Smyl hires ex-Chiefs to fill coaching vacancies

Chilliwack Chiefs

The Chilliwack Chiefs have dipped into the past to fill their coaching staff of the present, bringing four ex-Chiefs back into the fold.

General manager and head coach Harvey Smyl announced the hiring of his assistant coaches Monday morning; Doug Ast and Brandon Fleenor and Rob Bruni.

Also coming on board, Paul Nicolls as the strength and conditioning coach.

All are current Chilliwack residents, helping Smyl partly accomplish his goal of giving the team local connections.

Ast had a tremendously successful playing career with the Chiefs, and he remains the only player in franchise history to be captain for two seasons (1992-1994).

During the 1993-94 campaign he recorded a whopping 55 goals and 130 points in 51 games. That was Smyl’s first year as head coach, with the team finishing 28-28-4.

Ast went on to a hockey career spanning 13 seasons. He played university hockey at the University of British Columbia before moving on to pro stops in the East Coast Hockey League (Wheeling Nailers), American Hockey League (Syracuse Crunch) and  now-defunct International Hockey League (Long Beach Ice Dogs and Manitoba Moose).

He twice attended training camp with the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks, and the diminutive forward even spent three seasons playing professional roller hockey, suiting up for the Vancouver Voodoo and Los Angeles Blades of the now-defunct Roller Hockey International league.

But Ast’s greatest hockey accomplishments came overseas, playing for two Deutsche Eishockey Liga (German Ice Hockey  League) teams.

Ast crossed the pond in 2001, playing two seasons for the Iserlohn Roosters.

In 2003-04 he signed with Ingolstadt ERC, spending the next six seasons as a Panther.

Ast played in the Spengler Cup in Davos Switzerland in 2008.

Following his retirement after the 2008-09 season, the Panthers raised his No. 18 jersey into the rafters at the Saturn Arena.

“He’s had a ton of on-ice success and boasts strong leadership and communication skills,” Smyl noted. “He is very intelligent and enjoys teaching.”

Fleenor is regarded as one of the most popular players to ever wear a Chiefs jersey.

Fleenor spent three seasons in the BCHL, starting with the Langley Thunder before moving home. The big blueliner was a Chief between 1997-99, playing 87 regular season games for the franchise.

During the 1998-99 season he played 56 games and amassed 44 points and 191 penalty minutes.

Fleenor went on to six years of pro hockey in four different leagues. His last season was 2004-05 with the Motor City Maniacs of the United Hockey League, playing alongside NHLers Chris Chelios, Kevin Hatcher and Sean Avery.

Fleenor’s been back in Chilliwack the last five years coaching peewee and bantam AAA with Chilliwack Minor Hockey.

“I have so much respect for the Chiefs ownership group, and to be able to coach with Harv will be unbelievable,” he said. “Dougie, Robbie and Paul are great guys and I am really excited to have the opportunity to work with them.”

Nicolls returns to the Chiefs for his second tour of duty as a part of the coaching staff. He was an assistant for Smyl from 1998 to 2000, helping the team to a bronze medal at the 2000 Royal Bank Cup in Fort MacMurray, AB.

Nicolls played two seasons for the Chiefs from 1990-92 and was a teammates of Ast. His playing career didn’t go beyond junior, but Nicolls stayed in the sport as an official, reffing five years in the pro ranks.

In recent years, the 36-year-old has focussed his attention on personal training, opening the Xceed Training Center in Chilliwack (www.xceedtraining.com).

Nicolls graduated from the Institute of Integrated Nutrition in 2011 and Smyl says he will fit perfectly into his role.

“Paul’s playing and coaching experience provides him invaluable knowledge as a personal trainer,” he said. “He understands what a player needs to do to play at this level.”

Bruni will be entering his ninth year as a goaltending coach for the Chiefs. As a player, Bruni spent five seasons stopping pucks at the junior level for Prince George, Abbotsford and Langley.

Bruni is the owner/operator of Bruni 5 Enterprises, a flooring contractor in Chilliwack.

“Having the Chiefs back in Chilliwack is amazing and being able to work with the coaching staff Harv has put together will be awesome,” he said.

Smyl sees Bruni as a perfect fit for his coaching staff.

”Rob as been part of junior A hockey for a long time and his experience will be a real benefit for our entire coaching staff.”

Season tickets are now on sale for the 2011-12 BCHL season.For more information call 604-392-4433 or visit www.chilliwackchiefs.net.

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