Friday, September 23, 2011

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Warriors

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Westside Warriors
When: Sept. 23, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

It's finally here.

29 days after the start of training camp, the BCHL regular season begins tonight on seven fronts including Trail's Cominco Arena, where the Smokies open up a two-game home set against the team that has ended their season each of the past three years.

Trail's roster has a much different look than the one that fell in seven games to the Westside Warriors last season, though. Gone are the likes of Sam Mellor, Scott Jacklin, Cullen Bradshaw, Paul Mailey, Jake Baker, Eric Walker (college), Kiefer Smiley (graduated), and Travis St. Denis (Penticton). In their place, a young, energetic group that is learning the ropes of life in the BCHL and a set of veterans who are plying their trade as leaders and mentors.

Four local players will don Smokies colours this season; returnee Logan Proulx (Trail) is set to embark on his overage season, while newcomers Dallas Calvin (Trail) and Adam Wheeldon (Nelson) both spent last season in the KIJHL with Beaver Valley and Nelson respectively. 16 year-old forward Luke Bertolucci (Trail) joins his hometown side from the MML Kootenay Ice.

The strength of this Smokies squad is in its back end. Three 20 year-old defensemen (Nick Wong, Rajan Sidhu and Clayton McEwan) are set to lead by example and help teach the likes of Daniel DelBianco and Brandon Egli, both of whom spent last season playing in BC's major midget program.

19 year-old Matt Larose returns as the club's starting goaltender after serving as Smiley's backup a season ago, while Alberta import Reed Vogt will stand in as the backup this season.

I chatted with Smokies head coach Bill Birks yesterday about the excitement of opening night and a transaction made by the club earlier this week (see below), listen to that interview here.

Our Opponent: Westside, as usual, is expected to be a force this season. With five committed players in the fold already (including newly-named captain Izaak Berglund), the Warriors are clearly a talented bunch. Overager Richard Vanderhoek, who was acquired from Surrey in the off-season, will be a target up front. He scored 71 points with the Eagles last season. Fellow forwards Tyler Krause, Max French and Dru Morrison will also be expected to shoulder the brunt of the offensive load. The back end is big, with twin towers Michael King and rookie Ben Betker topping out at 6'4" each. 20 year-old Steven Racine and 19 year-old Brandon Lane are both newcomers between the pipes, the former coming from New York, the latter from Ontario. My friend and colleague Jon Zacks has a good look at the Warriors squad on his blog here.

Broadcast Info: The Smokies will cover tonight's pay-per-view angle, though the audio can also be accessed for free. For those with a Westside persuasion, Jonny will have the call from a Warriors perspective as well. All links can be accessed here.

Trade Winds: As alluded to earlier, the Smokies have made a deal with the Victoria Grizzlies, sending forward Chase Kaiser to the Island for future considerations. Kaiser was part of the four-player St. Denis trade with Cowichan Valley, but did not report to Smokies training camp.

KIJHL Tonight: All four local squads are on KIJHL ice tonight too. The Nelson Leafs take on former Smokie Josh McEwan and the Kelowna Chiefs at the NDCC (a 7:00 faceoff). Castlegar visits Grand Forks (7:30, GF Arena). I spoke with Rebels assistant Jesse Dorrans earlier this week about his role with the club and a look ahead to returning to the Boundary for the first time (he spent the past two seasons as Border Bruins head coach/GM), listen here. The high-flying Beaver Valley Nitehawks visit Spokane in the home opener for the Braves tonight (8:00, Eagles Ice-A-Rena).

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