Early indicators point to a promising year for the Trail Smoke Eaters.
Not only do the Smoke Eaters open their Main Camp on Friday, but the team just announced a three-year contract extension for head coach and GM Tim Fragle.
“My family and I would like to thank Rich and Annie Murphy and the entire Smoke Eaters organization for this opportunity to continue as the General Manager and Head Coach of the Smoke Eaters,” said Fragle in a release. “Our first two seasons in Trail have been far from normal in all aspects however my family and I are looking forward and excited to be a part of the Trail community with this contract extension.”
The Smoke Eaters were actively recruiting this spring and summer, committing 13 players and inviting just 38 players to camp, an indication of the upcoming season’s expected depth of its talent pool.
“It’s a smaller camp than normal, but we feel it will create more competition,” said Fragle. “We lost a lot of players so there is high turnover, especially with our forwards. There is a lot more committed so we wanted to keep the numbers down for camp.”
The team will rely on a solid core of returning players including forwards Brady Hunter, Quinn Disher, Ridge Dawson, Nic Remissong, Adam Parsons and Josh Schenk. On defence: Jordan Hendry, Ethan Willoughby, Ethan Warrener and Evan Bushy will be back, as well as goaltender Cole Tisdale.
As for committed players, Fragle is confident that forwards like Adam Marshall, Trey Fechko, Jack Kurrle, J. T. Halliday and local talent Judah Makway and Rhett Hamilton will bolster the team’s offence. The Smoke Eaters are also excited about 2005 born forward Remy Spooner, an exceptionally skilled forward from the Okanagan Hockey Academy.
“We have a couple players out of the North American League, and a few out of high school, Minnesota commits and College Prep kids, so between those players and our young players from BC, we’ve increased our overall compete level and skating ability. I think those are two things we identified that we need to recruit better in those areas, and we felt like we have.”
The Smoke Eaters should be competitive barring another injury-plagued season. Trail jumped out to a good start last season, but injuries literally crippled the team heading into the final three months.
“It’s consistency number 1, and staying healthy number 2,” said Fragle. “We lost close to 300-man games to injury last year, so it’s hard to replace those guys and we went through six or seven different goalies.
“You also need your returning players to take those big steps, when they get that first year under their belt. So we like our returning group, there is a good core there for sure.”
Most Interior Conference teams have also seen their lineups diminished this year, in particular West Kelowna, Vernon, Prince George and Salmon Arm. Fragle is confident that this year’s talent will keep Trail in the mix and closer to the top of the conference standings than its seventh place finish last season.
“Outside of Penticton, because they’ve returned a lot of good players and they won last year, there was a lot of turnover in our division. I really think it’s pretty wide open. So we need a good start and then keep that consistency going.”
Trail opens its exhibition season with a two-game road trip to Wenatchee on Sept. 9-10. The Smoke Eaters will take between 28 and 30 players and after that weekend will pare the roster down to 25 or 26 for a two game series vs Cranbrook on Sept. 16-17.
This year will be see BCHL teams’ rosters going back to 23 players, down from 25 during the pandemic.
Fragle, who is about to begin his third season behind the Smoke Eaters bench, is looking forward to what is perhaps his first normal year here in Trail.
“Honestly, the first year was crazy with COVID, you don’t play a pod season until May,” said Fragle. “Last year with the stops and starts, finally you feel somewhat normal, so I’m excited for that.
“We have more interaction with the community, which we didn’t have for the last few years. We didn’t get some of the players we procured because of the border issues, so it’s somewhat normal and that’s what excites us.”
The Trail Smoke Eaters camp starts Friday with practices at 1 and 2:30 p.m., and games going at 7 p.m.
Saturday practices run at 9 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. with a game at 6 p.m. The Main Camp wraps up on Sunday morning with a full three period game starting at 10 a.m.