Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thursday Notes (Brown, Lindores, Marketing)

A couple pieces of Smokies news to report today. First of all I'm disappointed to report that Justin Brown will be leaving the Smoke Eaters to start his education at UBC. I'm not disappointed in Justin or anything, just disappointed that we won't get to see him fully achieve his potential as a BCHL player. However, it is easy to understand his decision.

Anyone who knows Justin knows that he's an extremely sharp guy with a great future ahead of him. As much as hockey is a passion at some point we all have to set our priorities. For someone who is that good of a student it's hard to just sit back for 3 full years after graduation. On top of that Justin has been cursed by one injury after another during his 2 seasons of BCHL hockey. That includes a lingering concussion at the end of this season. I can totally understand his desire to start the next stage of his life.

Just like it was with CJ Legassic last year this is an amicable departure. Both guys are all class and simply doing what they felt was best for their future.

You can tell from the interview I did with Justin that it was a really tough decision. He specifically notes how well everyone in the room gets along and the potential for the Smokies to be very competitive in the Interior this season. I know it'll be tough for Brown to not be a part of that.

As for that potential I mentioned you only have to look to one point at the end of the season when Brown put up 8 points over 7 games. He was always a guy Coach Ingram looked to for leadership, hard work and two-way play. Brown never ran from that role... he embraced it. However, in that stretch Justin proved he could bring an impressive offensive game to the table as well. If he came back and was able to stay healthy there's no reason to think he couldn't be a consistent scoring threat.

Unfortunately this is the end of the road for Brown as an active member of the Smokies roster. As he says in his interview he has many fond memories from that time and will always be proud of wearing a letter with his home town team. I hope once he settles in at UBC we may see him again one day lacing up the skates for the Thunderbirds. Either way the bottom line is that he's going to be a success at whatever it is he does and the whole organization wishes him well.

Here's the interview...

Justin Brown on Mountain FM's Overtime

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One of the seemingly worst kept secrets around these parts has now officially come to light. I knew for a while that Robert Lindores was the "future considerations" in the Tye Lewis for Curtis Tonello deal between Trail and Alberni Valley. I didn't tell anyone but somehow it seems like a number of fans knew about it. Despite that, these things can often take a while to become official at the end of a BCHL season.

We haven't heard anything officially from the Smokies on the matter, but the Bulldogs put out a press release announcing the completion of the deal. I haven't talked to Robert so I don't have a tremendous amount to add to that. I will say that this is a player that I believe has more to offer than what we've seen from him in the BCHL so far. In his two seasons he has primarily been a third/fourth line guy who brings a physical and gritty game to his team. I've also heard that Lindores has a heck of a shot that he could use to become more of a goal scorer if given the opportunity.

The 6'1, 198lbs Port Alberni native will have to leave his home club after two seasons. That's not always a bad thing. There can be some pressures, spotlight and expectations that comes with playing in front of friends and family. Perhaps this will be the chance he needs to "bloom" as a player at this level. I think most would agree the potential is there. He only has 15 career BCHL points, but Lindores was a scorer in Major Midget. He was the top goal scorer and point getter on the North Island Silvertips (13-17-30 in 37 games) during the 2007-08 season. This is a guy who can bring more offence to the table if he's given the opportunity.

In the end you have to like the Lewis deal from Trail's perspective. Tye is a very talented player, but things just weren't working for the Smokies at the time of the trade. It made sense for them to move a couple of their vets to try and get a couple of assets for this season. Tonello made an immediate impact as a calming influence on the back end with untapped offensive ability. He'll be a huge player for Trail this year.

Lindores could easily do the same type of thing as a physical force up front with untapped offensive pressure. Both guys are the types of players who will help a deep roster of returning players compete harder in close games.

Meanwhile, Lewis helped push the Bulldogs to top spot in the Coast during the regular season and a great series against the Kings in the conference finals. It was a deal that appears to have worked for both sides.


I won't get into details of the AGM too much on here. We talked about it a bunch on Overtime as it is. I did want to mention though that one thing that was apparent from the meeting is that we need to get more people into the building next year. Trail's core fans are as dedicated and reliable as any... there just aren't quite enough of them.

Trail's average attendance of 912 people basically tied them with Prince George for 5th in the Interior and 11th in the BCHL. That's not actively bad or anything, but it's not good enough. The Smokies face additional travel expenses thanks to our location here all by ourselves without a BCHL neighbour. If this team is going to go toe to toe with teams in the Okanagan the attendance has to be in the same league as those teams. There is no reason a city full of passionate hockey fans can't at least equal the 1047 fans they average in West Kelowna or the 1008 they average in Salmon Arm.

So how do we do that? I've taken on some additional responsibility with the club this year as the Marketing Director. That means I'll be working on corporate sponsorship and developing some marketing strategies for the club during the off season. That in addition with my full time gig at Mountain FM makes me a pretty busy man.

In this new role I'm constantly talking to different people brainstorming ideas to get the community more excited about the hockey club. The easy answer for better attendance is a winning product. I believe we'll have that this year. That being said, we can't count on that to change things alone. We're going to be doing some new things to especially try and bring more kids and young families to the rink.

Any ideas? I hope I have some, but I clearly don't have all the answers. If anyone out there has some suggestions for what they think we should do to fill those orange seats at the Cominco Arena feel free to let me know. I should note though that many of these ideas require more "people power" than we have so as much as I'd appreciate ideas I'd also love to see more people volunteer their time. That's what makes this team tick.

Also, if you're thinking about getting involved with the club as a corporate sponsor you can get that information by clicking here.

Plus you can support the Smokies by coming out to this year's Alumni Golf Tournament and Banquet. Details are available on the official website.

As is our new videos page.

While I'm busy linking to things I might as well also note that there's a ton of BCHL news up on the league website right now. New hires, contract extensions, promotions, scholarships, etc. Just enough to wet the hockey fan appetite for a while here in the off season.

OK that'll do it for today. Go Lakers!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Smokies AGM Tonight

The Trail Smoke Eaters are holding their annual general meeting tonight at 7pm at the MacIntyre room of the Trail Memorial Center. It's a public meeting and the club is looking for anyone with new ideas and time to volunteer. Come be a part of one of the last remaining community owned Junior A teams left in the BCHL.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chris Shaw Audio and Reaction

New Nelson Leafs Coach and GM Chris Shaw

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Former Penticton Lakers Coach and NHLer Alan Kerr

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Okanagan Hockey Academy President Andy Oakes

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Williams Lake Governor speaks out on suspension

Timberwolves Governor and Minority Shareholder Richard Kohlen

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It looks like there is more to this story than we're hearing so far. I just feel bad that Timberwolves fans had to pay the price for a problem that occurred within the ownership structure of the team. When Kohlen says that it was not an "open" process you have to wonder what he means by that. Does he feel like he was deceived in some way? I'm curious to see how much more of these details we'll end up hearing. If I were in the Williams Lake media I'd be digging deeper. This is only one side of the issue, but I appreciate him at least being willing to get deeper into this story than anyone else has yet.


...Congrats to former Smoke Eater Andrew Pickering for getting the NCAA opportunity he has been working so hard for over the past few years. I know this has been at the front of his mind for a long time so I'm really happy to see it happen for him. In addition I'd also like to congratulate former Smoke Eater Braden Kinnebrew for committing to play for an NCAA Division III school in Vermont. Best of luck to both guys.

...There is a pretty cool story on the Puck Daddy from a man who knew Duncan Keith back in his BCHL days and has followed his meteoric rise to NHL stardom. If I were starting a franchise from scratch I think Drew Doughty is the only defenceman I would pick ahead of Keith. The Norris nominee may soon add a cup ring to that remarkable journey to the top.

...My Mountain FM colleague Chris Wahl has a story on his blog about Castlegar sustaining an $11,000 loss this year. The Fernie Ghostriders blog also had a story on that team losing money this year. They are only a couple of teams that were hit hard by the economic downturn and the loss of gaming grants in the same year. I imagine there will be quite a few teams trying to figure out how to get out of the red after the 2009-2010 season. Community support is going to be more important than ever for the survival of junior hockey.

...Wahl also has a note on his blog and I mentioned it on my twitter earlier today that the USHL is after some BCHL players again this year. However, it appears the Alberni Valley Bulldogs were the only target of their Entry Draft this time around. Lincon drafted both Bulldogs defenceman Nick Cecere and forward Mark MacMillan. Chicago drafted Bulldogs defenceman and Castlegar native Ryan Renz. Intersting for the Steel to dip back into the BCHL pond after they took Patrick Raley from Trail (and traded him to the NAHL) and Sahir Gill from Vernon (and he left the team in December) without much success last year. It appears the USHL thinks the Bulldogs are susceptible to a raiding with the loss of Coach and GM Nolan Graham. I hope Alberni Valley doesn't suffer the same fate that Trail did from this type of thing last season.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Timberwolves players are free agents

One of the big questions to emerge from the Williams Lake franchise being suspended for the 2010-11 season is what will happen to their players. The last time the Timberwolves went bust (after the 2006-07 season) their players were distributed around the BCHL in a dispersal draft. This time around they'll be free agents.

I haven't heard from the league why the board decided to go in a different direction this time. Some I'm sure will be upset because traditionally a dispersal draft gives an opportunity to the league's "weaker sisters" from last season to get a bit of a boost. Perhaps they didn't go that way because the team wasn't as well established and a number of the players hadn't even been with the organization for half the season. Perhaps it's because they felt there wouldn't be enough players of interest to get through a full draft. Ultimately I think it just came down to allowing those players who had chosen to go to Williams Lake to now get an opportunity to decide their next move.

One of the casualties of the Timberwolves suspension is that there will be 23 fewer jobs for players in the league. Some will say that is a victory for the depth of the talent pool and the quality of the rosters. However, it is unfortunate that 23 kids won't get an opportunity to suit up in this league again next season.

As for players who could be of interest, one of them is Castlegar native Anthony DeLong (pictured) who scored 23 points as a rookie with the Wolves. It's worth noting that the majority of those points came as he made a surge with more ice time in the second half. A player like DeLong can now not only explore options in the BCHL but any other Junior A league in Canada. He could also decide to return home and play for new Rebels Coach Steve Junker in the KIJHL. The point is that his future is in his hands.

Anyone interested in taking a look at what the Williams Lake roster has to offer can do so by clicking here. I would have to think that guys like Trent Murdoch and 2009-10 All-Star Justin Bardarson will get a look for sure. What other players could find themselves on BCHL rosters and where... that's anybody's guess. Good luck to all of them as they try to figure out the next step in their hockey journey.

As for the Timberwolves, I'll have an interview with Governor and minority shareholder Richard Kohler on Mountain FM's Overtime tonight. I'll get that posted to the blog soon. He has some interesting things to say.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Timberwolves go back into hibernation

There have been a lot of rumblings over the last month as to the future of the Williams Lake Timberwolves after their first season back in the league. I can tell you today I've heard from league sources that the Williams Lake franchise has been suspended for the 2010-2011 BCHL season.

What that means for the long term future of that team in Williams Lake I can't say. However, given that this is a second suspension in less than a decade, I would say that things don't look good for them ever getting back in the league. That's just speculation on my part.

Details of the suspension have not yet been released. I don't yet know how their current players will be handled. When the team was last suspended after the 2006-07 season the league held a dispersal draft for the remaining talent on the roster. However, it is not set in stone that they'll go this way again.

My sympathies certainly go out to hockey fans in Williams Lake. There were a lot of passionate people putting their hard work into making a go of it with the Timberwolves. Unfortunately it didn't work out. Why it didn't work out is something we'll have to take a closer look at in the days and weeks to come. You would hope any new ownership group coming into the league would have strong enough footing to last longer than one season... so what happened?

I guess we'll found out soon enough. I expect official comment from the league soon. That's when we can start truly doing a "post mortem" on the latest version of the Wolves.

EDIT: It's official with a media release from the league, but very few details have come out as of yet.

Nelson hires Chris Shaw

The KIJHL's Nelson Leafs have hired a new Coach and GM. I received the following press release from the club today:

"The Nelson Leafs Hockey Society is pleased to announce that Chris Shaw of Penticton BC has accepted the position of Head Coach and General Manager of the Nelson Leafs Hockey Club.

Chris brings experience as a player, coach and a scout within the KIJHL, BCHL and other junior leagues across North America. His strengths include player recruitment, player development and community liaison.

Within the next few weeks Chris will begin transition from his current duties with the Okanagan Hockey School and the Penticton Lakers Hockey Club to his new assignment with the Nelson Leafs.

Congratulations Chris and welcome to Nelson."

Shaw is a former Assistant Coach with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs of the BCHL and the Penticton Lakers of the KIJHL. Both those teams are owned and operated by the Okanagan Hockey Academy.

You can read some more on Chris by clicking here for the announcement of his hiring with the Lakers last year. I have yet to talk with anyone from Nelson about the hiring or to Shaw himself, but I'll have more on this hire tonight on Mountain FM's Overtime.

EDIT: I found out from talking to Chris that he's a former Smoke Eater. He had a brief stint in Trail as a 15 year old back in 1996. I'll have that interview on Overtime tomorrow. You can also check out the Nelson Daily News article on the hiring by clicking here and an article on Shaw when he was with the Bulldogs here.

Gawryletz talks AHL contract

Former Smoke Eater Travis Gawryletz on his new AHL deal

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Birks and Junker Audio

There are a couple of new coaches in the West Kootenay. Bill Birks is a new assistant with the Smokies while Steve Junker is taking over as the bench boss and GM with the KIJHL's Castlegar Rebels. I had a chance to chat with both on Mountain FM's Overtime to get some insight as to what they bring to their respective teams. Both guys have a lot of passion and insight. I think each will be happy with the hire they made.

New Smoke Eaters Assistant Coach Bill Birks

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New Castlegar Rebels Coach Steve Junker

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Coming up on the blog I've got some audio with Mark Ferner and Connor Jones of the Vipers. I'll also put up an interview I did with former Smoke Eater Travis Gawryletz on his new AHL contract with Lake Erie.

I'm also expecting to hear about something of interest before the weekend so stay tuned.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday News


Congratulations are in order to the Vernon Vipers for winning a second straight Royal Bank Cup. The road to the RBC is a long and tough one. It's pretty incredible for one franchise to do it in back to back seasons. We all said at the beginning of the year that the Vipers had to be the favourites with so many returning players. However, they also lost some key pieces from last year's team like their Captain Chris Crowell, the twin towers of Cam Brodie and Mike Leidle on the blue line, and their goaltender Andrew Hammond.

The road to the national championship wasn't quite as smooth this time around. Last year they didn't lose a game outside of the BCHL playoffs, but this year thee Vipers had to deal with very serious tests in every round of the playoffs. That started with a surprising push from Quesnel, a battle of titans with Penticton, seven game wars against Powell River and Spruce Grove, and the pressure of the single elimination Royal Bank Cup tournament. While it was a bumpy ride and players like goaltender Graeme Gordon came under some fire along the way, perhaps that makes it a little bit sweeter for Vernon as they taste champagne tonight.

People in the BCHL like to say we're involved in the best Junior A league in Canada. The Vipers helped prove that over the past couple of years. I would say this Vipers team stacks up with the best Junior A teams of all time. I'd be shocked if coaches Mark Ferner and Jason Williamson didn't get the opportunity to further advance their coaching career as a result.

I also want to make special note of another clutch performance by Montrose's Jones Twins. Kellen came up with 2 goals and an assist in the 8-1 victory over Dauphin in the RBC final. He finished the tournament tied for the scoring lead. Meanwhile, Connor returned from injury with key contributions in both the semi-finals and finals. I'm not sure if the Jones' have ever come up short in a big game environment.

What a junior career for them too. BCHL finals appearances in 3 out of 4 years to go along with back to back Royal Bank Cup wins. A combined 371 points in 317 games while being on the top power play and penalty kill units. They also took a ton of punishment and knew how to get the little things done. What more could you ask for from these two? I know a number of Trail fans are not huge on the Jones' because they chose to go to Vernon rather than stay home. However, the story is never as simple as it seems, and you can't discount their contributions to Trail baseball. They're still very hard working young men from this area whose accomplishments are worth celebrating. The other thing worth celebrating? They won't be in Vernon anymore! There is no question in my mind they were the biggest reason for the back to back national championships and that won't be easy for the Vipers to replace.


Trail native and former Smoke Eater Travis Gawryletz has signed a one year deal with Lake Erie of the American Hockey League. Travis got called up from Elmira of the ECHL and scored 12 points in 51 AHL games this past season. He played well enough to earn a contract for the second half of the season and now to get signed up again for next year.

Gawryletz may not score a ton, but he is the type of defenseman that any coach would love. He plays a relatively mistake free game and immediately earned the confidence of the staff in Lake Erie. This contract will likely give Travis a chance to go to training camp with the Coloroado Avalanche as well. Hopefully he can make a strong impression there with his work ethic, good skating and smart play.


Former Smoke Eater defenseman Patrick Raley is headed to St. Lawrence University in the NCAA next season. Not only will Raley be following in his brother Matt's footsteps there, but he'll also get a chance to play with him. That'll make it easier for the Raley family to follow their boys!

Raley made huge strides from his first year in the BCHL to his next. As a rookie he was in and out of the Vernon line-up before his trade to the Smokies. However, he put in a ton of work in the off season and came back a much more physically ready player. Raley deserved the increased ice time he earned and would've been one of the top guys on the Smokies in his third year if he hadn't left for the USHL. He made huge strides in his Trail career and I would think that played a big part in him getting this opportunity.

Congratulations to Patrick and good luck to him in college hockey. He's a first class young man who deserves whatever success he achieves. I hope the time at St. Lawrence ends up being everything he hopes for.


It's too bad that things didn't work out for Patrick in the USHL. He left Trail so that he would have the chance to play at home in Chicago, but he got traded not only to another city but to another league when the Steel sent him to St. Louis in the North American league. Raley did thrive in St. Louis where he had 26 points in 33 games.

However, his story is just one example of how the grass is not always greener in the USHL. Sahir Gill left Vernon for Chicago and ended up coming right back to the Vipers at the trade deadline. Danny DeKeyser went to Sioux City and had 11 points in 41 games. He got the scholarship he wanted but he had only played 7 games in the league at that stage. I don't know this for a fact, but if Danny only got 11 points I would think he wasn't getting the level of ice time he deserved. In Trail he had 25 points as a rookie and earned top pairing minutes.

Carsen Chubak also went from Powell River to Tri-City in the USHL. His numbers took a big hit and the team went no where. How did the Kings do? They made another run back to the BCHL finals and took the Vipers to seven games.

These decisions are never easy. Every young man and their family is looking to do the best thing for their future. I'm not saying they all made mistakes. However, the results of the "defections" just seemed to indicate that perhaps sometimes the best move is the one you don't make.


The Swift Current Broncos decided not to renew the contract of former Smoke Eaters Coach Tim Kehler last week. Kehler had been an assistant with the WHL club for the past three seasons. From reading Jon Keen's blog it would appear that Coach and GM Mark Lamb just wanted to be able to bring in his own guy after taking over the team last year. That kind of thing happens in hockey all the time and isn't really a reflection of Tim's work in my view. All the comments about him seem to be really positive. It's just a matter of time before he finds work elsewhere.


It's official, BC Hockey has approved the relocation of the KIJHL's Chase Chiefs to Rutland and the BCHL's Burnaby Express back to Coquitlam. I know there are reasons for both of these moves, but it's never a good day when a city loses their team. My sympathies to the fans in both markets. That being said, Burnaby fans won't exactly have far to go if they want to keep following the Express and Chase is expected to be up for an expansion team in the KIJHL for the 2011-2012 season.

As discussed previously, the Chase move opens up some big questions for the KIJHL. Teams around the league have been picking up players from the Kelowna market. Are all the best players from there now going to find themselves on this new Rutland club? Also, is this what the KIJHL is meant to do? I've been told by several sources that the league's mandate has been to thrive in markets that aren't touched by other junior leagues. Now they've got teams in Kelowna, Kamloops and Penticon. The league is moving away from unserviced fanbases and now instead putting themselves into bigger markets with larger player pools and more corporate money. I hope that doesn't lead to too much of a competitive imbalance. I also wonder if the ever growing group of teams in the Thompson/Okanagan are eventually going to end up forming their own league. A KIJHL split would still leave us with two leagues that are basically the same size as the VIJHL and PIJHL.


For those of you in the West Kootenay we've got some interesting stuff coming up on Overtime this week. I'll be chatting with new Smokies Assistant Coach Bill Birks as well as the new Castlegar Rebels Coach Steve Junker. For those our of our broadcast area stay tuned to the blog for that audio as well as an interview I did with Travis Gawryletz on Friday. You can also check out the Overtime and Sports sections of our website at

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bill Birks joins the Smokies staff

The Trail Smoke Eaters announced today that Bill Birks will join the team as an Assistant Coach. Birks was previous an assistant to Al Glendinning in Merritt and has playing experience in the BCHL (check Bill out in the picture as a member of the Merritt Warriors) and in minor pro hockey. He played for the Chiefs! It'll give the next airing of Slap Shot on the bus some new meaning.

I haven't had the chance to chat with Birks yet, but Smokies Coach and General Manager Jim Ingram had a chat with me today about the hiring. The key seems to be the passion, dedication and hard work that Birks will bring the Smokies organization. Here is someone who loves the game and will give everything he has to the Smoke Eaters.

Welcome to the Trail, Bill!

Smokies Coach Jim Ingram on hiring Bill Birks

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