The first round of the BCHL playoffs are well underway, and for the third straight year the Trail Smoke Eaters aren't apart of the excitement.
Rather, head coach Nick Deschenes has already started the puzzle that is the 2014/2015 campaign. It is not even a week after the regular season wrapped up and Deschenes is looking for pieces across region, the next province over and well...the entire continent. Trail's bench boss has taken in minor hockey in Vernon and Calgary over the past week. We caught him before he was about to board a plane for Michigan, where he was going to watch some puck in Lansing before taking his studies further East, to Boston, Massachusetts.
"That's my job. This is a year-round thing and I'm committed to making things current in Trail. I think it is just the matter of putting in a lot of hard work and the hours [to] find the right players. You know, matching our opponents as far as [their] recruiting efforts."
So far a team that finished 10-42-2-4 and 41 points behind a spot in the playoffs, what is Deschenes and the Smoke Eaters looking for?
"We need to score more goals. We had a 20 year old goaltender that graduated as well, so we have a position open [there]. We do expect Adam Todd to be back. "
Trail scored 151 times in 58 regular season games, the least of the BCHL's 16 clubs. Their total was 14 less than anyone else and 74 less than the top offensive team, the West Kelowna Warriors.
With nearly six months for Deschenes to accomplish his offseason goals, let's first ask did he accomplish the things he wanted to coming into the organization nearly two months late?
"[Pause] I don't know. I didn't have expectations as far as winning a certain number of games or achieving a certain amount of points. I think a lot of decisions where made based on circumstances and as the season the progressed [we were] just trying to make the best decision at the time.A lot of things happened that you don't anticipate or don't plan for, as far as players not reporting and [injuries] so that's all part of it."
From the roster that appeared on the game sheet of their season opener September 6th in Chilliwack, to the list of names that compiled the team on their finale March 1st, only eight were the same.
"The biggest thing the last four months, for me, was identifying a solid core of players that I think we be able to carry the team next year and we'll compliment them with the right mix."
When Deschenes left the Grand Forks Border Bruins in late October to join the Smokies, talking to people in the Bruins' organization they said he had installed a "structure" for success around the team that with or without him they can build off of to win.
(Grand Forks went from a team that won just a single game in 2011/2012, to eight in 12/13, and finished with 16 this season. They were destined for their first postseason birth since 95/96 but a 10 game losing streak to finish the schedule derailed that.)
However, with only 38 games behind the Smokies bench this season did Deschenes have the time to do the same in Trail?
"There's always room for improvement as a coach and a player. I hope what I bring to the table next year is going to be a little bit more that what I was able to bring this year. In Grand Forks, it was a great opportunity for me to help that program and see what worked and what didn't and expand my repertoire."
Until next season...