Audio, Chaput

Home openers are always magical games. No matter the result there's that feeling in the air that hockey season is finally here. You'll see some familiar faces that you may not have seen all summer. You'll feel that brisk shot of cold air when you walk through the doors into the Cominco Arena. The line starts to form around the Sud Shack... the fries are in mid-season form over at the Spud Shack... Tiger's legendary voice fills the air reminded everyone that season ticket holders have reserved seating... and of course the most educated fans in the BCHL gather around the railings to talk strategy. "How is the roster looking?" "Are we big enough this year?" "We need to put a big body in front of the net on the PP." "Nice to see all those local boys in the line-up." "Who is this Chaput kid?" This is a fan base that knows their stuff. They may not be the loudest crowd in hockey (unless there's a bad call...) but they sure are a dedicated and smart bunch. I'm looking forward to the first of many good talks.

Who better to open the home schedule against than the defending national champion Vernon Vipers? Two seasons ago they opened against Vernon and lost a very dramatic overtime game. Vernon also knocked Trail out of the playoffs two years in a row in 2007 and 2008. They're a team that feature two of the best BCHL players from the Kootenays (Jones twins) and a team the fans in Trail love to hate. A great challenge? Absolutely, but also a great way to test this team. A win tonight would sure have the city buzzing.

Last year's season series against Vernon didn't go Trail's way. You can get details over at the blog of vipersdiehardfan. The Vipers won it 6-2. However, Trail did get two early wins against Vernon when the Smokies actually had a healthy line-up. They did it with energy, hard work, physical play and strong goaltending. That's a recipe for success against the skilled Vipers if everything clicks. We'll see if Trail can execute that tonight. Expect Devon Murtagh to get his first start with the Smokies tonight. I imagine there will be a rotation early until one guy really stands out. I had the chance to chat with both coaches to preview the game on Mountain FM's Overtime. Here's what they had to say...

Smokies Coach Jim Ingram

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Vipers Coach Mark Ferner

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Game time is 7:30pm tonight. Don't miss it. The home opener is a really good way to set the tone for the way this season could go. I'm hoping this can really be a banner year for fan support in Trail.


As I mentioned earlier, the Smoke Eaters acquired defenceman Marc-Antoine Chaput from Surrey for future considerations today. He's a 1991 born defenceman who from what I hear plays with a lot of speed and skill. The Quebeec native is listed at 5'10 and 170lbs. He's only 17 yet as he has a December birthday. Chaput was also on the radar of the QMJHL as you can find his profile page on their website. Looks like it was Chicoutimi who was having a look at him. Chaput played last year for the Harrington College Icebergs, but I have had a ton of trouble navigating their website to try and find any statistics for him. Usually my digging turns something up! Looks like he'll have to remain a mystery until we see him in the line-up. That may happen tonight if he makes it in time. Chaput also played one game for the Eagles and was a third star for them in one of their pre-season games. I spoke to both Coach Ingram and Surrey Coach Shane Kuss about what we can expect from Chaput...

Coach Ingram on Chaput

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Surrey Coach Shane Kuss on Chaput

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Kuss speaks very highly of Chaput's skills. I guess we'll have to see for ourselves either tonight at home or tomorrow in Vernon. I'm just psyched we have another player from Quebec so I can bust out the "ET LE BUT" call! I thought it was dead after JF Boisvert went to McGill. See you at the rink tonight!

EDIT: You know why I can't find information on Chaput's stats? The Harrington College Icebergs played in the United Junior Hockey League for most of last season until they actually left the league in February. Sounds like that was quite a gong show. In fact the four Canadian teams that left the league together had their own playoff and it didn't even go down as planned. Harrington lost in the semi-final, but the team that beat them (Saint-Lawrence) refused to play against their opponent (Team Ulysse) in the championship series due to an earlier incident between the two teams. Harrington took up the spot in the finals and actually won the "league championship" for the UJHL's spare parts. Such a strange story. No wonder I can't find any statistics.

Smokies Add Chaput

Just a quick note... as we reported on Mountain FM earlier this afternoon, the Trail Smoke Eaters have picked up 1991 D Marc-Antoined Chaput from the Surrey Eagles for future considerations. He's a rookie from Quebec and may be in the line-up tonight against Vernon if he can get to town in time. I'll have more details shortly.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Website

Click here to check out the new Smoke Eaters website. How can I not love a website that designed a logo for my blog? Just in time for the home opener tonight. It is quite similar to the websites of several other BCHL clubs. I like the sharp and simple look of the site. It's easy to navigate, looks good and will hopefully be easy to maintain. There are several sections that still require content. For example, I think the history section of the last website was one of it's nicer features. From what I understand that will be added to the new look site over the next few months. Be patient while they work out the bugs... but it looks good! What do you think?

Provincial Cuts Hit Smokies

The Trail Smoke Eaters got some bad financial news from the province yesterday. Their annual BC gaming grant was slashed from $25,000 last season to only $7,500 this season. They at one time got as much as $40,000 from the province. Only community owned teams can apply for the funding, but Smokies President Tom Gawryletz couldn't tell me if the cuts had impacted the other three community owned clubs in the BCHL. As for Trail, after two straight seasons with losses over $20,000 (including $34,000 last season) there is now some urgency to find more revenue. They certainly can't afford to mirror last season's numbers but with an additional $17,500 added to their losses. Gawryletz says they could surely break even if they put 100 to 150 more fans every game into the Cominco Arena. What is it going to take to do that? Surely some marketing could play a part in it (anyone have any brilliant ideas?) but the key is probably winning.

No pressure!

It's up to the community. The BCHL financial landscape is what it is. Trail has the toughest travel schedule of any team in the league, and they don't have a wealthy private owner to absorb any losses. This is what it's going to cost to run a BCHL club. If 950 fans a game isn't going to cut it, the people of Trail are going to either have to get their butts into the rink or accept a ticket back to the KIJHL. Some clubs could thrive on Trail's hardcore 900+ fan base. I think Merritt would probably kill for those kinds of numbers on a regular basis. However, Trail's bills are higher and that's just the way it is. I'm not saying the executive is on the cusp of puling the plug. I get no sense of that at all. I'm just saying you can't take blood from a stone. If losses pile up in that range every season eventually the money is going to run out.

I'm not going to get into the political side of this. It's unfortunate the Campbell government waited until what seems like the very last minute to let some of these organizations know the hole they're going to be in. However, times are tough. If it comes down to cutting a nurse or cutting a grant to a hockey team... well make your own call. I just don't like the way that these cuts have really caught so many organizations off guard. Whether it's a charity or sports or anything else there are people who rely on those organizations for the services they provide or just to make a living as an employee. If you'd like to see them supported you now have to vote with your wallet.

Here's Tom...

Smokies President Tom Gawryletz

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Ingram and Ferner Discuss Brodie Turning Pro

A tip of the hat to Brian's Making Cents blog for breaking the news that former Trail Smoke Eater Cam Brodie is headed to the American Hockey League's Syracuse Crunch. Brodie was at the Columbus Blue Jackets NHL training camp and is turning pro. He was scheduled to start his NCAA Division 1 scholarship at Colgate this year, but it looks like another opportunity has convinced him to take a different road. I talked to Cam really briefly this afternoon and from what I gather he's very enthusiastic about the opportunity with the Blue Jackets. I'll try to get an interview for Mountain FM's Overtime shortly.

It's no surprise there would be professional interest in Brodie. He's big, ridiculously strong and yet quite mobile. Cam thinks the game well and has some underrated offensive instincts. He was also a part of Vernon's dominating run to the Royal Bank Cup last season. Brodie really came into his own during his two seasons in Trail. That's when he proved he could be one of the most dominant blue liners in the league. It also means there's another Smokies alumni in the pro ranks who will be a class act and great ambassador for the BCHL.

I had a chance to talk to both Smokies Coach Jim Ingram and Vernon Coach Mark Ferner today in preparation for tomorrow night's Trail home opener. Both of them gave me a couple of words on Brodie's new opportunity.

Jim Ingram on Brodie

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Mark Ferner on Brodie

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Game 1: Merritt 4 Trail 2 (Post Game Audio)

(Tye Lewis)

The first game of the season didn't go as planned for the Trail Smoke Eaters. Both the Centennials and the Smokies played the sloppiest regular season opener I've seen in my brief BCHL broadcasting career. The rust and perhaps the nerves were obvious in a game that more than one person told me didn't seem like regular season level hockey. The Smoke Eaters hadn't been in game action for two weeks and featured 8 rookies in their line-up. That combination and a Merritt team that didn't give up any space in front of their net equalled a frustrated Trail squad with very few clean chances to their name. Here is the boxscore from Friday's 4-2 loss. Click here for the Making Cents recap.

Ryne Bodger's knuckleball from the red line that took a ridiculous hop and fooled Garrett Beckwith was perhaps a sign of things to come. While Trail rebounded to take a 2-1 lead after the first, the bounces didn't go their way all game. One puck went in off the post and off the back of Beckwith. Another went in off an apparent high stick (I can't see past the heater in Merritt to tell) with a player bowling down on the Smokies netminder. However, Coach Ingram wasn't making excuses because he wasn't happy with the effort level. Plain and simple the Smokies didn't make their own breaks or play with nearly enough passion and desperation for 60 minutes. Those weren't the 2007-08 Merritt Centennials. You can't take a night off and expect a win. There's no shame in losing to Merritt, but the frustration comes from a game in which the team didn't live up to their ability.

Those lessons better be learned quickly as Trail's schedule is a murderers row over the next two weeks. Home and home with Vernon before two more on the road in Penticton and Westside. Everybody is going to have to bring their lunch pale if they want to pick up Ws over the next couple of weeks. A great place to start would be the home opener against the hated (and defending national champion) Vernon Vipers.

Here's some audio from Friday's season opener care of Mountain FM's Overtime and our play by play broadcast...

Merritt 4 Trail 2 Audio Highlights

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Jim Ingram Post Game

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Some positives from Friday? Tye Lewis had 2 points in his first BCHL period. The Vancouver, Washington product has a shot that is every bit as good as advertised. He'll be a big piece of the offensive puzzle. The two veteran defencemen (Steve Koshey and Graeme Strukoff) both already appear to have taken their game to another level. Koshey is certainly in better shape, but beyond that he's far more comfortable and composed with the puck. It's only been one game but he doesn't even look like the same player. Strukoff is still a bull in a china shop (just ask Steve Tresierra after Strukoff crushed him with a Scott Stevens like hit), but he is more controlled and aware of his surroundings. These two need to be great for Trail when they are breaking in five other rookies on the blue line. So far so good.

Some fans have already suggested to me that it's time to hit the panic button when it comes to the inexperienced defencemen. Frankly I don't feel like they were keys to the loss. Certainly they all had their shaky moments, but the blue line didn't make any major blunders on Friday. You certainly couldn't single them out as difference makers in any direction. To me that's a good start for new players. It's basically what you should expect in their first game. It's the rest of the team that didn't step their game up as much as I expected. Of course it's only the first game of the season and an ugly loss could have easily been an ugly win. Would Penticton fans be having this same conversation if their only game of the weekend was Friday's against Williams Lake and they hadn't been able to come from behind to sneak that one out?

That doesn't mean there won't still be talk about persuing a veteran or two on the back end. I'm seeing it online and hearing it around town. Be aware that of course management is keeping their eyes and ears open to possibilities, but there is no reason to make any rush judgements on the four talented guys who have only played one game so far... and the one who has yet to suit up.

There are lots of reasons for optimism. Each player showed flashes of why they are on the team during Friday's games. You can see why all of them could make good to great BCHL players. It's now up to those players to put it together in a consistent fashion. I'm sure that's something that all the clubs are going to go through to some extent as they start a brand new season. It's really too bad the Smokies didn't have another game on the weekend so they could have worked out some of the bugs from Friday right away. Instead we have lots of time to sit on one 60 minute period and analyze it to death.

It'll be a distant memory soon. One way or another. I'll see you at the rink on Friday! Tell your friends, bring your family... make the home opener the kind of event it ought to be every year.


...I received word today that forward Sam Olson is off to Estevan of the SJHL. Sam was easily the top scorer for Grand Forks in the KIJHL last season. He's a character player with a lot of class and integrity who I'm sure will have lots of success in Estavan. From everything I know it's a great hockey market with a lot of history. Sounds familiar. Olson was one of the final 24 players left in camp. He leaves now to the SJHL hopefully for a bigger opportunity and the playing time he deserves. His departure also ensured local boy Thomas Abenante's place on the Trail roster. Abenante was one of Beaver Valley's top guns last season (also in the KIJHL) and worked his butt off to prove he could be the kind of complete player that would find a place on any of Trail's lines. He has yet to make his regular season debut for Trail, but it's great to see another hard working local player with a lot of skill find their way onto the team. The Smokies now have Paul Mailey, Justin Brown, Steve Koshey, Eric Walker, Travis St. Denis and Abenante representing the West Kootenay while Sam Mellor, Matt Wilkins and Scott Jacklin are East Kootenay boys. That's as strong a local connection as they've had in years.

...Speaking of the KIJHL, Nelson started league play out right where they left off. The Leafs won their two weekend games by a combined score of 15-1. Beaver Valley and Castlegar played a dramatic 3-3 tie to open the season on Friday. Both teams followed that game up with losses on Saturday. The Rebels fell 5-0 to Nelson while BV dropped a 6-2 game in Grand Forks. The Border Bruins went 1-2 on the weekend with a hard fought 1-0 loss to Fernie on Friday, their Saturday win and a tough 8-0 defeat in Spokane on Sunday.

...Denver Manderson and Beau Bennett scored a combined 19 points in 3 games for Penticton over the weekend. As Rick Jeanneret once said, "these guys are good... scary good!"

The Smokies will have to turn to Beau's older brother Wade in order to get the book on how to stop the sharp shooting Californian. The first battle of the brothers will be next week in Penticton.

...The defending national champion Vernon Vipers won both their games on the weekend in a home and home with the always tough Salmon Arm Silverbacks. It looks like any holes the Vipers had after they lost some key players in the summer have been filled admirably. We'll get a first hand look on Friday in Trail and Saturday in Vernon. As tough as the Vipers can be don't forget Trail took the first two games of the season series against them last fall. A hard working Jim Ingram club can be exactly what the doctor ordered against that type of skill.

...We "experts" all think we know what to expect from teams before they play. How many of us wrote off Williams Lake before they even hit the ice? They were up 4-3 on the Vees before letting it slip away in the third period and they beat Westside. A nice case of "nobody believes in us" combined with good coaching and work ethic can make for a long lasting surprise.

...Just another friendly reminder that you can follow me on Twitter. I'll try to make it useful in situations that don't warrent a full blog post. You can also tune in to my sports show Overtime every night from 6pm to 10pm on Mountain FM. It's available at 104.1FM in Trail, 99.3FM in Castlegar, 96.7FM in Grand Forks, 103.5FM in Nelson and with live streaming at our website. While I like to keep blog readers in the loop you'll get all your breaking local sports news on Mountain FM first.