Brian Maloney never wanted to leave Chilliwack.
Even as work and family commitments pulled him over the Rocky Mountains into Alberta, he always knew he’d be back.
When Chilliwack Minor Hockey created a paid position as executive director, the former Chilliwack Chief saw a way home and jumped on it.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for Chilliwack and it’s always felt like home,” said Maloney. “When we moved away a couple years ago we had a five year plan to get back.”
“I’m an active guy and whether it’s taking the kids for a hike, going to the ocean or the United States or deep into the woods — there’s a lot of options in this area and it always felt like the place to come when I was finished playing.”
The 37 year old first encountered Chilliwack playing junior A hockey for the Chiefs from 1997-99.
He went on to four years of NCAA hockey with the Michigan State Spartans followed by 12 seasons of minor-pro hockey.
He spent five years in the American Hockey League, skating with the Chicago Wolves (Atlanta Thrashers affiliate) and Binghamton Senators (Ottawa Senators).
He continued his career overseas in German and Swiss leagues before retiring in 2013-14.
“I kind of needed a break from hockey right after I finished playing, needed to clear my mind and see where I was at,” he explained. “But I ended up getting quite involved with the minor hockey program in Olds, AB. and I enjoyed watching the young kids develop. Having a role in helping them and watching them succeed felt natural to me.”
The Chilliwack Minor Hockey job description was light on specifics when he applied. When Maloney was hired the CMHA press release only said that he would ‘help with fund-raising and day to day operations.’”
“Everyone’s been asking what I’m going to be doing,” he chuckled. “I know that I don’t want to come in guns blazing, so I want to sit back and observe for a while.”
In his first two weeks on the job, Maloney’s been impressed by the army of volunteers who make CMHA run. It is a surprisingly large organization and he’s thankful to have that base in place.
“Whether it’s coordinators or coaching, we have a big organization and it takes a lot of people to run this, and I can’t thank them enough,” he said.
Maloney’s big thing is communication.
With those volunteers.
With players and parents and local businesses — he senses there’s been some disconnect between CMHA and the community.
“I want to get out and touch base with a lot of the businesses, see where they’re at and whether they’re willing to help us grow this minor hockey program,” he said. “I think there hasn’t been a great amount of communication between both parties, so I’d like to hear their thoughts.”
“There are a lot of great local businesses who sponsored in the past and don’t now, and I’m curious to know why.”
Maloney intends to reach out to other sports organizations as well and forge a deep connection with the Chiefs.
“We should have a great relationship with baseball, lacrosse, football,” he said. “A lot of our kids play different sports and I love that.”
“It seems like Chilliwack has everything at its fingertips and it just needs to be meshed into one.”
“I’m not exactly sure how we do that, but that’s my vision and my lines are open.”
Where on-ice performance is concerned, CMHA has run hot and cold.
There have been tournament and league titles and the odd Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association banner. CMHA captured a juvenile provincial championship in 2015.
But Chilliwackians not named Ryan Bowen have been a rare sight in the Western Hockey League bantam draft and the association lags far behind powerhouses like the North Shore and Burnaby Winter Clubs.
“I don’t want to comment on that too much because I haven’t been here to see it,” Maloney said.
He did hint at some ways he might approach CMHA’s development model.
“It’s like school where you expect the kids to be able to do certain things at the end of the year,” Maloney said. “At the end of the day we want it to be fun for the kids to come to the arena, but at the same time we know how expensive hockey is for the parents.”
“We can’t just gather in that money, rent the ice and throw the kids out there.”
“There should be some structure in place where they’re learning and getting every opportunity to better themselves.”
Another area he’ll focus on is keeping Chilliwack’s players in Chilliwack. The Chiefs, described by Maloney as one of the premier junior A programs in Canada, may play a role in that.
Maloney has already had good chats with Chiefs head coach/general manager Jason Tatarnic.
“We kind of instantly bonded because we share the same vision,” Maloney said. “Keep the kids here, grow them and get to see them play on the big ice.”
“When I played there were five or six guys from Chilliwack on the team and we were good.”
“Where is that now?”
Does the super-successful Yale Hockey Academy set a template?
“Academies seem to come up quite a bit as something people lean to,” Maloney said. “I won’t know until I see everything in action and it’ll take time.”
“I’d like to come in and say I can do all these things, but it’d be fake.”
“The last thing I want to do is come in and say, ‘I’m Brian Maloney and I’ve done this and that and this is the way we should be doing it.’”
“Just because I’ve played the game doesn’t mean I’ll have the best ideas.”
Whatever he ends up doing, Maloney hopes his background will give him credibility.
“I hope I come across as believable because I’ve gone through the process myself, through minor hockey to junior, college and pro,” he said. “I’m a people person and I’m excited to meet people and build trust with our members and the business community.”