Tyler Berkholtz loves being a Trail Smoke Eater.
The Trail Smoke Eaters love having him.
After three seasons with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, the Penticton product has welcomed the change. He was coveted by Smoke Eaters coach-GM Bill Birks, who was interested in him last year.
“I would love to have half a dozen more of him,” said Birks. “He’s a leader. Works hard. Good kid. I know what I’m getting from him every shift and game.”
When told of Birks’s comment, the 20-year-old said he had never heard that before other than maybe when his dad coached him.
“To have Billy say something like that, that is special,” he said. “I play my heart out for him every game.”
Berkholtz has loved every second of being in Trail. He loves pulling the black and orange sweater over his head and said their playing style suits him.
“Just gritty. I think the way our coach used to play is kind of the way I play,” said Berkholtz. “I think just the way the culture is here, the hard-nosed grit, just wanting to win everyday.”
Berkholtz admires Birks and said he’s one of his favorite coaches.
“Just the way he acts around the guys. A real players’ coach,” he said.
Berkholtz and his teammates were in Penticton Nov. 21 and returned to the Kootenays with a 7-6 defeat after nearly erasing a five-goal deficit. Berkholtz made an impact throwing his body around. He also assisted on a goal and tallied the Smoke Eaters’ sixth. Berkholtz felt his best effort didn’t come until the third.
“Everyone just kind of got on,” said Berkholtz, who is a point-a-game player against the Vees with three goals and five assists. “Probably one of our best periods of the year.”
Every time Berkholtz returns home he’s excited because his family and friends are watching.
“The first couple times I did it, my first game, there was a lot of emotion,” he said of visiting the South Okanagan Events Centre. “Now it’s kind of just another game. Come in and just focus on getting two points and getting out of there.”
Berkholtz, who also played lacrosse for the South Okanagan Flames, loves playing for the fans at Cominco Arena.
“Around town everyone knows who you are,” he said. “Everyone is telling you, ‘Good luck Friday or Saturday. Good luck on the road.’”
Nothing would make Berkholtz happier then to land a Division I NCAA scholarship. He also wants team success and knows if he can help the Smoke Eaters get into the playoffs, the latter will happen. He has spoken with a few Division III schools and has attracted interest from Division I.
“Nothing too serious yet,” he said. “If we keep playing the way we are, more schools are going to come and watch. (Brent) Baltus just got a scholarship (commitment announced Nov. 19). Teams are around watching Trail. If we keep winning and the team keeps doing good, I think I have a good chance.”
Since that game in Penticton, the Smoke Eaters lost to Salmon Arm 4-0 and 5-2. Their next game is Friday in Powell River.
Birks has the six-foot, 190-pound forward playing in all situations and believes Berkholtz can play at the college level.
“He’s been excellent,” said Birks, adding that Berkholtz brings leadership and is a man amongst boys.