I caught up with new Smokies Assistant Coach Bill Birks at Day 2 of training camp. Bill is obviously beyond pumped to be back in a coaching role in the BCHL and that kind of enthusiasm is contagious. Again for the second straight day I heard a lot of comments around the Cominco Arena about how talented and skilled the 60 players at this camp looked. You've got to be excited about the possibilities.
Everyone has their own opinion about what potential rookies are making an early impression. We've seen in previous seasons what a big push in camp can do. Travis St. Denis and GrameStrukoff were set to start the 2008-2009 season in Beaver Valley and Nelson respectively until they came to camp and proved they belonged in Trail. Eric Walker walked into Smokies camp last season as a 16 year old and was a no doubt selection from basically day one. This year a number of 16 year olds like Dallas Calvin and Ryan Dixon are doing everything they can to make a case for themselves.
It is always an up hill climb for a 16 year old to show they belong in the league. Even if they can handle some minutes in the BCHL you have to ask whether or not those 94s would be better off getting serious minutes on one of the local KIJHL teams or on the Major Midget team with new coaches Simon Wheeldon and Brent Heaven. Ultimately with players of that age it's a marathon not a sprint. As much as you want to have all the good young talents locked up and secured, the Smokies will do what they think is best for those players and hope that pays off for both parties down the line. THE ROSTER
For those wondering what spots are open I figured I'd take a look at where returning veterans and announced commitments are slotted in. Now that doesn't mean that those veterans can't be pushed. We've talked a lot about how many veteran defencemen there are at camp, but a rookie can force their way onto the team by out working and out playing one or more of those vets. Here is how things stand (random lines here) with the returning players:
(92) Travis St. Denis (90) Scott Jacklin (92) Sam Mellor (90) Brett Slobodzian (90) Cullen Bradshaw (90) Paul Mailey (91) Logan Proulx (90) Thomas Abenante (91) Josh McEwan (92) Dylan Tappe
(91) Steve Koshey (91) Ben Matthews (91) GrameStrukoff (90) Curtis Tonello (93) Eric Walker (91) RajanSidhu (91) Cole Gelley
(90) Kiefer Smiley
A couple of quick notes to mention. You heard Bill Birks say in the interview that Clayton McEwan is also in camp. Josh's cousin played a strong rookie season in Prince George and Williams Lake last season. He was a free agent due to the Timberwolves folding and is going to push for a spot on the veteran Smokies blue line.
Josh McEwan is headed to the Spokane Chiefs camp. He'll join another Smokies property in Mike Betz at that camp. Best of luck to both guys in making the club there. Betz has a ton of skill and if he can put it all together he could be dominant offensively, but nobody works harder and has more heart than McEwan. That mad dog will fight anyone... as long as they're bigger than him. Players at that camp would do well not to underestimate him.
One of the questions Smokies staff will have to answer before the puck drops on the regular season is what to do about the 20 year old situation. There are too many 1990s on the roster as it is and one will have to be moved or released. As Birks says, it is better to have tough decisions than easy ones. I suspect there will still be a lot to decide by the time we get to the exhibition games in Chase and the pre-season tournament here in Trail.
The final day of camp goes tomorrow with games at 9:15am, 10:30am and the Orange/Black game at 2pm.