If you’d told Kyle Penney last July that by March he would be with the Chilliwack Chiefs, getting ready to play the first game of the BCHL season in early April, he’d have thought you were nuts.
“It would have been tough to believe,” said Penney, who thought he’d be skating in the NCAA Div 1 ranks this season. “But once you get past everything else that’s gone on you’d have to say, ‘Well, it sounds like a pretty good situation and I’ll make the best of it.’
“Obviously there’s a lot of excitement right now and I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a bit of relief too. We’ve been here a long time waiting for an answer week after week. Coach kept telling us to stick it out, stick it out, and we finally get good news.”
Penney started the 2020-21 season with the Cornell Big Red, amped up to start his college career.
By late November, that plan was dashed by COVID. The East Coast Athletic Conference season was cancelled and Penney came back to Chilliwack just hoping to play games.
And then he waited.
December cancelled. January cancelled. February cancelled.
Every month, Penney and his teammates got their hopes up. Some teammates departed for the USHL, a United States-based league that carried on with games despite the pandemic.
“There were definitely points when I was thinking most likely this wouldn’t happen,” Penney said. “But we were still practicing and working out and it was a lot easier in that sense because we were still working hard to get better every day, preparing as though we were going to get good news.”
The good news finally came, but the season to come will be unlike any before it.
Twentyish games seems to be the league’s plan, and with no playoffs waiting at the end, at least not so far, it may be purely a showcase for players who haven’t been able to perform for next-level scouts.
For Penney, who still has his commitment to Cornell, it’ll be about continued development, and making sure that when his freshman season finally does happen, he’s ready for it.
“We’ve been taking everything that’s come at us and adapted to it, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” he said. “For me, I want to just play good hockey, enjoy it and be appreciative that we are able to play.”
More good news came this week as Penney was named captain of the 2020-21 Chiefs.
“It’s going to be pretty cool for me,” he said. “A big part of being a captain is not necessarily the vocal aspect of it, just doing the right things and leading by example. Past captains have done that, and I’ve found it’s easy to get behind guys like that. Obviously this season’s different than any other, but we’re going to approach this the same way we do any other year.
“Part of my job will be rallying the guys as we get going.”
Chilliwack’s leadership team will also include hometown kid Brett Rylance along with forward Connor Milburn and defenceman Jackson Munro.
“Those will be great assistant captains this year, and everybody in our leadership group will be working together to bring the team to a common goal,” Penney said.