BCHL Today: Trail turns back the clock and Cruikshank commits to Tigers

BCHL Today is a (near) daily feature providing news and notes from around the junior A world.

Welcome to the Feb. 9, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Buried somewhere deep inside me is a fashionista, and that’s why I get so fired up about jerseys.

The Trail Smoke Eaters are the latest BCHL team to unveil a new look. For Saturday’s home game against Salmon Arm, the Smokies will wear throwback jerseys that are reminiscent of the 1932 team that captured Trail’s first Mowatt Cup.

The Mowatt Cup was the junior championship of the day. The Smoke Eaters won it eight of the first nine years it was contested and 22 times overall between 1932 and 1963. The 1963 championship was the last for Trail, but what a run of dominance for that franchise.

That’s why it’s so great to see Trail’s resurgence this year. The Smoke Eaters should be one of the league’s flag-ship teams.

The throwback jerseys are great, and the team is also offering throwback prices at the concession stand. Not throwback enough imo. If we’re shooting for authenticity here, pretty sure a hot-dog and pop (did pop exist?) cost less than $.99 in 1932, but it’s a good break for the fans nonetheless. And, the Smoke Eaters are selling special game programs for $4 apiece that will include a poster featuring this year’s team alongside the 1932 squad.

All in all a great way to recognize the team’s significant history.

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On to Penticton where 19 year old forward Grant Cruikshank has secured an NCAA scholarship to Colorado College.

It’s been a challenging year for the Wisconsin native, who’s lost half the BCHL schedule to injury, but in the 25 games he’s played he’s been a difference maker for Penticton. The Vees’ co-captain has 11 goals and 21 points.

For his career, Cruikshank has 43 goals and 74 points in 82 games.

Here’s one of his biggest snipes in a playoff game vs Merritt.

Grant is the second BCHLer to commit to Colorado College over the last couple weeks, following in the skate-steps of Cowichan Caps forward Ty Pochipinski. With several BCHL grads dotting the roster, the Tigers hold their own in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference against heavyweights like Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State and North Dakota.

Colorado College is 5-8-3-2 within the conference this year and 11-11-4 overall.

Side note: You’ll see me talking about team names quite often. Modern team names are like modern team nicknames, mostly boring. But, whilst scanning the Tigers roster I see goalie Jon Flakne hails from the Odessa Jackalopes. Great name!

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Nine BCHL grads are looking for help in voting for the Hobey Baker award.

The prestigious trophy goes annually to the best player in NCAA Div-1 hockey and one of the players up for the award is former Nanaimo Clipper Sheldon Rempal. Rempal, you may recall, ripped the BCHL to shreds during the 2015-16 season. The Calgary native scored 59 goals in 56 games, racking up 110 points.

A smaller forward, listed at five-foot-10 and 154 pounds on eliteprospects.com, it was fascinating trying to project how he’d fare in the bigger, faster NCAA ranks.

Turns out he’s done just fine with the Clarkson U Golden Knights. He’s in his second season with Clarkson, where he’s collected 18 goals and 30 points in 28 games.

Here’s Rempal producing a hat-trick in a November game against RPI.

I talked to Dan Marshall, the extremely knowledgeable radio play-by-play man in Nanaimo, this morning.

“The interesting thing about Sheldon is that he was not a classic academic student,” Marshall said. “As he was scoring 59 goals in his 20 year old season, he was getting tremendous help from friends, billets and players off the ice to make sure his grades were good enough, and it certainly wasn’t a slam dunk that he would get into Clarkson.

“I think Sheldon would credit a lot of people in the Nanaimo organization, and particularly Laura Landry, our director of community relations, for helping him get where he is today.”

The Clippers have a second alum in the mix. Cole Maier is in his third season at Union College, where he has nine goals and 26 points in 30 games.

“The thing I remember most about Cole is that, in my 17 years around the BCHL, I have never seen a player who was better at winning a faceoff with his feet,” Marshall laughed. “He was the master of tying up an opposing centerman’s stick on the draw and kicking the puck back with his right leg. He was huge for the Clippers in a couple of playoff runs.”

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Sticking with Nanaimo for a moment, the Clippers host Wenatchee tonight at the Frank Crane Arena, with two National Hockey League prospects going head to head.

Wild D-man Slava Demin is the odds-on favourite to be the first CJHL player chosen in June’s NHL entry draft.

The third highest scoring blueliner in the BCHL this year with nine goals and 43 points in 49 games, the California native was rated No. 32 in the most recent Central Scouting Bureau rankings, which would project him into the second or third round. Nanaimo’s Maxwell Crozier checked in at No. 115, and is projected to go somewhere in the fourth, fifth or sixth round.

Here’s Demin talking with Wenatchee assistant coach Chris Clark in a regular Wild segment called Clarky’s Corner.

What a luxury and a tremendous weapon for Wenatchee having Demin and Cooper Zech on the same blueline.

Zech leads all BCHL D-men in scoring with 11 goals and 51 assists in 50 games. No one in the league, forward or defence, has more helpers this year than the Michigan native, which is absolutely astounding. How do you game-plan against the Wild, with Zech and Demin on D and a forward crew that includes the likes of Jasper Weatherby and AJ Vanderbeck?

This could be the Wild’s year to finally break through in the postseason.

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The Mainland division standings should be clarified after this weekend.

The Surrey Eagles are in Chilliwack tonight to face the struggling Chiefs. They host the scuffling Langley Rivermen tomorrow and Chilliwack’s in town Monday for a Family Day matinee.

This is Surrey’s chance to nail down the second seed in the Mainland division and lock down home ice advantage in the first round.

The Eagles are clinging to a one point lead over the Langley Rivermen. They lead the Chiefs by five points, but Chilliwack has one game in hand. If Surrey doesn’t take care of business in these head to heads, they could drop like a rock to fourth place where they’d have to hit the road to Prince George in the first round.

The way all three of these teams have played since Christmas, the whole thing feels like a turtle derby.

The only Mainland division team that seems remotely threatening is the Prince George Spruce Kings, who’ve won six of their last seven games.

Other games on the BCHL sched tonight have Trail in Penticton, Langley at Vernon, Coquitlam at PG, Merritt at Powell River and West Kelowna visiting the Cowichan Caps.

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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