Harvey Smyl did his bit at the Chilliwack Chiefs introductory press conference Wednesday morning, smiling and talking about his hopes for the second coming of the junior A team.
He enjoyed the moment, reconnecting with old friends and meeting some new ones.
And then he went back to work.
It can be said with reasonable certainty that no junior A coach in Canada has a bigger job ahead of him this summer than Smyl.
The 49-year-old must take a transplanted Quesnel roster that won 13 of 60 regular season games last year, and somehow turn it into a winner.
And he has to do this knowing most of his competitors have a huge head start.
“The way it works now is we do a lot of our recruiting during the season, so in the last half of the year we had kids in Langley that we were hoping would be future Chiefs,” Smyl said. “We had to back off when we got into the process of selling the team, and even the kids we were recruiting hard, we didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. We weren’t going to mess with anyone’s future so we suggested they do what was right for them and their families.”
An admirable and necessary approach, but a costly one as several of those players committed to other programs.
“One or two of those kids held off to see what would happen, and hopefully we’ll get them committed, but we are scrambling,” Smyl admitted. “We do have a good core coming down from Quesnel and if we have an opportunity to acquire more talent, we have an ownership group that is committed to doing what is necessary to make this team competitive.”
Regarding Quesnel, Smyl believes the 13-38-3-6 record in 2010-11 does not tell the entire story.
“Yes, they only won 13 but I think they had 20 losses by one goal. And they were playing in a tough division,” Smyl said.
As a team, Quesnel surrendered 250 regular season goals, fourth most in the 16 team league.
But the coach is excited to see what goaltender Bryton Udy can do. The 18-year-old Vernon native had some rough numbers playing behind a leaky Mills D. He won four of 28 appearances with a 3.67 goals-against average and .876 save percentage.
“But he actually had a very good year last year and continued to progress all the way through, and he is jacked about coming to Chilliwack,” Smyl noted.
Forward Spencer Graboski will be making the transition to the Fraser Valley.
The hulking Quesnel native stands six-foot-two and led the Mills with 15 goals and 36 points (in 59 games) last season.
The Mills scored a league low 140 goals last year.
“Graboski’s a young player who’s big and has all kids of ability,” Smyl said. “Put him with some good players and he should be a top end guy.”
Smyl also mentioned North Vancouver native Malcolm Gould, a BCHL rookie last year who potted 14 goals and 31 points in 57 games. Smithers native Derek Huisman, another rookie, had 14 goals and 28 points.
“They’re good players and they’re also character players, and sometimes it’s hard to find guys who bring both,” Smyl said. “There is a core, but until we throw them into the mix and see exactly what we have, I can’t say how it’ll look.”
Keep in mind, Smyl is a man who doesn’t miss the playoffs.
Never has in his coaching career and he doesn’t want to now.
But with the BCHL altering their playoff structure again to allow just four postseason berths in each conference (Coastal and Interior), he’ll have to beat out the likes of Vernon, Penticton, Salmon Arm and Westside to get there.
“Maybe this year I wish we had the old playoff format, but it is what it is,” Smyl said. “A lot is about economics, and not bringing a lot of money into the coffers in the first round. Purely from a hockey perspective, it bodes well for our league winning national championships, with one less round to fight through.”
So, does Smyl believe he can pull it off?
Can he hit the ground running with the new look Chiefs and avoid getting buried under an avalanche of Vipers, Vees and Silverbacks?
“My intention is yes, and we’re going to have to make some fast progression to do that,” he said. “Our plan is to be in the mix. Where in the mix I don’t know, but certainly not at the bottom. If we can get some luck with our recruits and make a trade or two, then certainly we’ll be right there.”
Find all the 2010-11 BCHL stats and standings online at www.bchl.bc.ca.