The Trail Smoke Eaters wrapped up their exhibition season on an underwhelming note, but will look for better results when they open the 2022-23 campaign on the road in Penticton and Merritt this weekend.
The Smoke Eaters went 1-3 in their short preseason losing their final two matches to Kootenay rival the Cranbrook Bucks by scores of 7-3 and 5-0 in a home-and-home Sept. 16 and 17.
“Four games wasn’t enough,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Tim Fragle. “We’d like to get to that five or six range. We had some tough decisions which affected our personnel the last weekend.”
Trail was missing key forwards in Brady Hunter, Ridge Dawson and Josh Schenk to injury through the preseason and it was evident in their final two-game series.
“Against Cranbrook in the home-and-home I would liked to have had closer to our starting line up, but we just weren’t in a position to make decisions.”
In it’s first loss to the Bucks, Trail battled back to tie it at 3-3 in the third, before Cranbrook erupted for four goals for the victory. Similarly, in game two, the game was scoreless through the first period, but a five goal outburst for the Bucks in the second sealed the shutout win.
“I thought we made some elementary mistakes, it is preseason, but mistakes that ended up in the back of our net,” said Fragle. “For six periods of hockey we played four good periods against them.”
Trail’s only win came in its second match against the Wild in Wenatchee on Sept. 10 with Smokies veteran forward Quinn Disher netting four goals in a 7-2 victory. The Wild took the opening match in a close 4-3 battle the previous night.
“Looking at the big picture, there were some positives, but a ton of stuff for us to improve and work on here to get ready for the season.”
Trail opens the 2022-23 BCHL season on Friday, Sept. 23 in Penticton against the Vees with the puck drop at 7 p.m. The BCHL champions will likely be the team to beat again this year as Penticton returns with a strong veteran line up intact, with 16 committed players, and only four rookies currently on the roster.
The Vees wrapped up their BCHL exhibition schedule with a 5-1 victory over the Chilliwack Chiefs at the SOEC on Saturday afternoon, finishing their three-game exhibition season with a 2-0-0-1 record.
Penticton is led by veteran forwards Bradly and Josh Nadeau, Jackson Nieuwendyk, Brett Moravec, Thomas Pichette, Spencer Smith and Ethan Mann, and backed by defencemen Joshua Niedermayer, Ryan Hopkins, Mason Poolman, Frank Djurasevic and Owen Simpson.
“I know Penticton has a good strong team with a good returning core, and they always are and we know that,” said Fragle. “It will be a good test to see where we are at, and actually get a full line up, with the hopes to do what we weren’t able to do in the preseason.”
The Vees shored up their goaltending with the addition of Michigan State commit Luca Di Pasquo who posted a 2.31 goals against average, and a .924 save percentage in 33 games with the Maryland Black Bears of the NAHL last season.
In Friday’s match against the Smoke Eaters, the host Vees will open with a banner raising ceremony hoisting four to the rafters including their Fred Page Cup BCHL championship banner.
“I think it’s a good thing, because you want to play the best right away to see how far away you are,” said Fragle. “So that will be a good measuring stick game for us.”
Trail will then travel to Merritt to play the Centennials on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. The Cents finished in ninth place in the Interior Conference last season and missed the playoffs.
Smokies fans can watch the games live on HockeyTV.com.