Training camp has begun for the Chilliwack Chiefs, with a whole new group of players ready to represent this city in its return to the BCHL.
To help you get to know your new team, the Progress sports section will be running several player features from now until the start of the regular season.
The crash course continues today with a local lad who now skates for the team he grew up watching.
One of the first things Harvey Smyl talked about three months ago as he outlined his vision for the new Chilliwack Chiefs was a desire to get local kids involved.
The general manager talked about taking Chilliwack’s best hockey players and giving them the opportunity to play junior A hockey.
To be a Chief.
A longtime resident of Chilliwack, Smyl understood immediately that the best way to get people invested in a local club is by giving them local lads to cheer for.
He talked the talk then walked the walk with his first trade, acquiring Josh Hansen from Langley.
“Watching Harv behind the Chiefs bench when I was little and now getting to play for him, it’s pretty cool,” Hansen said. “It was one thing to play for the Langley Chiefs, but being a Chilliwack Chief is pretty spectacular.”
Hansen’s love of the Chiefs goes back to the days when he was a little guy on Ramona Drive, living four doors down from Jeff Tambellini and Micah Stanford.
“They’d see us playing street hockey out there and they’d come out to play for a bit,” Hansen reminisced. “It was great because I looked up to those guys so much. And Jeff used to give me some stick blades too, so that was good.”
When Tambellini wasn’t around, Hansen played the role, imagining he was the gifted sniper flying down the wing.
“He was always my favourite because I got to know him,” Hansen explained. “My brother’s name is Caleb, so he was always Kaleb Betts. One kid’s favourite player was Garret Stroshein, so he’d pretend to be him and we’d have little fights.”
Such a Chiefs fan was Hansen that he had his dad drive all around town, collecting hockey cards from local businesses. At games, he’d try to get players to sign them.
Hansen continued to follow Tambellini even after he departed for the University of Michigan and then the professional hockey ranks.
“I bought some of his rookie cards on eBay, and I still follow him to see how he’s doing,” he said. “What I remember from those days was that the old barn was the place to be when the Chiefs were playing.”
Hansen moved away in Grade 10 to attend the Pursuit of Excellence program in Kelowna, then spent a year playing junior B hockey for the Aldergrove Kodiaks.
After an unsuccessful tryout with the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winter Hawks last fall, Hansen got a phone call from Smyl, inviting him to play for Langley.
The offseason trade to Chilliwack competed the circle.
Hansen’s Chiefs teammate, Spencer Graboski is a Quesnel native who played in front of friends and family as a Quesnel Millionaire last season. Of the experience he said, ‘It’s good when you’re winning and bad when you’re losing.’
Hansen knows being a Chilliwack Chief isn’t going to be all roses and sunshine.
The team may struggle this season as Smyl works to rebuild a franchise that was a perennial doormat in Quesnel.
After five years of mediocre Chilliwack Bruins hockey, local fans may not accept another losing season gracefully.
“They’re going to want to see a winning team, and that’s our main goal,” Hansen conceded. “It’s going to be a little more pressure because there’s family and friends who want to see me win, but it’s going to motivate me a little bit more to play well. It’s going to be different.”
If Hansen requires refuge, he’ll be able to retreat to a local golf course or head off to an ocean-front beach — two of his favourite past-times.
He also loves to head down to Safeco Field in Seattle from time to time to catch a Mariners game.
But for the next seven or eight months, most of his time will be devoted to the Chiefs — his own development as a player and the big-picture quest to restore the lost glory of a once great franchise.
Hansen will look to build off a rookie season in which he garnered nine goals and 16 points in 55 games, adding two goals in 10 playoff games.
One of those goals was a series ender against the Surrey Eagles game four of round one, a clutch double overtime goal that stands as the biggest the 19-year-old has ever scored.
“We had a lot of jump coming out of the first OT and our line had played pretty good,” he recalled. “(Kody) Dhaliwal, my linemate, dumped it in. There was a scrum in the corner and he threw it in front. I jumped on it and put a backhand over the goalie’s glove. It was a pretty goal by my standards and I had the whole team jumping all over me to celebrate. It was a pretty big moment for me.”
And just the first of what Hansen hopes are many big moments to come.
l Hansen was in the lineup Tuesday night as the Chiefs played a preseason game in Burnaby versus the Coquitlam Express. The Chiefs were out-shot 26-23 and lost 4-2.
Chilliwack led 2-1 through 20 minutes on goals by Derek Huisman (assists to David Thompson and Mathieu Tibbett) and (assist to Chad Roorda). The Express scored three in the second period to get the win.
Ex-Millionaire Bryton Udy got the start in goal for Chilliwack, giving up three goals on 13 shots before yielding to backup Adam Harris (also an ex-Mill). Harris stopped 21 of 22 shots in just over 30 minutes of work.
Chilliwack’s next home preseason game is Sept. 10 versus Surrey. Get info at www.chilliwackchiefs.net.