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 continues today with a third year defenceman who seems poised to become a team leader.
When things start to get crazy in the Chilliwack Chiefs zone this season, when the opponents bring everything they’ve got in search of the game tying goal, there is one man on the blueline who should be well suited to deal with the frenetic pace.
After all, what’s a frantic 60 second shift in a junior A game when compared to a six hour dinner rush at Olive Garden?
Why should Stefan Gonzales panic in the face of an oncoming forechecker? Can it be any worse than having a tour bus drop off 25 famished tourists who want food and want it now?
“It depends on if things are going well or not, and that depends on who’s working,” Gonzales said. “If we have weaker people working, then mistakes happen, we get behind and there’s no recovering.”
In hockey, limited players play limited minutes to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. In the kitchen, there’s nowhere to hide, and in both occupations errors can be disastrous.
“It’s a team environment, and if one person’s not doing their job, everyone suffers for it,” Gonzales said. “It’s high stress at all times, every shift. It’s not easy, but I like the challenge.”
There are a surprising number of parallels that he can draw between working at Olive Garden and skating in the BCHL.
After a summer promotion, he now runs the line, making sure everyone else is doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
Entering his third BCHL season At 19 years old, Gonzales is one of the most experience Chiefs, a veteran shepherding the younger players.
Both jobs involve a lot of communication. In the busy kitchen, Gonzales often has to yell to be heard. In an arena filled with 1,500+ boisterous fans, he can’t be afraid to raise his voice.
“I’m a pretty good yeller, which is why I got promoted,” he laughed. “I have to yell to get the food out on time, because if I don’t, then I’m going to get yelled at.”
Everyone in sports says communication is important, but it seems to be one of the hardest things to do.
“I try to communicate a lot on the ice, because it makes it so much easier letting teammates know where you are and where you want them to be,” Gonzales explained. “When guys aren’t talking, it usually has to do with their comfort level and their confidence in what they’re doing. Going back to work, even when you’re not in control you have to act like you’re in control, and the people around you have to believe you have the answers.”
The son of a German mother from Iserlohn and a Filipino father from Quezon City, Gonzales grew up in Surrey.
He played his upper level minor hockey with the North Shore Winter Club, and started his BCHL career in 2008-09, playing one game with the Westside Warriors. In 2009-10 he jumped to the Burnaby Express, earning three assists and 47 penalty minutes in 54 games.
He had one goal, nine points and 51 penalty minutes in Quesnel last season, and admits to having a tough time with the move to northern B.C.
“It was my first winter off the coast, and the temperature in the arena was the same as it was outside the arena,” Gonzales grimaced. “If it was -30 outside, it was -30 inside, which was real overwhelming at first. I learned quickly that layers are important.”
The on-ice situation didn’t help, with the Mills lurching to a 13-38-3-6 record.
Gonzales insisted the team was better than the record showed, with several of their losses coming by just one goal.
“We just couldn’t finish games,” he lamented.
The core of the new Chiefs will be the old Mills, and Gonzales said the only direction for them to go is up.
“We have guys who have spent a year in this league, and you can’t replace that experience,” he said. “Once our season started to go down hill last year, the coaches started to distribute ice time more evenly, so a lot of first year guys got a lot of time they wouldn’t normally get. It takes some guys half a season to get into that junior A mentality, where all us guys from Quesnel have it already.”
Gonzales knows the expectations in Chilliwack are vastly different from those in Quesnel.
Winners are expected here, in a market used to junior A success and soured from five years of mediocre WHL hockey.
“My first phone call with Harvey (Chiefs head coach and GM Smyl) he said we are making the playoffs this year,” Gonzales said. “Right away, that set the tone. This isn’t a rebuilding year and we’re not taking a step backward. There is an expectation that we will perform.”
Smyl has never missed the playoffs in his coaching career, and Gonzales doesn’t want to be part of the team that breaks that impressive run.
On a personal level, he can’t wait to be part of a winning organization.
“I’m tired of losing. My entire minor hockey career I played on winning teams, but I’ve been in this league for two years and I haven’t played in a playoff game,” he said. “That’s why you play at the high level, because you want to win and compete. Losing sucks.”
The Chiefs play their next home preseason game Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. versus the visiting Surrey Eagles.
The home opener is Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. versus the Penticton Vees.
Get Chiefs info at www.chilliwackchiefs.net and get league info at www.bchl.ca.