Mike Hockley

A chat with Smoke Eaters owner Rich Murphy

 

After an interview with Trail Smoke Eaters’ new head coach and general manager Tim Fragle last month and what he had to say about coming back to Trail since new owners Rich and Annie Murphy took over the franchise, a chat with the Murphys was in order.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are stuck south of the border at their home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Therefore, the interview ended up being with only Rich.

With the worldwide pandemic and orders to return home making things more difficult to run as smoothly as the Smoke Eaters would like, finding out how Murphy feels about it seemed the logical way to go.

Much like the rest of the BCHL, Murphy is disappointed about the early ending of last season but realistic about the reasoning. “It was for the safety of the players, staff, and communities. Better to be safe and look out for everybody’s health than be impacted negatively later on.”

With the BCHL announcing a tentative start date of December 1, Murphy is hopeful of the team and league conducting the 2020-21 season. “We are running things as normal during the off-season,” he added.

Staying in the routine of the off-season schedule will help out in the long run when the league finally decides the fate of the upcoming season.

Players will arrive in the next month for the start of training camp.

“It’s a good group of young men our staff is putting together for the 2020-21 season. Being without players like Philippe Lapointe and Kent Johnson, who are irreplaceable, the group of young men we are putting together this year has their own styles to look forward to,” Murphy explained. “We have a decent share of returning players and new players coming to camp this season.”

Decisions for the future

When facing the decision about naming the new team captain for the Smoke Eaters it came down to a few key factors. First of all, is that Owen Ozar is coming into his third season for the Smoke Eaters. “He is a tremendous young man on and off the ice,” beamed Murphy.

Second is his work ethic and the example he sets for his teammates. “Owen is one of the hardest workers on the ice and it goes a long way in motivating his teammates,” the owner continued. “Owen leads by example and will help the new additions feel welcome.”

Last is Ozar’s work off the ice and his commitment to doing what he can for the fans and community. He always wants to be a part of events the Smoke Eaters and their players take part in around the community, whether it be raising awareness in the schools or fundraisers throughout the West Kootenays.

When asked about one of the breakout stars from last season, and winner of the BCHL rookie of the year award Logan Terness, Murphy admitted his surprise at the play of the young goaltender in 2019-20. “If you asked us a year ago if Logan would be our starter, we would have said you were crazy,”

“He has such a calm demeanor about him in net and that gives everybody a boost of confidence. Being able to show such composure at a young age is special” explained Murphy. Playing the game with such a level head is a skill all elite players have, it’s something they are usually gifted with and can’t be learned.

For Terness, earning the number-one spot wasn’t easy, but his calmness made it easier for the Smoke Eaters to play with confidence in front of him. “He earned our trust and we are excited to have him back for a second season. ” Murphy said. The soon-to-be 18-year-old is being brought back as the starting goalie for the Smoke Eaters, and although nothing is set in stone, hopes are high and belief in Terness’s ability is strong.

Hockey night in Trail

Many have said the Murphys changed the landscape of hockey in Trail when they took over as owners in 2016, but Rich doesn’t necessarily agree. “I don’t think we have. The support of the fans has always been there and Trail is such a strong hockey community.”

Upon taking over the franchise, the Murphys made upgrades to the facilities within the Trail Memorial Centre, then known as Cominco Arena. In the last four years, the building has seen a new locker room and weight training room, trainer’s area, staff offices, and the Smoke Eaters store.

Murphy also added a big screen, some intermission contests, a new 50/50 system, and made the game feel more professional with a heavily produced touch to the game. As such, the average attendance has grown  from 350 to 400 per game to around 900 to 1000 the first year the Murphys owned the team.

“The fan base has always been there, we just made it so it would be more family-oriented and a family night out. Our own hockey night in Trail that the whole family wants to go and be a part of. This past season has seen the average attendance increase even more to an average of 1900 per game.”

Buying such a historical franchise must have been an easy decision. “We actually didn’t know much about the history of the franchise until we bought the team and came to Trail,” Murphy admitted. Not knowing the history the Smoke Eaters was a bit of a surprise to me, but the Murphys have definitely embraced it and brought it to the forefront for fans young and old to share.

The community buy-in has grown even to the point where Murphy makes sure the Smoke Eaters give back to youth hockey. “We’d like to have some summer camps to help develop young hockey players,” Murphy explains.

It would definitely be nice to see some more hometown hockey players playing for the Smoke Eaters in front of family and friends. You can even see video drills from the players on Instagram for young players to help develop their own skills.

There’s no doubt the Smokies are a BCHL franchise on the rise and after a second place division finish and a first round playoff win in 2019-20, optimism reigns ahead of the upcoming season.