The Rochester Institute of Technology did the Chilliwack Chiefs a huge favour three weeks ago when Tigers head coach Wayne Wilson told Will Calverley they don’t want him making the NCAA jump yet.
“I’m happy to come back because this is a great place to play,” Calverley said. “There’s no disappointment because the fans and team are great and we’re going to have an RBC Cup run.”
He has the potential to be Chilliwack’s best player once Jordan Kawaguchi departs for the University of North Dakota.
If Captain K wasn’t still here, the 18 year old might already be that guy. As a 200 foot force, as a special teams contributor and as a points producer, Calverley is a BCHL rookie who is used in every situation.
“We can use him on the PK and PP and we can use him as a winger or a centerman,” said Chiefs head coach Jason Tatarnic. “He can take big faceoffs. If we’re up by a goal with a minute left I can put him on the ice.”
“He’s a very complete all-round player.”
There is a very clear before/after line with Calverley, who collected just one assist through his first 10 BCHL games, didn’t score his first goal until game 11 and was twice a healthy scratch.
“I was still having fun and I thought I was playing good enough to be in the lineup every night, but I was struggling to put points on the board.” Calverley admitted. “It was a difficult introduction to the league.”
That first goal was a pretty shorthanded snipe against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Cole Poliziani dug the puck out along the right wing wall with an aggressive forecheck, and Calverley ended up with the puck and no one between him and the net.
He finished with a glove side bullet and celebrated by dropping to one knee, pumping his fist them jumping up against the side boards.
Six days later he had two points in a home ice win over Wenatchee and was officially off and running.
“Once I got my first goal my nerves kind of calmed down,” he said. “I was nervous, being new to the league.
“Being away from home probably hurt my play a bit, but once I adjusted and scored that goal everything calmed down and I remembered that I came here to play hockey.”
In 40 games since then he has 14 goals and 42 points and is routinely one of the most dangerous Chilliwack players.
“Early in the season I was trying to figure out who I was and what my fit was with this team,” Calverley said. “Now, I just stick to my game now and try not do anything that’s not me.”
Offensively, it helps playing on a team that produces video game numbers.
In eight games this month his Chiefs have scored less than four goals just once, in Sunday night’s 3-2 OT loss to Prince George. Chilliwack averages 4.27 goals per game, surpassed only by Wenatchee.
“Playing with Smitty (Jake Smith) helps because I just have to give him the puck and he puts a couple in the back of the net,” Calverley smiled. “We work well together because I like to pass more and he’s the shooter.
“It’s nice to have the confidence that if you put the puck on his stick he’s going to be able to find the back of the net.”
That said, Calverley has a surprisingly good shot that he’s using more and more. The puck flies off his stick with a quick release and pinpoint accuracy. Even without elite velocity, he can beat a goaltender from anywhere in the offensive zone.
The trick, he says, is training himself to not always think pass first.
The BCHL doesn’t trumpet penalty totals the way they used to, but Calverley also has 59 PIMs in 54 outings. The kid doesn’t seem intimidated in the least and often seems to be under the opposing team’s skin.
“I’m not scared to get into scrums and throw my weight around, and it’s something I look for to get me involved in the game a little more,” he said. “I’d like to limit the penalty minutes a bit, because they are a bit high, but I like getting in opponent’s heads.”
In a Feb. 3 game against Salmon Arm, Calverley lost a skate edge on the way to the net and fell on the Silverback keeper.
The goalie took exception and got a couple whacks in before Calverley was sent to the sin bin for goalie interference. Less than five minutes later he popped a power play goal into the Salmon Arm net.
“I turned to the goalie and said, ‘All day!’” Calverley grinned. “It was sweet to score the goal and be right in front of him when I did it.”
Calverley has three fights this year and credits veteran Linden Hora for showing him how to A) agitate and B) throw ‘em when foes take exception.
“Instead of saying something to someone Linden’s got that little smile of his that really irritates other teams,” Calverley laughed. “And he’s a really good fighter when he has to be.”
Not once did Calverley drop the mitts before arriving in the BCHL, but in his very first game he picked a fight with Langley tough guy Sean Gulka.
“The adrenaline was high and I didn’t know who was asking me to fight,” Calverley said. “Then I looked up and the guy was six-foot-two and I didn’t fare too well in that one.”
“But Linden taught me a lot about how to block a punch and hold a guy back, find my center of gravity and stay strong on my skates. There’s a right time to throw the punches too. It’s not just about whaling away.”
Lessons he’ll no doubt use next year.
The plan was always to play two years of junior A, though Calverley thought his performance this year might change RIT’s mind.
“It wasn’t shock, but whenever a team doesn’t want you right away there’s always a little wondering what happened, what I might have done differently,” Calverley conceded. “But they told me to just keep doing what I’m doing and get a little bigger.”
In the meantime, Chiefs fans get to see just how much upside still remains in Calverley’s game as he leads the team into the biggest season in franchise history.