When Harvey Smyl talks to his Chilliwack Chiefs about going into the dirty areas to score goals, there’s one player who knows exactly what the coach is talking about.
Chris Blessing doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty and doesn’t hesitate to go where others fear to tread. That’s how he gets the job done on the ice, and that’s how he gets things done at his summer job.
“I’ve always liked the hands-on hard labour jobs the best, because I always feel like I’m getting more out of them,” the 20-year-old said. “My buddy’s dad owns an air conditioning company in Valencia (California), and it’s not an easy job.”
Much of Blessing’s work day is spent moving heavy (really, really heavy) AC units in and out of buildings.
“Maybe 250 pounds? I have no idea how much they weigh, but they require two people to carry them,” Blessing said.
If Blessing’s taking them into a building with an elevator, or a straight-forward entry, no problem.
But sometimes, the job can be ridiculously difficult.
“The most awkward one I can remember was when we had to get through an attic,” Blessing said. “There was stuff growing up there. Cats. Rodents. We had to clean that up before we put the AC in.”
Cats and rodents didn’t bother him much.
But there was something else.
“There were spiders, and I hate spiders. They’re just so creepy,” he explained. “Have you ever seen the show Hoarders? That attic was a lot like that. There was a lot of stuff up there, dead and alive.”
Even after sweeping away the spiders and getting the AC unit into place, the dirty work isn’t over.
“You have to seal it, and you do that with this … substance,” Blessing said with a frown. “I’m not sure what it’s called, but you’ve got to get your hands in it and make sure all the creases are filled and everything. It’s weird stuff to work with.”
After a hard day’s labour, Blessing will retreat to his video game console, popping in some Call of Duty or NHL hockey.
Some days he’ll relax with a round at a local golf course.
And when it’s time to get back to work, at the job or at the rink, he’s all in with maximum effort.
Blessing’s hockey problem in recent times has not been what he can do on the ice, but whether he can get on the ice with any consistency.
When he plays, he’s an offensive force to be reckoned with, popping 10 goals and 26 points in 45 games as a BCHL rookie last year.
Last season got off to a rough start with a severely separated shoulder.
“It was a level two to three that sidelined me about eight weeks,” Blessing said. “It happened in camp where I got a pass along the boards and took a hit. I was off balance when the guy hit me, and my left shoulder just popped out.”
Blessing has found this year’s training camp disrupted by another shoulder injury, though this time it’s not nearly as serious.
Tomorrow night’s preseason game against Merritt (7 p.m. at Prospera Centre) might be his first appearance as a Chief on home ice.
“It is a very frustrating injury because I just want to play again, but the coaches and physical therapists say, ‘No, you can’t,’” he said. “It sucks just having to sit back and watch. This one was more of a sprain than a separation, so I think I’ll get the green light soon.”
It’s not often a general manager will trade away a player at the start of one season and be happy to get him back the next season.
Smyl dealt Blessing to the Quesnel Millionaires early last year, then got him back when the Mills were transplanted to Chilliwack in the offseason.
“He was injured early last year and in the meantime our roster got established, so when he came back it was hard to find him the ice time he wanted and needed,” Smyl said. “With him being 19 years old, I thought the fair thing to do was to find him a place where he would play a lot.”
Since returning to Chilliwack, Smyl has seemed especially keen whenever he has talked about Blessing.
“He’s a fast skater, he’s even stronger than he was before, he can shoot a ton and he’ll go into the greasy areas to score,” Smyl said. “80 per cent of the goals in this league are scored from right around the front of the net, and not everyone is willing to go there. But Chris has never been shy about that.”
That’s the type of endorsement Blessing loves to hear as he fights his way back into the lineup.
This time last year he was a junior A freshman who desperately wanted to make an impact, but couldn’t.
One year later, he’s a veteran who is being counted on as an offensive leader.
“I like it a lot because I didn’t like that rookie role much,” Blessing said. “I think I can bring energy on the ice and leadership on the bench. I expect to have a big year and we expect the team to have a big year.”
And like most guys skating in the BCHL, Blessing hopes a big year will pave the way to achieving his ultimate goal.
“My individual goal is to get a division one scholarship, maybe to the University of Denver,” he said. “I want to help myself and get my school paid for so my parents don’t have to worry about it.”
l Sports & Stuff in the Chilliwack Mall will be hosting a ‘Meet the Chiefs’ night next Thursday (Sept. 22), starting at 6:30 p.m.
That’s two days before the home and regular season opener versus Penticton, giving fans a chance to interact with the players and coaches.
Sports & Stuff is the official distributor of Chiefs merchandise, offering gear in the store and running the Prospera Centre concourse store as well.
Get more info by phoning 604-858-2614 or check online at www.sportsandstuff.2ya.com/.