Training camp has begun 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, the Progress sports section will be running several player features from now until the start of the regular season.
The crash course starts with a player who will be counted on as an offensive leader this season.
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Spencer Graboski is a laid back guy.
The 18-year-old Quesnel native is happiest with a fishing rod in hand, camped out in a quiet spot where it’s just him and the great outdoors.
In the winter, he’s happiest on a snowboard.
Just him and the powder.
If he can’t fish or board, he’s perfectly content catching re-runs of Friends, chuckling at the antics of Joey Tribbiani and his buds.
“I like Joey. Joey’s a beauty,” Graboski laughed.
Off the ice, Graboski is relaxed.
Mellow and unhurried.
On the ice though, that’s a different story. On the ice, Graboski is a big-bodied six-foot-two and 180 pound forward, bulling his way through and around opposing defencemen en-route to the net.
With the cage in sight, he is a cold-hearted sniper with one goal in mind.
Puck. In. Net.
Graboski lit the lamp 15 times last year for the Quesnel Millionaires, a total that led the team and hints at the potential that lurks within. While 15 goals in 59 games may not sound like much, doing it as a 17-year-old, in the BCHL, for a team that struggled mightily to get goals — that’s an impressive feat.
“I don’t want to say last season was good, because it’s all about team success,” Graboski said. “It was OK, but you always want to strive for more and I feel I’ve got lots to learn and lots of room to improve.”
Every hockey player Graboski’s size is expected to play like Cam Neely reincarnate. But not all of them have the innate aggressiveness that Neely brought to his long NHL career. Graboski needs to push himself to play that way, because it doesn’t come naturally.
“I’m not the most physical guy, and that’s something I definitely want to improve in my game,” he agreed.
Few things make Graboski mad, although the hit TV show Glee ‘grinds his gears.’
“I hate that show so much,” he said. “It’s so bad. It’s the worst show on TV.”
Perhaps if Chiefs head coach Harvey Smyl could persuade opponents to sing show tunes as Graboski enters the offensive zone?
Graboski could also be served well by adding more bulk to his frame. His listed weight is on the slight side for a man of his height, though his offseason training program might have helped.
A mountain biking mishap in late May set him back a bit, but Graboski spent most of the summer in Dawson Creek working on a pipeline crew — the labour intensive job was boring, but effective for packing on muscle.
“Whatever the more skilled guys needed, I’d get it for them,” he said. “It was hard work and good money, but it wasn’t very interesting.”
He believes he’s better suited now to handle those 20-year-old defencemen that populate the roster of every BCHL team.
Graboski’s other major challenge will be handling the transition to Chilliwack.
For the last two seasons, the teenager played in front of friends and family at the Quesnel and District Twin Arenas.
In 2008, the old barn was home base for his bantam AA team, a squad that took a provincial title with a 6-5 win over Salmon Arm.
Graboski had three goals in the championship game, and lists it as his greatest hockey achievement to date (ex- Bruin Tim Traber was also part of that team).
“We were the second to last seed coming in and we dummied everyone,” he said, smiling. “It was awesome. It was just the second time in Quesnel’s history that a team had won provincials.”
Leaving a town that provided so many great memories is tough, even if the destination holds so much promise.
“When you look at the facilities, you can’t even compare them. Prospera is so nice and the Quesnel Arena was pretty run down,” he said. “Playing in front of friends and family was good when we were winning and bad when we were losing, but once the game started I was always able to focus on playing.”
In Chilliwack, Graboski will focus on scoring goals and becoming a leader. Quiet by nature, he wants others to follow his example.
“I don’t think I’m old enough to wear a letter, but I want to be one of the guys who is there for the boys if they have questions or anything,” he said. “I’m not the most vocal guy, but I try to give it everything I’ve got on the ice. Hopefully guys see that and try to do the same.”
Graboski and the Chiefs host the Coquitlam Express in their preseason opener, Saturday night.
Face off is 7 p.m. at Prospera Centre.