Where COVID is concerned, silver linings have been very hard to find, but the global pandemic has created a sliver of upside for Chilliwack Chiefs fans.
When the rampaging virus wiped out much of the 2021-22 college hockey season, the NCAA responded by granting its athletes an extra year of eligibility. And because so many players who would have graduated are back, there’s not much room for incoming players.
For Chiefs fans, that means another season cheering on the likes of Ethan Bowen and Brett Rylance, who in normal times would be starting their freshmen seasons with North Dakota and Northern Michigan respectively.
“There’s a log-jam at the NCAA level, so some of our guys who could have been at the university level this season are still here,” said Chiefs hockey boss Brian Maloney. “Guys like Bowen and Rylance, (Connor) Milburn, (Dawson) Good and (Xavier) Henry — all of those guys were eligible to play junior hockey so they’re back.”
Training camp starts Friday (Sept. 17) for the Chiefs, and because of the NCAA thing, most of the roster is either returning players, or new players with junior experience. That’s unusual in the Maloney era, where at least half the roster is usually brand new each September.
“They should already know our defensive zone coverage and our forecheck, where last year, with a brand new team, we had to start from scratch and jam it all in there,” the coach noted. “It’s good because our coaching staff is already diving into stuff that we wouldn’t normally get to until later in the season.”
If you’re looking for another bit of COVID upside, it comes in the form of guys like Liam Tanner and Luca Grabas.
Both forwards joined Chilliwack ahead of schedule, filling the void for the 2020-21 Pod season when others left for ice time opportunities in the USHL.
“They were going to be on the team this year, but because we lost so many players last year we were able to bring them in,” Maloney said. “It was phenomenal for them and they did really well during the Pod season. They got a little taste of what they needed to do over the summer to get ready for this season, and that will be an advantage for us.”
Maloney said the goal every year is to be one of the best of the best in the BCHL, and he likes the potential of this year’s group.
“We don’t recruit bad hockey players in Chilliwack, so if they’re on our roster they’re a good player,” he said. “It’s how they mesh together, if they’re good teammates and good people and if they understand their role, then we’re going to be a really explosive team.”
The Chiefs begin their preseason schedule Sept. 22 in Surrey, followed by home exhibition games Sept. 24 and 25 vs Powell River, Sept. 29 vs Surrey and Oct. 1 vs Coquitlam.
See bchl.ca for the full preseason and regular season slate.