One day someone will talk to Ethan Bowen about what it was like to play for the Chilliwack Chiefs way back in the 2020s and Jordan Kawaguchi will be the go-to guy for the 2010s.
But when the Chiefs hold their Retro in the Rink night on Dec. 3, sponsored by The Chilliwack Progress, the 1990s will be the focus. And who better to talk about that era than Doug Ast? The hometown kid played for the Chiefs from 1991 through 1994. It was the heyday of the old Coliseum, when the team wore blue, red and white and opposing teams feared a road trip to Chilliwack.
“You’d have 2,200 people jammed in a rink that was small and had so much character, and it was just rocking in there,” Ast recalled. “The Chilliwack teams in those days were always highly skilled and tough, and they were built that way because of that rink. Opposing teams that came in there were at a big disadvantage.
“A teammate of mine with Ingolstadt (Germany), a Czech defenceman named Jake Ficenec, he played for Surrey and he always told me coming to Chilliwack was so tough.”
Ast caught the tail-end of the firewagon hockey era that saw scoring soaring through the 1980s and early 1990s.
Within a few years, Jacques Lemaire’s New Jersey Devils became the standard-bearers for a new dead-puck era and point totals plummeted. But in Ast’s final season with the Chiefs (1993-94) he had 55 goals and 131 points in just 51 games.
“We were less coached and it was more run-and-gun hockey,” Ast said. “There was less focus on defence and more on scoring. But the game is changing all the time and today’s game is so much more detailed and structured. That’s not a bad thing though, and there are still guys who can score.”
Ast went on to two seasons with the UBC Thunderbirds followed by six years of minor-pro hockey in North America and eight seasons in Germany’s Deutsche Eishockey Liga.
The now 48-year-old has lots of great memories from his playing career, but some of the best come from those teenage days with the Chiefs.
He’ll never forget the foot-wide ledge that ran all the way around the boards, and how much it hurt if you were run into it the wrong way.
He’ll never forget coming up the stairs from the dressing room and stepping onto the ice.
“It was special as a local kid to experience that,” he said about skating in front of raucous Coliseum crowds. “Every time I stepped on the ice for warmup, I was excited and fired up to play.
“It was a privilege to be a part of it.”
Ast will be dropping the puck before the game on Dec. 3 and the Chiefs will be wearing retro jerseys reminiscent of the ones he wore, and those jerseys will be auctioned off later in the season in an online auction. The visiting Trail Smoke Eaters will also be wearing throwback threads.
One of Chilliwack’s first ‘superstars,’ Marc Gagnon will be at the game, as will all-time penalty minute and games-played leader Bobby Henderson and Rich Brew, son of the team’s original owners.
Fans will be encouraged to dress in their best 1990s attire and only music from that decade will be played.
The concessions will be selling Retro Dogs for $2.50.
The Chilliwack Progress presents the Retro in the Rink contest, with a chance to take in the Dec. 3 game against Trail from a box suite for you and nine guests.
The prize package includes two parking passes, salsa and chips in the suite, a retro BCHL T-shirt and an autographed replica Chiefs jersey.