With the Chilliwack Chiefs regular season more than half over we have a big enough sample size to form solid opinions and to calculate our expectations of how deep this team is capable of going come playoff time. (Small qualifier: Expectations of several BCHL teams will change for the better or worse at or near the Jan. 10 trade deadline).
Right now you may be thinking, “Look at their record. It’s one of the best in the league. Of course this team should be expected to go on a long playoff run.’
I can’t really argue that, but just simply stating that would get me nowhere near the 500 words I need to fill this column. So let’s look at a few more reasons to be optimistic about this team.
Goaltender Mitch Gillam is this year’s BCHL MVP, and it’s not even close.
He leads the BCHL in goals against average (2.14), save percentage (.939), wins (18) and shutouts (four).
But it’s more than just the stats.
In last Friday’s 3-0 win against Nanaimo, 10 minutes in I thought to myself, ‘Gillam’s got this.’
I didn’t mean that he was going to win the game by himself. The rest of the team was still going to have to play well and do their jobs.
But if they did, the Chiefs were in little danger of losing that game because he was at his best.
When your goaltender can create that type of calming influence on the rest of the team, it bodes well for positive results.
The Chiefs penalty killing is the best in the league. At just under 87 per cent, it’s the best a Chiefs team has ever been at this stage of the season.
For most of the first part of the season I expected that to drop closer to 80 per cent, but at this point it’s obvious this team is extremely good at killing penalties.
Gillam is a big part of it but it’s more than just him. The defensemen and forwards are doing a great job of keeping it simple and keeping teams to the perimeter.
Chiefs teams always play on the edge.
That’s a big part of their success but it does lead to penalties. Knowing your chances of killing off those penalties is so high allows you to play on the edge with confidence.
From the outside looking in it’s impossible to know the full impact a coaching staff has on a team.
Having said that and having been around Harvey Smyl for as long as I have, I can tell you with full confidence that this team will not be out-coached.
Coaching is not just about implementing systems and writing X’s and O’s on a blackboard.
It’s also about understanding your players and their personalities. If you can do that, you will get the best out of your players.
Smyl and his staff do that.
Hope to see you all at Fill the Rink for the Food Bank Night on Dec. 29. All tickets for that game versus Surrey are just $5 with a food donation to the Salvation Army Food Bank.