Harvey Smyl knows he’s got a gigantic task ahead of him, but he’s happy to be back in Chilliwack running the Chiefs.
The sale and relocation of the Quesnel Millionaires was announced on Tuesday, along with the news that Smyl will be running Chilliwack’s hockey operations.
The revered hockey icon is back on the scene of his greatest triumphs, ready to recapture the glory of years past.
In the process, he hopes to help local fans put the Bruins bitterness behind them and, in a sense, hit the reset button on the last five years.
“At the time there was a feeling of, I can’t say disappointment, but maybe emotionally a little bit hurt because they (the Chiefs) were so connected in the community and it was home,” Smyl recalled of the Chiefs leaving and the Bruins coming to Chilliwack in the fall of 2006. “But I had an inclination that there was a new building going up in Langley and I thought we could transfer our history and our team there. And Chilliwack, with the building they had, they were going to get a good thing. So I was a little bit disappointed at the time, but I understood the benefits for everybody at that point.”
Smyl did his thing in Langley from 2006-07 to this past season, watching the Bruins situation implode from a distance.
He knew the team wasn’t winning and he knew attendance was sliding.
“I was still surprised (when Chilliwack relocated to Victoria) because I really thought, other than the fact they didn’t really have a winning season, I thought major junior could work in this community and be a real good thing here,” he said. “Why or how it didn’t work, I don’t know.”
Smyl did alright in Langley.
Not quite to the standards he achieved during the Chilliwack heydays, but his Langley teams placed fifth, second, second, fourth and third in the Coastal conference, not once finishing below .500.
Langley’s deepest playoff run came in 2007-08, a six-game conference final loss to the Nanaimo Clippers.
“I really enjoyed Langley. I thought the people who were associated with our hockey club were top notch and I thought we were headed in the right direction,” Smyl noted. “I had no desire to leave Langley, other than the commute. And really that wasn’t a major problem for me as a coach because you get a lot of time to think and go through things after games and before games. I think Langley’s got a lot of good things going and I really hope it works there because it’s a fantastic location.”
Still, Chilliwack’s home.
“I know lots of people in this community, how hockey-minded it is and how much they want a winner,” Smyl said. “I certainly think there’s going to be some hiccups (with lingering bitterness over the Bruins) that we’re going to have to overcome and we’re really going to have to work hard to get people to come out. It’s not a slam dunk and we’ll have to do a lot of good things in this community. But I know there’s a direction from ownership to be a part of this community and something this community can be proud of and attach themselves to.”
Smyl’s responsibilities in Langley were many and varied.
Not only did he take care of hockey operations, but he was also heavily involved on the business side.
In Chilliwack, he will be able to devote more focus to the on-ice product, with someone else being hired to take care of marketing and the bottom line.
“Even when I was in Chilliwack I was very much involved on the advertising and business side of it, which I did enjoy and do enjoy,” he said. “I plan on still having input. But not on a daily basis where I have to come home and think about how to market the next event. There will be professional people who know it and do it and make it work for us. I’m pleased about that.”
The hockey side will present more than enough challenges to keep him busy.
First off, year one will be spent in the Interior conference facing the likes of the Vernon Vipers, Penticton Vees and Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
The road trips will be long and the competition will be tough.
“That (road trips) is not an issue for me. Travel is something every team has to do. Those kids are used to it and it’s expected,” he said. “I know we’ve built up some pretty good rivalries with the Lower Mainland teams. There’s a lot of, hate’s a strong word, but anger when we play and that makes for good hockey. So I am disappointed to be in the Interior conference. But it’s best for the league right now, and we need to do that and get back into those rivalries the year after.”
The Mills roster being transplanted to Chilliwack rolled up an unimpressive 13-38-3-6 record last year, finishing seventh in the eight team Interior conference.
They bowed out of the playoffs in four quick games, losing to the Penticton Vees.
“We’re into it hard on the recruiting end of it right now,” Smyl said Wednesday morning. “We’re actively, actively trying to build our team to be competitive. There were a lot of kids through the past year who skated with us that we were grooming to be Langley players. When everything turned we had to back off and we really didn’t know if this was going to go or not. We didn’t recruit and told them to do what was best for them and their families. So we lost a lot of very, very good kids. At the same time, we do have a roster coming back. Quesnel liked their personnel. They added some pieces late in the year and some good young kids so there’s something to start with.”
Still, for one year at least Smyl is going to be preaching patience.
It’ll be a process and there will be some trying times. But the one thing I’ve learned through the years that I’ve done this is that you can be a fairly successful team with work ethic,” he said. “I think if you have guys buying into the system, working their butts off game in and game out and doing whatever’s best for the team you can be successful. That’s our mandate. It’ll be a hard working and aggressive type of team. We’ll not sit back, we’ll try and create stuff. Finishing checks, driving the net and winning puck battles. That’s the style we want to play but there will be ups and downs.”