And just like that it’s over.
It took forever for the 2020-21 BCHL season to start, and once it did, the 20-game schedule flew by in a flash.
The Chilliwack Chiefs played their finale Sunday night at the Pacific Coliseum, falling 4-2 to the Prince George Spruce Kings. There are no playoffs to follow, and there were no fans in the stands for any of Chilliwack’s games, so all we’ll have to remember this team is its record.
13-7-0-0, second in the ‘Chilliwack’ pod behind PG.
For Brian Maloney, the Chiefs hockey boss who was around the team every day, there is plenty that will make this group memorable.
“What we went through and the way these kids stuck it out is what will make them memorable for me,” he said. “We spent a lot of time together. In a normal year you spend a lot of time together, but in the pandemic there were less games, less travel and more teaching. As a consequence, we had a lot of one-on-one where we got to know these players a lot more than I would in a normal year.”
Six Chiefs played their final games Sunday. With apologies to players we barely got to know — Tanner Andrew, Tyler McBay, Trevor Longo and Jackson Munro — the notable graduates are goaltender Mathieu Caron and captain Kyle Penney.
Penney returned to Chilliwack after his NCAA season with the Cornell Big Red was COVIDed. On the ice, the Nova Scotia product produced seven goals and 19 points in 20 games after producing a 58-17-18-35 stat line in 2019-20.
Off the ice, Maloney said he was the perfect leader during the most challenging of campaigns.
“Kyle could have stayed in the United States and played in the USHL, or gone back home to the Maritimes, and he chose to come back here, sit around with the rest of us and hope for a season,” Maloney said. “He’s a mature, outstanding individual and it was a no-brainer putting the C on his chest.
“This was a mental grind for everyone. When we’re telling these kids to stay out of the community, not hang out with their billets and do all these things, and they’re not getting the reward of playing games, it’s natural that they start to question the people who are telling them to do these things. For Kyle to be on board with it, with the presence he has around his peers, it was so important having him passing our message on to the players. Having it coming from a peer and a player they respect, that helped keep the team together.”
Statistically, Caron had an uneven time in the pod. He was super busy, appearing in 17 of 20 games and shutting out the Prince George Spruce Kings three times. His overall numbers (90.1 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average) weren’t great, but Maloney said that was more a reflection of what was going on in front of him.
“It’s a little unfortunate how his season played out, because he made some big-time highlight reel saves for us,” Maloney said. “When you look at our roster, we battled some injuries and it was pretty depleted some nights. At one point we had three defencemen going, and you end up giving up some chances you don’t really like. Things like that put Mathieu in a tough spot.”
Off the ice, Caron was his usual hard-working self.
“He’s been with us a long time now and he’s been a phenomonal kid for our program,” Maloney said. “He battled in practice and showed a great attitude. He stayed on the ice late to take extra shots and led by example. All-in-all he’s been a great junior A goalie, one of the top-tier ones in this league, and it’s time for him to move on and take the next step in his career.
“I’m excited to see what he does at the university level.”