These are bold times for the Chilliwack Bruins, who are getting the type of pre-season love they’ve never seen before.
On Thursday afternoon, the Canadian Hockey League released their initial top 10 ranking, rating the best of the best in the Western, Ontario and Quebec leagues. The loaded roster of the Portland Winter Hawks ranked third, followed by the Tri-City Americans in sixth, the Saskatoon Blades in eighth and the Red Deer Rebels in 10th.
The Bruins didn’t crack the big list, but they did earn honourable mention. Which means someone out there thinks Chilliwack is one of the 13 best major junior teams in the country.
Is that justified?
“That’s a big step for this franchise and expectations are very high,” said Jeff Einhorn, the longest-tenured Bruins who has been with the club through four losing seasons. “But that’s OK, because we have high expectations for ourselves. If we play Bruins hockey, we believe we have a chance to win every night.”
The downside of being nationally ranked is that it puts a target on the Chilliwack jerseys. For the first time in franchise history, they find themselves in the role of the hunted, rather than the hunter.
“There’s responsibility and you have to take it upon yourself to rise to the challenge,” Einhorn agreed. “We’ve had to scratch and claw for our points, and we’re still going to have to do that. It won’t come easy and we’ll probably have to work extra hard because everyone will bring their A game against us.”
What the Bruins recognize and the fans should remember is that games are played on ice and not on paper.
“We can’t let ourselves get too high just because we’re an honourable mention,” Einhorn noted.
Witness a weekend home-and-home between Chilliwack and Vancouver.
The Giants took both sides, winning 6-2 on Friday and 5-4 on Saturday. The names on the jerseys (Marek Tvrdon, Caspar Carning, Cain Franson) may be new and it may only be pre-season, but the end result was unsettlingly familiar.
The G-men have long held a reserved spot among the elite, treating a top-10 ranking like a birth-right. Even though they seem to lose a handful of impact players to the pros every off-season, they seem to emerge as a contender every single season.
For them, ommission from the rankings is motivation.
“They’ve always been up there and I’m sure they saw the list, but I’m not going to say much about that,” Einhorn said diplomatically.