Normally, if a Brian Maloney team is eliminated from the playoffs the hockey coach will tip his hat to a team that was a little bit better than his.
But after seeing his Chilliwack Chiefs bounced out of the 2022 BCHL playoffs by the Nanaimo Clippers, the bench boss was more inclined to tip his hat to one man.
“The way Cooper Black was playing in that last game, we could have played five overtime periods and I’m not sure we would have got one past him,” Maloney said. “It was special to watch for sure.”
Black, a 20-year-old goaltender, stopped 37 pucks in a 1-0 win April 19 that completed a four-game second-round sweep for his Clippers. Chilliwack out-shot Nanaimo in each of the four games, but Black threw up a wall, stopping 140 of 145 shots.
“Honestly, it’s one of the most confusing playoffs I’ve been around as a coach,” Maloney said. “I give credit to Nanaimo because I think they’re a fantastic team and they have a chance of winning it all. That being said, I believe that when you control the play, have the puck for 12 minutes more than them and double them in shots and grade A opportunities, it’s tough to get that result.
“We just didn’t have the weaponry to go down there and get a goal when we needed one. When we did get chances we were either squeezing the stick or he (Black) came through with a big-time save.”
All season long the Chiefs relied on scoring by committee, and it worked. Chilliwack scored the third most goals in the entire league (222), behind only the Penticton Vees (256) and West Kelowna Warriors (236).
But sometimes you need a game-breaker, and the Chiefs didn’t have one.
Of Chilliwack’s top six playoff scorers, one was 16 years old (AJ Lacroix), two were 17 (Cam Johnson/Mateo Mrsic), and one was 18 (Abram Wiebe).
“Our older guys were awesome. They were great players who defended hard, got in on the forecheck, stripped pucks and did lots of things as individuals that will let them have success at the college level,” Maloney said. “But as far as that game-breaker, when we needed a timely goal it was coming from 16 and 17 year olds. When you’re asking them to carry your team offensively, it’s a big ask.”
So what now?
The good news is that the team anticipates having young guns like Johnson, Lacroix, Mrsic, Wiebe and Lucas Sorace back for 2022-23. Maloney likes the recruiting class that’s coming in, saying there are some “high-end guys” on the way.
He has the program to the point where offseasons are not about rebuilding. They’re about reloading,
Philosophically, Maloney wants the Chiefs to be “hard to play against,” but he hopes to find the sweet spot where the Chiefs roster can be full of players no one wants to face, yet still have the kind of top-flight skill that prevails over a goalie like Cooper Black.
“In years past we had a lot of skill and I thought we were too easy to play against,” Maloney said. “Next year we have a lot of high-end skill coming in, but the trick is to get those kids with high-end skill and IQ to compete harder. That gives you a better chance at finding those game breakers.”
– Chilliwack bid adieu to several departing veterans. Connor Milburn, Jack Seymour, Brett Rylance, Jordan Chudley, Xavier Henry and Anthony Allepot are aging out of the league as 20-year-olds, and 19-year-olds like Ethan Bowen, Kienan Draper and Dawson Good are likely making the jump to NCAA.
“These aren’t just great hockey players but they’re also phenomenal kids,” Maloney said. “I’ve been a part of this game for a long time as a player and coach, and sadly you kind of have to harden up over the years because you build those relationships and then you have to part ways. But these ones hurt and there were a lot of watery eyes because they meant so much to the organization.
“All of them are going to be successful in life after they’re finished playing.”