Damon James

Smoke Eaters Rebuilt for Division Title Run

The puck will drop on the 2019-20 BCHL season on Friday, September 6.  For the Trail Smoke Eaters, they will host a familiar opponent as Interior Division rival the Penticton Vees make their way to Cominco Arena for back to back games.

Penticton is coming off a 2018-19 season that saw them pick up their 8th straight Interior Division regular-season title. The Smoke Eaters look to put an end to this streak and have built a roster designed for the task.

Head Coach and General Manager Jeff Tambellini has assembled a team in Trail that looks to have the depth to compete with any other club on a nightly basis, with the offensive group seeing the biggest changes.

Just four forwards return to a Smoke Eaters team that lost in seven games to the Vernon Vipers in the second round of the playoffs last season.  Leading this group offensively is 17-year-old dynamic forward Kent Johnson.  The rookie standout is already committed to the University of Michigan and looks to be the offensive spark for a rebuilt forward group with a lot of depth and experience.

The on and off ice leader of the Smoke Eaters is highly touted USHL veteran Philippe Lapointe.  Named captain of the historic Smoke Eaters at the time of his signing, Lapointe will join Johnson at the University of Michigan next season. Lapointe, the son of former NHLer Martin Lapointe, will lead Trail from the sidelines to start as he was injured in a preseason game and the Smokies have yet to announce a timeline for his return.

The depth of the Smoke Eaters roster will be tested right from the start of the season.  Returning Smokies Tyler Ghirardosi (99), Owen Ozar (00) and Max Kryski (00) are joined by 20-goal scorer Liam Freeborn (99, AJHL), Michael Colella (99, USHL), Braden Costello (00, USHL), Quinnipiac University commit Corey Clifton (99) and the University of New Hampshire commit Connor Sweeney (00).

This forward group will be pushed by a group of four first-year junior players – Jaden Senkoe (01), Chase Dafoe (02), Colby Elmer (01) and Walker Erickson (02).  Spots will be battled for on daily basis if Tambellini continues to dress just eleven forwards on a nightly basis, as he did during the preseason.

Of the seven defense who could dress nightly, five are returning Smoke Eaters from a year ago. The group of Trevor Isaksson (00), Kyle Budvarson (00), Diarmad Dimurro (99), Kieran O’Hearn (00) and Powell Conner (00) are joined by a trio of first-year players that will definitely make roster selections hard on the coaching staff on a nightly basis.  Jackson Murphy-Johnson (02), Corey McCann (01) and Jordan Hendry (02) have all played well in the preseason opportunities they had.

In goal, it looks to be Donovan Buskey’s (00) net to begin the season, with the backup role still up for grabs. Young Logan Terness (02) played very well during the preseason, making time in the crease tough to come by for QMJHL-experienced Gabriel Waked (99).  As the season gets underway, there should be a clearer picture as to how Tambellini plans to manage his netminder log jam.

Personally I love seeing the Smoke Eaters facing the Vees to start of the season with back to back games.  The Vees have been the measuring stick for a number of years in the division and are coming off two preseason victories over none other than the reigning National Junior A Champion Brooks Bandits.

The Smoke Eaters start the season with five straight home games and six of nine in the month of September at the Cominco Arena in Trail.  The division won’t be won in September, but expect to see the Smoke Eaters draw a lot of attention as the puck drops on the 2019-20 BCHL Season.