New faces everywhere as Chiefs start camp

The Chilliwack Chiefs general manager thinks he’s recruited several players who will become household BCHL names.

Young skaters hit the ice last week for five days of Chilliwack Chiefs Hockey School training at Prospera Centre. The big boys hit the ice this week as the junior A Chiefs start training camp.

Harvey Smyl says he’s happy with his offseason work.

The Chilliwack Chiefs general manager thinks he’s recruited several players who will become household BCHL names. It’s just a matter of how quickly they get there.

Remember, at this time last year no one knew who Luke Esposito was.

He was just a kid with a cool last name who looked good at spring camp.

A few months later, he was the league’s fourth leading scorer, bound for the NCAA’s Harvard Crimson.

“I don’t have a direct answer for who’s going to be the next Luke Esposito,” Smyl said. “I know we have kids coming in that we really like. But where everybody fits and who the impact guys are, I don’t know.”

One of Smyl’s newcomers is a known quantity.

Goaltender Lyndon Stanwood, the ex-Trail Smoke Eater, has 74 BCHL appearances under his belt as he enters his third full season. At 20 years old, he has the experience that Smyl covets in net.

His competition comes from Chilliwack kid Josh Halpenny, an 18 year old who went 6-4 in 10 appearances with the Chiefs last season.

“Lyndon’s been successful at this level and he’s played extremely well against us in the past,” Smyl said. “And Josh is ready for way more minutes than he got last year. Both of them looked good at the summer skates, and it’ll be an interesting competitive battle between them.”

Smyl’s team returns three blueliners from last year, none of them with a boatload of experience.

Cooper Rush, Eric Roberts and Keifer McNaughton are the elder statesmen, with a combined 141 games between them.

“Roberts is a kid I think is really going to step up and get bigger  and more important minutes than he did last year,” Smyl said.

Carter Cochrane is a wild card to consider. Tanner Cochrane’s younger brother is on the smallish side at five-foot-10 and 170 pounds.

But Smyl sees big potential in the soon-to-be 17 year old.

“He plays real well on the offensive side of the puck and he’s a real confident type of player,” Smyl noted. “And he plays with a little chip on his shoulder, and a guy like that should step in and contribute right away.”

The story up front starts with Austin Plevy. At this time last year, the Langley kid was settling into new surroundings after an off-season swap sent him from the Langley Rivermen to the Chiefs.

He was being counted on to partially replace the production of departed Derek Huisman.

He did far more than that, potting 30 goals and 73 points in 54 games to finish second in league scoring.

Plevy had a chance to leave Chilliwack this summer in favour of the NCAA’s Merrimack Warriors.

But he opted to stick around.

“Because of the type of player that he is, I feel he’s going to benefit by starting a little later — being an impact player once he gets there rather than the fourth line kid that doesn’t get the minutes or situations that he needs to be successful,” Smyl said. “With us he’ll get all those minutes, develop physically and mentally and be better prepared  to step in and contribute at the university level.”

Like the defence, the forward corps surrounding Plevy is light on returnees.

Jaret Babych is back, along with Mathieu Tibbet and Tanner Cochrane.

Now 20 years old, Tibbet is a player Smyl expects bigger things from.

“He should be comfortable within the organization, and he should be ready to be a more consistent contributing player,” Smyl said.

A player with a familiar last name is Ben Butcher, younger brother of ex-Chiefs star Matt Butcher.

Acquired from Langley in the offseason, the 18-year-old brings a big body (six-foot-two and 190 pounds), grit and offensive upside.

“I’ve known him since he was a young, young kid and he’s stepping into an organization that’s going to give him an opportunity to play a bigger role,” Smyl offered. “I see a lot of Matt in him. He’s a competitor, and I love putting those kids into our program.”

Matt Butcher played three years for the Chiefs and had 101 points in 57 games during his final season. It may be unrealistic to expect similar things from Ben, but Smyl didn’t exactly shy away from the idea.

“Remember that Matt took a couple years to do that, and there was progression in his game,” he said. “Ben may actually have a bit more skill than Matt had, and there’s potential for him to be a great player.”

As for the rest of the training camp roster, it’ll be wait and see.

Names like Zach Diamantoni, Blake Gober and  T.J. Roche might not mean a whole lot now.

“They’ve all been successful at the levels at which they’ve played, and it’s about how quickly they adjust to this situation,” Smyl said.

Overall, Smyl looks forward to getting the new guys settled in as quickly as possible.

He’ll want to get them into defined roles and get them feeling comfortable on and off the ice. At that point, he hopes the team’s overall talent level will carry it to big things.

“Trying to piece it all together with combos and stuff, there’s going to be a learning process,” he said. “But looking at it right now, I kind of like what we’ve got going on.”

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