Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jones and Wheeldon Audio

Connor Jones on winning the Doyle Cup

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Simon Wheeldon on stepping down as Coach and GM in Nelson

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Nelson Leafs VP Mary Plomondon on Wheeldon stepping down

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rebels hire Steve Junker

Sorry for the lack of updates over the last week. I'll have something more coming up shortly. For now here's a press release we got from the Castlegar Rebels today:

The Castlegar Rebels announced today that Steve Junker has been named as its new Coach and General Manager. Steve is returning home to his roots in Castlegar after living and playing hockey in Europe since 1997.

Steve has a long and distinguished career as a player in hockey. After playing in the Castlegar minor hockey system, Steve Junker moved on to play four seasons in the WHL, of which two of those years he was selected as a WHL all-star, eventually winning a Memorial Cup in 1991 with the Spokane Braves. He has also played in the World Junior Championships, and has won a Turner Cup (the IHL Championship), and a Calder Cup (the AHL Championship), in his hockey career.

During his career in North America, Steve has played under and learned from many esteemed coaches, including Mike Bullard, Guy Charron, Al Arbour, John Tortorella, Rick Dudley, Butch Goring, Brian Maxwell and Tom Renney to name a few.

Steve has been a captain or an assistant captain for the past 10 years of his hockey career including serving as an assistant captain of the 1996/97 Canadian National Team under Dave Murray and Mike Johnson.

"I want to return home with my family and yet stay involved in hockey in my home town," said Junker. "I'm very thankful for this opportunity. The Castlegar Rebels are a great organization, very professionally run, and one that I have grown up with. We have a very strong base of players and I am convinced that we can achieve great things here."

Jim Craig, President of the Castlegar Rebels, believes that Junker’s impressive hockey experience and background will be a huge benefit to the Rebels. "We're very excited to get someone with Steve’s playing background, hockey knowledge, leadership skills and hockey connections both locally, nationally, and internationally," said Craig. "His leadership and experience will allow him to be an excellent Head Coach and GM. We believe that he will be able to transfer this experience and knowledge to any and all players who play under him."

Watch Chris Wahl's blog for more on the Rebels.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wheeldon Steps Down

I got this press release from the KIJHL's Nelson Leafs today on the future of Coach Simon Wheeldon:

“The Nelson Leafs Hockey Society has announced today that after five successful years Simon Wheeldon is stepping back as Coach and General Manager of the Nelson Leafs Hockey Club.

Simon was the first coach of the local KIJHL team to operate in the new Nelson & District Community Complex starting with the 2005/2006 hockey season. Since then, his positive coaching techniques and hockey concepts elevated the Nelson Leafs to the top of the league and raised the bar for professionalism throughout the junior hockey community. His achievements include four divisional championships, one league championship and three awards as coach of the year.

His decision to leave the bench was made to spend more time with his family. He will continue to reside in Nelson and act as an advisor to the team as and when necessary.

The Directors of the Nelson Leafs Hockey Society fully respect the tough decision Simon faced over the past few weeks and wish him and his family the very best. The Directors are now proceeding with the task of hiring a new Coach and General Manager for the oncoming 2010/2011 hockey season.”

Simon started a full time job in the financial sector last year. I'm sure that played a big part in this decision as trying to do both is obviously quite challenging. Congrats to Simon though on a terrific run with the Leafs. The KIJHL is richer from having had him as a part of the league. More later...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kellen Jones on Vernon's Championship

Congrats to the Vernon Vipers on a second straight Fred Page Cup victory. This is a league full of deep and talented teams. It is very difficult to repeat, but the Vipers found a way to get it done against a very game Powell River Kings club. Credit to both organizations who lost some key pieces and still managed to return to the league finals. Check out a very good article from Vernon on the game that picked up on the Labreche vs. Jones match up I talked about here. Very tough loss for Powell River. I had a chance to chat with Montrose's Kellen Jones of the Vipers on their Game 7 victory and preparing for the Doyle Cup.

Montrose's Kellen Jones on Vernon winning the Fred Page Cup

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Good luck to the Vipers as they represent our league in the Doyle Cup and perhaps eventually in the Royal Bank Cup again. As for Powell River, they serve again as an example of how commitment to developing a program in a small market under community ownership can still lead to success in this league. It's not all about location and private ownership. Kent Lewis and company have shown the way for other similar programs to follow. I know that's a fifth loss in the finals for the Kings and they're starting to feel like the Buffalo Bills. They can still hold their heads up high as they've accomplished a lot more than people expected over these past two years.

Today is also the start of the NHL playoffs. You can check out the Mountain FM Overtime Playoff Preview by clicking here. We've got a bunch of other archived interviews on the site as well including a chat with Don Hay. Tonight on Overtmie I'll have a chat with Trail minor hockey product and Kelowna Rockets Coach Ryan Huska on the three locals who played for him this year including former Smoke Eater Lucas Bloodoff.

Monday, April 12, 2010

News, Notes and Audio (Bloodoff, Ingram, Macleod, Ohlhausen)

It's Game 7 of the BCHL finals tonight. You've got to give both teams credit for what has been a heck of a war between Powell River and Vernon. I know I'll be watching on PPV. Good luck to both teams! EDIT: Congratulations to the Vipers on their second straight Fred Page Cup. It was quite a war and both deserve a ton of credit.

Congrats are in order for former Smoke Eater and Castlegar native Lucas Bloodoff. First of all he's to be congratulated on what was a terrific junior career. That came to an end this weekened when Bloodoff's Rockets fell 4-3 in overtime against Tri-Cities and lost their second round WHL playoff series in 5 games. However, the Rockets Captain has a lot of highlights to look back on in a junior career that took him from Beaver Valley in the KIJHL to Trail in the BCHL and Kelowna in the WHL. The biggest highlight would have to be when he combined with his brother Evan and Trail native Kyle St. Denis as part of Kelowna's WHL championship club last year. Bloodoff should also be commended for how he stepped up his game in a big way this playoff for Kelowna. The 6'2, 207lbs winger delivered 5 goals and 9 points in 12 post season games.

Thanks to Lucas' hard nosed play and leadership he has earned a professional try out contract with Manitoba of the AHL. It was first reported by Regan Bartel and then picked up by Kelowna's official site and Manitoba's. I don't know how much Lucas will play during Manitoba's playoff run. Either way it's a great opportunity for him to show off his work ethic and his battle level against professional quality players. Bloodoff is a guy who I think can make an impression in the pros thanks to sheer will. Good luck to him.

This also means that the local connection to the Kelowna Rockets could be dwindling. Kyle St. Denis' future is apparently up in the air right now due to concussions (I certainly hope we can see Travis' talented brother suit up again) and Lucas is moving on. Evan Bloodoff could be the only West Kootenay product left with Kelowna. Of course they also have Ryan Renz of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs listed. The 16 year old Castlegar native already players like a man out there and wouldn't be out of place in the WHL if he chose to go that way.


The Smoke Eaters got an extra look at young prospects this year. Instead of holding a single camp in Princeton this year they held one in Trail and one in conjunction with the KIJHL's Ghostriders in Fernie. I had the chance to catch up with Coach Ingram after both camps. I also had a chat about that and other matters with Trail Times Sports Editor Guy Bertrand. I think we'll see a lot of interesting players making a run at the roster in main camp. It also sounds like there is a ton of 15, 16 and 17 year old talent in the Kootenays.

Smokies Coach Jim Ingram on their spring camp

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Smokies Coach Jim Ingram on the co-sponsored camp in Fernie

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Trail Times Sports Editor Guy Bertrand

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As you can see Coach Ingram wasn't naming too many names at this point. He's keeping his cards close to his chest... no pun intended. I expect there are a few players who really made a great case for themselves to get a long look at training camp. I look forward to seeing a very high level of competition between the young guns and the returning vets in August.


Last week NHL Central Scouting came out with their final rankings for this year's draft. One of the players on that list was Nelson native Isaac Macleod who played this season with the Penticton Vees. Macleod is a classy and talented young man who should get a long look come draft time.

Penticton Vees defenceman Isaac Macleod on his draft ranking

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When I chatted with him on Overtime he told me he was not yet decided on his plans for next year. However, an article on the KIJHL website indicates that the former Nelson Leaf is ready to head off to the NCAA Champion Boston College club. If that is what he decided that's a break for ever other BCHL club as Isaac would've been a force next year.


As reported by Mark Hunter yesterday, the KIJHL has approved a relocation application from the Chase Chiefs. Their ownership wants to take that club to Kelowna where they'd play in the Rutland Arena. I had talked to at least a hand full of teams who indicated to me they wouldn't be supporting the move so it surprised me that the vote ended up 10-3. That's just a hair above the 75% vote needed for a franchise to move. Interesting to note that 3 teams abstained from voting including apparently Barry Dewar of the Kamloops Storm. I can't understand a team deciding not to have a say in the future of their league like that. I'm also not sure this is the best thing for the KIJHL.

How popular will a KIJHL team be in Kelowna where the Rockets are king and the Warriors also have their own large fan base? Is there much more demand for junior hockey? Instead it seems like the move is about corporate opportunities and a recruitment edge. In my chat with Ohlhausen he suggests players won't necessarily want to stay in Kelowna. I disagree. With the Warriors and Rockets both in town I can't imagine too many home town players will be in much of a rush to head out to one of the small town KIJHL clubs if they get a chance with this new Rutland team. I also don't think the Warriors or Rockets would want their prospects to go too far from home if there was a team right in town where they could keep an eye on them and bring them in for practice. Instead we are about to see a new powerhouse in this league if they get themselves even a decent coach. How many of the 16 Kelowna players that skated for Nelson, Castlegar, Beaver Valley and Grand Forks would've stayed home if this team were in the league this season?

I hope this isn't another step towards a have and have not situation in the KI with bigger market teams having the ability to out spend and out recruit small markets. Ohlhausen certainly didn't seem to share my pessimistic view on the move.

HL President Bill Ohlhausen on Chase moving to Kelowna

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It's not that I think the franchise will be a failure. I just question taking a team out of a community like Chase that passionately supported it from all accounts and moving it to a big city that already has the luxury of a couple of great junior teams. If the crowds they had in Chase (which were very solid from what I heard) were not getting it done maybe they had to change their budget? Maybe the team should have been put in the hands of a non-profit society. It just doesn't smell right to me.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Smokies alumni and local products in action

Former Smoke Eater and Castlegar native Shawn Horcoff took on another former Smoke Eater last night... although Wade Dubielewicz didn't see the ice for the Minnesota Wild. Instead, Horcoff had 2 assists as the Edmonton Oilers beat the Wild 4-1. It is likely the only time you'd see a couple of former Smokies face off in NHL action unless the guys currently in the AHL can make the leap.

As for Horcoff, it hasn't been the easiest season for him or any other Oiler for that matter. However, he has 7 points in his last 8 games and seems to be playing more comfortably on a veteran line with Ethan Moreau and Fernado Pisani. People are going to harp on Horcoff's production no matter what because of his price tag. However, they don't have another veteran centre on that club who can take draws and play a two-way game. He has been forced to carry that load all season (while battling a shoulder injury) and the weight has had a major impact on his offensive game. As has the huge injury troubles Edmonton has had to deal with.

Surround Horcoff with a healthier and more talented line-up next year and watch him become one of the NHL's come back stories. He didn't suddenly forget how to play, this season has just been a perfect storm for so many guys there. The Oilers are going to get a top 2 draft pick and a host of possible additions from their prospect bin like Jordan Eberle. They should also get their top forward (Hemsky), top defenceman (Souray) and #1 goaltender (Khabibulin) back. I remember a few years back when Philadelphia went through a disastrous year and then got a big boost by the return of some healthy players and the addition of Richards and Carter. I think the Oilers under the watchful eye of former Smoke Eater Steve Tambellini as GM and former Smokies Coach Tom Renney as associate coach... are primed to have a huge rebound. That may just be the optimist in me speaking.


Turning gears to the WHL, former Smoke Eater Lucas Bloodoff continues to score clutch goals for Kelowna. He scored the winner in game 7 of the first round against Everett and has since scored goals in games 1 and 2 of their second round series with Tri-Cities. Kelowna's Captain now has 4 goals and 3 assists in 7 playoff games. The Rockets earned a split on the road and now get to come back to Kelowna where they've yet to lose so far in the playoffs. The Rockets also feature Lucas' brother Evan and are Kyle St. Denis' club, although Kyle was shut down for the season due to concussions.

Another local product who is making a huge impact on the WHL playoffs is Trail's Craig Cunningham. He won his second Boston Pizza WHL player of the week award in the post season thanks to 3 goals and 3 assists in the first 2 games of Vancouver's series against Castlegar's Luke Walker and the Portland Winterhawks. Cunningham has an outstanding 16 points in 6 playoff games thus far... and his Giants have yet to lose. Don't count the Winterhawks out though. Portland also got down 2-0 against Spokane before winning that series in 7. Vancouver also features Grand Forks native Brett Lyon who once played in the BCHL for Westside.


Staying with local products, Montrose's Connor Jones was named the BCHL player of the week for his role in the first 2 games of the BCHL finals. Both Jones twins were Vernon's best players as they split with Powell River over the weekend. However, the Kings have shut down the rest of the Vipers thus far. Powell River's vaunted defence and goaltending struck again tonight as they beat Vernon 4-0 to take a 2-1 series lead in the re-match for the Fred Page Cup. As previously noted, Nelson's Mitch Labreche is a member of the Powell River roster this time. Either way someone will be bringing a BCHL championship ring back to the West Kootenay.


On the diamond, Trail's Jason Bay had a successful debut with the New York Mets. He went 2 for 4 with a triple and a run scored in the 7-1 Mets victory over Florida. I think it's pretty clear based on the park in New York that Bay will not replicate his power numbers from his time in Boston. That's just not realistic. However, he should make a big difference to a club that didn't have a single 20 home run hitter last season. You can click here to take a look at Bay's first big hit with his new club.


Congrats to the Revelstoke Grizzlies for winning the Cyclone Taylor Cup this weekend over Midway's Brent Lucente and the Peninsula Panthers. I just got down watching Revelstoke beat Nelson in the KIJHL finals. They've a team that players the game the right way and did a fine job representing the league with that victory. Kudos to Troy Mick and company. Good luck to them at the Keystone Cup in Kamloops.


The Smoke Eaters spring camp wrapped up yesterday morning. I got a look at 3 of the 6 games they played and was really impressed by the young local talent especially. There are a lot of 1993s and 1994s in the West Kootenay area that are destined to play at least Junior B next season if that's what they want. A couple of them could even push for spots on the Trail roster if they work their butts off over the summer. There were also several very interesting 1992 and 1991 born players from BC and elsewhere that the coaching staff are going to have to take a long and hard look at. Overall I'd say it was a big success. We'll see what the joint camp in Fernie this week brings. Hopefully we'll get an update or two from our friends over there.

I'll have more on the camp with Jim Ingram this Tuesday night on Overtime as I come back from a nice Easter holiday. I hope you all had a good one as well. For the Smokies coaches and scouts instead of a holiday it was 12 hour days all weekend. You've got to love how dedicated they are.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fred Page Cup: Labreche and Jones Interviews, Spring Camp Schedule

Mitch Labreche and the Jones twins might be getting sick of each other. The rivals have gone head to head in the playoffs for five consecutive seasons. That dates all the way back to when they both played as 15 year olds in the KIJHL for Nelson and Beaver Valley respectively. The Nitehawks beat the Leafs in 2006 on the way to a loss in the league finals before Nelson returned the favour and also lost in the finals the following season.

The West Kootenay products then took their rivalry to the BCHL. Labreche with Penticton and the Jones Twins went to Vernon. The Vees took down the Vipers in 2008 on the way to their BCHL Championship. Vernon then returned the favour on the way to their Fred Page Cup win last year. It's like their careers have been mirror images. They've each made a KIJHL final and lost... they've each won a Fred Page Cup... so who will win the rubber match with another BCHL crown on the line?

Kellen scored once and had an assist as Vernon took game 1 of the series 2-1. Connor also added a goal. Advantage Jones twins. We'll see if Labreche and the Kings (who played a very even game with Vernon from what I saw) can grab that desired split tomorrow night. I had a chance to talk to Mitch and Kellen before the series on Mountain FM's Overtime.

Vernon Vipers forward Kellen Jones

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Powell River Kings forward Mitch Labreche

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Good luck to both the Kings and Vipers in their quest for the league title. It looks like the series is off to a heck of a start.


I caught the last game of the first day of Trail's spring camp today. From chatting with a few people it's my impression there is a lot of interesting young talent. How many of those guys will be ready for next season? Maybe not many. However, we may say a great number of them playing for local KIJHL teams to get set for that jump to the BCHL. We may also see a few of them force their way on to the Trail roster.

I was also quite impressed with Steve Koshey's transition to forward today. He scored 4 times in the game I saw. Maybe he should consider a full time jump... well somehow I doubt he'll do that. Still was very nice to see so many of the current guys involved. Also nice to see former Smoke Eater Paul Barclay on hand helping out with the evaluation of their goaltenders. He's a guy with a lot of passion and understanding for what it takes to play the game. Nice to see him involved again after his junior career ended this spring.

Here's tomorrow's schedule:


8:00-9:00am - White
9:15-10:15am - Blue
10:30-11:30am - Yellow
11:45am-12:45pm - Red

1:00-1:45pm - Goalies

4:00-5:30pm - White vs. Red
6:00-7:30pm - Yellow vs. Blue

Bruno Campese Interview

I had the chance to catch up with former Smokies Coach Bruno Campese this week. He signed a contract extension that will take him through the 2011-2012 season as the Coach and GM for Prince Albert in the WHL. I thought it was a very informative chat with the Nelson native. We discussed the Raiders job as well as how it relates to his past in the BCHL with Trail and Penticton. I've had the opportunity to interview Bruno a couple of times now and it's always a pleasure. This organization sure has produced a number of quality coaches.

Prince Albert Raiders Coach and GM Bruno Campese on Overtime

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Spring Camp Preview, Trail Times

Tomorrow morning the Trail Smoke Eaters will open the 2010 spring camp at the Cominco Arena. It's a return to Trail for the camp after heading to Princeton in 2008 and 2009. That means a bit of a boost for the local economy and a larger turn out of local players gunning for a shot at the Smokies roster. This year's camp will be hovering around the 80 player mark with four full teams doing everything they can to impress the coaching staff.

In addition to scouts, coaches and fans the new recruits will get a chance to play and interact with several of the returning Smoke Eaters. It seems like every guy I talk to is getting set to come back or is already here. If these guys want to spend April in Trail I know of a pretty good way for them to do that next year! It's encouraging to see so many guys come back. It shows how dedicated to the team they are and how excited they are about getting going again for next season.

Camp starts with registration tomorrow morning at 9am. After that they'll practice during the day and scrimmage tomorrow evening. There will be more action on Saturday and Sunday morning as well. I'm sure we'll see some hardcore fans in attendance. I'll have more on camp after taking some of it in tomorrow. For now here is the latest from Coach Jim Ingram as heard tonight on Mountain FM's Overtime...

Smokies Coach and GM Jim Ingram on spring camp

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Interesting comments from Coach Ingram at the end of the interview. He's hinting that there are some pretty well known candidates sniffing around the Smokies Assistant Coach job. I'm intrigued. As for the BCHL championship series, stay tuned to the Smokies blog tomorrow for a preview with the local products taking part.


I enjoyed my conversation with Trail Times Sports Editor Guy Bertrand on Overtime this week. I'm hoping to chat more regularly with Guy as it's hugely valuable to get the perspective of a guy who knows sports in Trail over the last two decades as well as anyone. We talked not only about the Smokies but also discussed the possibility of splitting the KIJHL into a Kootenay and an Okanagan league. Check out the paper and their website.

Guy Bertrand Wednesday on Mountain FM's Overtime
Check Spelling
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Now I do have a bit of a bone to pick with another Trail Times writer. I usually very much enjoy Dave Thompson's opinion pieces on local sports. I'm not sure if there's a more passionate supporter of the Smokies in print. I agree with his call of action every year to get more people into the rink. I hope we do next season. I agree with much of what Dave says except for a little comment this week (I'm paraphrasing) about how the spring camp in Trail is a step in the right direction in terms of bringing in local talent, because it seemed like previously the coach may have been favouring recruits from his old home region.

I'm not picking on Dave alone by responding to this here. This is a common line I'll hear from some Smokies fans.

"We need more local boys on the team..."

"Why didn't local player so and so make the roster..."

First of all the location of the Princeton camps was chosen for a couple of reasons including availability of the Cominco Arena. It's also a central location making it easier for kids from all around the province to get there. It certainly didn't favour Vancouver Island where Coach Ingram is from. They've moved the camp up a bit this year to get ice in Trail while it was still available. We'll see how it goes!

I also did want to note that I'm not sure there is a small market team in the BCHL that has devoted more spots to local players than Trail has during my time here. It's one thing for the Eagles to have a lot of players from all around Vancouver... it's another thing when you're dealing with a much smaller pool in the West Kootenay. Yet the Smokies went from 3 locals in 07-08 (Ingram joined the team in August) to 5 in 08-09 (6 if you count Jacklin from the East Kootenay) and 6 in 09-10 (9 if you count the 3 Kimberley boys).

How many guys did Coach Ingram bring in from Vancouver Island? 1 in 07-08 (Corcoran... who was here already), 2 in 08-09 (Nugent and Corcoran) and 2 this year (Nugent and Smiley).

I know we all want to see local players do well and ideally all the best local talent would play for Trail. That's not always going to happen though. Some guys are going to want to leave home. Some guys are just not going to fit in at a particular time. Some guys are going to feel like a different program is right for them. That being said, 9 players on the 23 man roster last year were from the Kootenays and every one of them is eligible to return next season.

How many guys from Powell River are on the Kings this year? As far as I can tell none although they do have 6 from Vancouver Island. The Vipers have 3 players from Vernon (4 if you count Sawyer Mick who left the team) and 4 total from the Okanagan. The Victoria Grizzlies had 5 players from their city of 80,000 people... compared to the Smokies who had 5 players from Trail where the population is 8000.

I'm not making a value judgement for or against local players. It's great to give local guys a chance because fans want to see them and it's always nice to have a guy playing at home. However, the coaching staff here has always stressed that if a local player makes the team he absolutely has to earn his spot over all the other options available. I would say given the record over the past couple of years this team has done more than enough to give local players opportunities when compared to what we see elsewhere in the BCHL. I certainly see no preferential treatment to guys from the Island.

Just my two cents. I look forward to the next Dave Thompson article as they're always a good read. We were bound to disagree one of these times!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Farewell (April Fools!)

NOTE: I don't know if I caught too many people but it's now after noon and this was an April Fools gag. I figured I'd try to carry on the tradition from last year when we had a pretty elaborate ruse implying that the Smokies were moving to Campbell River.

After doing that there was no way people would buy something that big again... but I figured something like this was at least somewhat believable. I've had a few messages saying they'll really miss me or wishing me well so I do appreciate that. Sorry for the trick.

Well I'm not going to England. I hope no one is disappointed, but with Laura in the middle of her school program I don't think she'd have been too psyched about that! If I did move sometime it'd have to be in BC and hey it's hard to top the Kootenays. I'm headed to spring camp this weekend and looking forward to seeing what could be some exciting additions to an already deep line-up. I can't guarantee I'll be here forever, but I certainly love the gig and have no plans to take off.

This is a post I've sort of been dreading over the past couple of weeks as things were hanging in the air. After three seasons with the Smoke Eaters I have really started to consider this area home and couldn't imagine not being part of the 2010-11 season. However, I regret to say I won't be returning as the play by play voice of the Smokies next season.