Ryan Bowen (in white) was a player who came to the Chilliwack Chiefs from junior A hockey and helped the team win an RBC Cup. But Chiefs hockey boss Brian Maloney said major junior imports don’t always work out, and his team won’t be scooping them up during a COVID-disrupted season. (Chilliwack Progress file)

Ryan Bowen (in white) was a player who came to the Chilliwack Chiefs from junior A hockey and helped the team win an RBC Cup. But Chiefs hockey boss Brian Maloney said major junior imports don’t always work out, and his team won’t be scooping them up during a COVID-disrupted season. (Chilliwack Progress file)

Chilliwack Chiefs decline to add WHL players looking for a place to play during pandemic

Chiefs hockey boss Brian Maloney said he’s staying loyal to the kids who’ve committed to the program

Junior A hockey is facing a test of principles right now.

With the major junior season delayed by COVID, major junior players are looking for somewhere to play, and some junior A clubs are willing to welcome them with open arms.

But the Chilliwack Chiefs aren’t one of those teams.

“I know there are a few teams in our league are bringing WHL players on,” said Chilliwack hockey boss Brian Maloney. “The Chilliwack Chiefs won’t be. We’ve turned down multiple options, everything from first rounders to undrafted players. I don’t think it’s fair to our players. They’ve committed to go the college route, to be on our team and put the work in. To add a player just for a month, we don’t feel it’s fair.”

The only way Maloney said they’d consider a major junior import is if they’re in a position to add a player without cutting anyone.

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Roster expansion is unlikely, so the only ways that would happen would be a long-term injury or an unexpected departure. Even then, Maloney thinks they’d look at a junior A kid first, unless the major junior season was cancelled completely. The WHL is hoping to open training camps under Christmas, so anyone Maloney added now would be gone by the new year.

The BCHL has a rule in place, limiting major junior imports to four per team, and for this season two of those players must be born in 2001 or later (not 20 year olds).

“That’s obviously to protect our players and our vision of sending kids off to university, and I’m glad they put that rule in place,” Maloney said.

The AJHL has been a popular landing spot for WHLers thanks to its more relaxed rules. The Brooks Bandits have added two National Hockey League first round draft picks (Jake Neighbors of St. Louis and Ozzy Wiesblatt of San J0se). The Grand Prairie Storm, run by former Nanaimo Clippers/Cowichan Capitals hockey boss Mike Vandekamp, have scooped up four WHLers and the Sherwood Park Crusaders have added three.

“Obviously those players should make our team more competitive right now and every game counts and we want to win games,” Vandekamp said in an article by SI.com and The Hockey News.

A philosophy Maloney said he doesn’t share, even in a year where he’s loading up his Chiefs for a run at the Fred Page Cup.

“It’s an easy decision for me, absolutely,” he said. “We commit to our kids and they commit to us, and we’re still a developmental league. We’re trying to get kids ready for the next level, and ultimately if they buy in and develop, you win. If you’re in it to just load up and just try to win it every year, I don’t know.

“There’s no right way or wrong way to do it, but I’m more interested in helping the kids who’ve committed to us.”

Another consideration for Maloney and other coaches is how a major junior kid will fit into a locker room in a ‘lower tier’ league.

Will they embrace the opportunity or go through the motions?

“I don’t think major junior kids always understand how competitive and good our league is,” Maloney said. “They think they can come in and rip it up, but it’s not as easy as they think. So you not only run the risk of disrupting the culture of your locker room, you also run the risk of that player not helping you on the ice.

“I’ve seen people struggle in our league and tear it up in major junior, and I’ve seen guys have successful major junior careers and struggle to stay in the lineup here.”


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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