In the closing weeks of the toughest season in his coaching career, Chilliwack Chiefs bench boss Harvey Smyl has found bright spots hard to come by.
But a significant one has emerged over the last month with the much-improved play of Jordan Kawaguchi.
After struggling for three quarters of the BCHL season, the Abbotsford native has suddenly flipped the switch. On Saturday night, the 16 year old scored twice against the Prince George Spruce Kings, could have had a third and looked like the most dangerous kid on the ice.
“I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence and he’s getting a lot more ice time,” Smyl said. “That line (with Mason Boh and Kurt Black) seems to have some chemistry and all three of them are playing so much better than they were two months ago. The reason? I don’t know.”
Kawaguchi, or Gooch as everyone calls him, has the answer.
“I feel more confident in my ability with the puck, making plays and that kind of stuff,” he explained. “I had a stretch after a concussion where personally thought I was a little scared, and that set me back. But the confidence is up there now, and playing with Black and Boh, it’s good.”
One of the smaller players on the ice in any game, the bantam star had serious adjusting to do when he arrived in the BCHL last September.
Playing against 20 year olds was jarring.
“I want to say yes, I was ready for it, but it’s hard to play against guys who are four years older than you,” he admitted. “Being 15 and playing against 16 year olds, there’s not too big a difference there. But the 20 year olds, a lot of guys are men by then and you’re just starting to build a little muscle.”
So too was the notion that he was no longer among the top two or three players on his team.
“All the way through he’s been the best player at every level he’s played,” Smyl noted. “Coming in here he doesn’t get the minutes he got in minor hockey and at times he got frustrated with it. He’s getting more minutes now and he’s responding.”
“That was a real big adjustment because in past years I’ve played a lot, and when you’re not playing a lot, like earlier this year, you think that maybe you don’t have what it takes,” Kawaguchi concurred. “Mentally, that takes a toll on you. And it’s hard to stay mentally focused on the game when you’re not playing a lot.”
By the time next training camp rolls around, and this is only based on a very small sample size, Kawaguchi could be back to star status.
But will he be skating with the Chiefs, or trying his luck in the major junior Western Hockey League.
He’s listed by the Spokane Chiefs, and if not for a numbers game might have been there this year.
“Chilliwack’s a great place to play and this has been a great experience, but I still have a few months to make that decision,” he said. “I want to say I’m leaning one way, but both sides have their pros. The WHL has great players and a lot more guys go pro out of the CHL (Canadian Hockey League). But you’re not going to play hockey forever. It’s a tough decision.”
Fresh off weekend losses to Langley (8-5 Friday) and PG (5-4 in OT Saturday), his Chiefs wrap up their season with a home-and-home Friday and Saturday versus the Coquitlam Express.