The preseason is winding down 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 before the home opener on Sept. 24, the Progress sports section will be running several player features from now until the season starts.
The crash course continues today with an import defenceman from the home of Flyers, Eagles and Phillies.
A 19-year-old from the city of brotherly love hopes to make life miserable for Chilliwack Chief opponents this season.
Defenceman David Thompson, a native of the Philadelphia suburb of West Chester, Pennsylvania, plans on bringing some snarl to the blueline.
Snarl, and some good ol’ American swagger.
“We’ve got the swagger and we’ve definitely got better style than the Canadians.” Thompson joked (maybe). “They bang and hit and ask questions later, and it seems like there’s a lot of big up-north boys who just like to run people through the boards. We’ve got some smaller guys who are a little more focussed on skill. You mix the two together and you get some pretty good hockey.”
One thing Chilliwack fans will have to get used to is the BCHL import rule.
With the Chilliwack Bruins and the Western Hockey League, it was a bunch of prairie boys joined by one or two Fins, Czechs, Slovaks, Swedes or Russians. The only American to really make a name for himself was Travis Belohrad, a Colorado kid who had five goals for Chilliwack in 2009-10.
You won’t find the Euro element in the BCHL, but you will see many players coming up from the United States. Each team is allowed up to eight imports at a time — an import described on www.bchl.ca as ‘any player transferring into the B.C. branch from out of province who finished the last season in another branch – ie Alberta.’
Chilliwack’s training camp roster originally included skaters from North Dakota (Ross Kovacs), Dallas (Bobby Christenson), Omaha (Steve Sipprell) and New England (Trevor Hills).
“Obviously, we have disagreements about our sports teams because Hills is a Bruins fan and I’m a Flyers fan,” Thompson said of the interaction between the American skaters. “There’s a little jawing going on. But us Americans have to stick together, because we’re out-numbered at this juncture,”
Technically, Thompson no longer counts as an import. BCHL rules state that import status is lost once a player logs one year in the league.
The big (six-foot-two and 182 pound) blueliner played 60 games in Quesnel last season, notching five goals, 14 points and 43 penalty minutes.
Chiefs general manager and head coach Harvey Smyl wasn’t quite sure what he had in Thompson until last week, when he saw the teen lose his cool and chase his own brother around the ice at Prospera Centre.
“People get under my skin and it sets me off sometimes,” he said. “John (Thompson) and I were battling and he threw an elbow in my face. I didn’t really like that too much and I guess I had a little ‘snap’ moment out there.”
Watching Thompson go after his own flesh and blood got Smyl to thinking.
If he’ll go after his own brother like that, heaven help the Langley Riverman or Surrey Eagle who tries to give him the business.
“I figure John learned his lesson pretty quick after that, and I settled down after I got that out of my system,” Thompson chuckled. “We actually get along great off the ice. But on the ice, things happen. You get caught up in the moment and just react. You don’t think about it too much.”
Asked to name his three favourite NHL players of all-time, Thompson’s choices reveal much about his own approach to the game.
The first name out of his mouth is ill-tempered Chris Pronger, the perennial all-star who isn’t shy about laying out the lumber.
“He’s mean and he can control a game all by himself,” Thompson said.
Next is Scott Stevens, perhaps the best open-ice hitter in NHL history.
“He was just an animal out there and I definitely try to model myself after him,” Thompson added.
Then there’s Jeremy Roenick, a man who logged 1216 regular season points in the bigs, earning just as much notoriety for some of the things he said.
“I liked Patrick’s quote, (that) he would have stopped me,” Roenick once said after game 4 of a playoff game between Patrick Roy’s Colorado Avalanche and Roenick’s Chicago Black Hawks. “I wanted to know where he was in game 3. He was probably getting his jock out of the rafters of the United Center.”
“He had a lot of swagger out there, but he was a smart hockey player first and that’s what I really liked about him,” Thompson noted. “I try to let my play do the talking for me and I try to be smart about what I’m doing, but you’ve got to play mean and tough or people are just going to roll over you. It’s just a matter of doing it intelligently.”
Thompson came to the BCHL last year after taking a run at a job with the United States Hockey League’s Muskegon Lumberjacks.
“I didn’t know too much about the BCHL, other than hearing it was a great league that offered great exposure for players,” Thompson said. “Obviously the goal for me is to eventually play college hockey in the States, and in Quesnel and I got a lot of experience I probably wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere.”
On a Chiefs blueline that lacks in big-name talent, he should fit in nicely.
Offensively, you’ve got better odds seeing Big Foot than a coast-to-coast Thompson rush. But given time, he can launch some bombs from the point.
If he can keep things tidy in Chilliwack’s end of the ice, this season might move him one big step closer to his ultimate goal.
“My goal is a scholarship, and I’d like to get one this year,” he said.
The Chiefs play a preseason game Saturday night at Prospera Centre, hosting Surrey at 7 p.m.
Get a full schedule at www.chilliwackchiefs.net.