After that puppy picture I think I lost some street cred. This one should toughen the blog up on my final post. Really glad to see the big win by Trail yesterday by the way. A terrific start to Matt Larose's career in the BCHL. Is Sam Mellor on fire or what? 6 goals in 5 games on pace for a mere 72!
Well I made it to Swift Current. Now I start to build new relationships with a new team, a new station and a new community of fans. I'm very excited about the opportunity, but it's also bittersweet. It's tough to say goodbye to all the people I've had the privilege of getting to know in the last four years. Here comes the rambling sentimental part...
I came to Trail from Ontario knowing very little about the Smoke Eaters and the BCHL. All I knew was that it was a chance to call hockey games for a living and nothing else mattered. That has been my dream since I was 5 years old watching Hockey Night in Canada with my dad in the living room. I never really wanted to be a player, I wanted to be the guy telling the story of the game.
I quickly realized what kind of amazing hockey history and legacy Trail has. It is a legacy we celebrate this year on the 50th anniversary of the 1961 World Champions. It is a legacy that makes the Smoke Eater name, logo and players famous from BC to Europe. It is a legacy that helped motivate some great athletes who have come from the Kootenays and gone on to great things. It is a legacy the current Smoke Eaters are carrying on today.
We justifiably talk a lot about the 39 team, the 61 team and all those great legends. They're great guys too. I count people like Norm Lenardon as friends I am very proud to have met and gotten to know. However, sometimes what is lost in all that talk of the past is how much goes into making the current Smoke Eaters tick. It's true we haven't seen any Royal Bank Cups in Trail yet, but just operating and advancing young players in one of the league's smallest and most remote markets is an accomplishment. I know when I first heard the concept of community ownership I really didn't think about the kind of commitment that those involved have to make for the non-profit society to survive.
After my time as the Smokies broadcaster and the last 6 months as the Smokies marketing/sales guy I have really come to appreciate what those involved as volunteer directors with the team have to do. I talked to Tom Gawryletz this spring and summer more than anyone but my own girlfriend as we went through the sales and marketing process. He doesn't want any recognition I'm sure, but I just have to mention how much of his personal time he gives to make BCHL hockey happen in Trail. You know the kinds of things that some teams hire 2 to 6 office people to take care of? That falls on Tom's desk. He is essentially working two full time jobs as he runs his own business and stays on as President of the Smoke Eaters. I don't know how he does it. Passion for hockey I guess.
That's the same thing that drives the other members of the board of directors. They give their time for bi-weekly meetings, fundraising events and as part of the arena staff for every single Smokies game. Those men and women selling the 50/50 and running the Sud Shack? Volunteers who barely get to watch the games they're at every weekend. That's true also for any number of other volunteers who give their time before, during and after games. They are the reason the BCHL franchise is now playing a 16th season in the league. It just shows you how much this club means to the most die hard supporters. Next time you see a member of the board or a volunteer why not say thanks for what they do. This team wouldn't be here without them.
Heck instead of saying thanks why not volunteer yourself? When people ask me why the team doesn't do more promotional activities or events in the arena the bottom line is that there is only so much man power. If there was a larger army of people willing to help make things tick there is a lot more they could accomplish.
Trail's attendance is never going to be at the top of the league, but their fans are some of the most loyal There are hundreds of faces that you can count on seeing at every game no matter when they are or what else is going on in town. They're some of the most informed fans I've ever met who always want to talk hockey. They're also some of the most gracious fans. Ever since the news got out that I was moving on to the WHL I've had so many of them stop me at the rink or on the street to congratulate me and compliment my work. It has been overwhelming. The way those fans treated me it was as if I had been here for 30 years and was moving on. I'm so lucky I've been able to work with and for people with that much passion and respect.
Now I hope that you'll (and I'm sure you will) offer that same level of support to Jon Zacks. He's a talented professional who is way ahead of where I was when I started in Trail. I'm sure three years from now he'll be ahead of where I am now too. You're in for a treat with Jon at the helm.
More even than the fans and the hockey I'm going to miss my friends. When you go on the road with a hockey team you spend so much time with each other it's impossible not to become friends. For me that was especially true with the coaching staff. We ride together, eat together, sleep in the same rooms and experience the ups and downs of every season's roller coaster ride. I know the most important thing for fans is generally winning, but I can tell you without question that the most valuable quality of Trail's coaching staff is the quality of their character. I couldn't think of a single bad thing to say about any of them.
I know in talking to people around the league that Jim Ingram's quality of character is well known. I don't know if there is a better man in hockey. As a broadcaster you couldn't ask for anyone more accommodating. I must have called him up randomly a hundred times and he always set aside whatever he was doing to help me do my job. I'm very thankful for the support Jim, Barry, Brian and now Bill have given me. They're always available to talk, give their insight, answer questions and anything else I might need. Younger even pulled a bit of a fast one on Laura and I to help set us up. Two years later we're still together and I don't think anyone has ever done me a bigger favour. I'll miss those guys.
That includes my roommate and Smokies Trainer Steve Mears who I'm sure is happy to know that there won't be a computer light on in his room now until god knows when. Another great guy. Thanks for being so patient!
Travelling with the players you also get to know them and I know more than hoping they win games I'm always cheering for them to get what they want out of the sport. It is so rewarding to see someone like Nick Sandor chase that Division 1 college dream and see it come true. However, it is clear that those accomplishments are just a piece of what these guys get out of junior hockey. I watch those friendships build and you know that those bonds will last a life time. These young men are getting an experience they'll take with them forever. The guys I've seen come through Trail are of the absolute highest quality. Some I've come to know better than others, but I'm proud to have covered them.
I want to also say a quick special thanks to Randy Emery. If you don't know what he does with the club he takes all the pictures used on my blog and the official website/facebook page. He sifts through hundreds of pictures to find the best ones for the team and the players themselves. Randy finalizes game sheets and is very dedicated to making sure any errors are corrected. He also keeps detailed statistical records on the team's history that have been a fantastic resource for a young broadcaster walking into the middle of a team's history. I've spent many an hour chatting hockey will him and I'll miss it. I hope to god there are some Randy Emery types here in Swift!
I don't mean to single anyone out. Everyone there has been so amazing to me. From Daryl in the video booth to Ike on the arena staff I've had so much support in Trail I've been spoiled.
The quality of the Smokies organization extends throughout the entire league as well. The coaches, players, executives, volunteers and league staff have always been fantastic to deal with. How about the quality of broadcasters in the BCHL? I had no idea how professional the people in this league would be. There are guys in the league who call a better game than some of the play by play people in the NHL. Enjoy them while you can! The BCHL is churning out the future of the sport in more ways than just on the ice. It also has some very talented people covering it in print media like Trail's own Guy Bertrand who has proven to be a very good radio guest on top of a quality reporter.
Want to say a quick word about the radio station as well. I've heard from time to time people say to me or to other people I know that they were surprised the Smoke Eaters were on the "Castlegar" station. Some have even said they wished the games were on "Trail's station" instead. I'm not going to comment on anyone else's work, but all I'll say is that ever since I came to Mountain FM we have been busting our butts to make sure that the people in Trail and each of our other communities realize that the station is for the whole West Kootenay Boundary. In my opinion we covered Trail sports, news and community events quicker and better than anyone. What is more important... the location of an office or the content and commitment to the community?
Mountain FM gave me the opportunity to live out my dream. I will forever be grateful to them for that. I learned so much from those I worked for and with there. How can you not learn when your news director used to read the national news in South Africa or your two program directors have worked at what must be a combined 20 stations across multiple countries? The same way Smokies players are bonded for life after their experience together is the way that people who work together to make a small market radio station work come together. My friends there are some of the best I've had and that will never change.
The Smoke Eaters and Mountain FM are both great organizations that survive because the people involved give everything they can to make them work. I couldn't tell you how many hours a Smokies coach or a Mountain FM staffer works. I promise you it is no where close to 40 a week. They're both classy organizations with hard working people who deserve your support. I was just a small part of both of them for a brief time, but I will always remember my time here fondly. I'll miss it.
They say once you've been a Smoke Eater you're a Smoke Eater for life. I never wore the jersey but I know I'll always care about the team. I'm no longer the broadcaster but today I become a fan.
I can only hope my experience in beautiful Swift Current is just as rewarding. May the Smokies and Broncos both play well into the spring! If you want to follow my coverage of the Broncos check out my new blog by clicking on this link. It is a major work in progress as I get settled here in Swift Current. I hope I can do the team and fans justice. I'll also post a link on this blog once Jon has his new Smokies blog up and running.
Lastly if anyone wants to stay in touch with me feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com. I'd be glad to hear from any of you.
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