(This article was originally published on Sep. 8, 2019)
Not many teams can say they have played 30-plus seasons in the BCHL. In fact, only Vernon, Powell River, Penticton, Merritt – and now the Chilliwack Chiefs – can. Here is a three-part series looking back at 30 years of Chiefs’ hockey starting with 1990-98.
Junior A hockey in Chilliwack prior to the Chiefs’ arrival in 1990 wasn’t exactly the best. Three different teams called the Chilliwack Coliseum home in the BCHL – the Bruins from 1970-76, the Colts from 1978-81 (the team ceased operations midway through the 1980-81 season), and the Eagles from 1987-89.
The Chiefs arrived in Chilliwack after the Richmond Sockeyes was sold to the Brew family in 1989. The team came out sporting red, white, and blue Winnipeg Jets-style jerseys with the basic chief headdress logo used to this day. They put together a good group of skilled tough players with the likes of Joey Potskin with 146 points and 156 PIMs, Marc Gagnon with 145 points and 119 PIMs, and to complement them, Bill MacGilivary with 109 points and only 34 PIMs.
The team was lead by head coach Mike O’Brien to a record of 38-18-0-3 that won them the Interior Division as well as having the best record in the league. The dream first season continued as the team beat the Merritt Centennials in six games in the first round of the playoffs, but then it came to an end, losing to the defending national champion Vernon Lakers in six games.
The next season of 1991-92, with Gagnon leading the way with 84 points and new head coach Eddy Beers, the Chiefs forged a solid 38-19-3 record to finish second in the Interior. The 1992-93 season was one to forget with the Chiefs finishing last in the division and going through three coaches. The team did have some bright sides with the arrival of future all-time leading goal scorer Doug Ast and the hiring of the legendary BCHL coach Harvey Smyl that summer. The team bounced back in 1993-94 with a 28-28-4 record.
With the addition of a few more teams to the BCHL, the Chiefs moved to the newly formed Mainland Division for 1994-95, where they finished first with a 39-18-3 record. The roster featured future NHLer Jason Krog, team captain Peter Zurba, and second-leading scorer Jeff Trembecky, and a solid defense with future captain Corey deMoissac. The club had a nice mix of local talent, veterans, and one of a few imports from Russia to play in the BCHL – Ilya Borisychev.
They also had the league’s top goaltender in Mike Minard. In the playoffs that year, the Chiefs defeated the Surrey Eagles in six games and set up a match-up with the high-powered defending champion Kelowna Spartans, who had swept them in the first round the year previous.
The Chiefs upset the Spartans in seven games and advanced to the league finals for the first time in franchise history, where they met the Powell River Paper Kings. The Chiefs claimed their first championship over Powell River, winning game five at home at the Coliseum.
The Chiefs won the Mowat Cup and played the AJHL powerhouse Calgary Canucks in the Doyle Cup. The Chiefs built a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series but lost three straight to the Canucks, ending their bid to play for the Centennial Cup National Junior A Championship.
In 1995-96, the Chiefs looked to continue their run after the previous season’s success. The team was poised to win the division again but finished second to the Surrey Eagles. In the playoffs, the Chiefs played Merritt in the quarterfinals, beating the Cents in five games. The Chiefs faced the Langley Thunder in the semifinals, losing in seven games and putting an end to their bid for back-to-back championships.
Over the next two seasons, the Chiefs again put themselves in a position to go on championship runs. In 1996-97, they finished fifth in the newly formed Coastal Division, putting them in a first-round mini-series against Cowichan Valley. Chilliwack beat the Capitals 2-1 in the best-of-3 and set up a meeting against the division champion South Surrey Eagles, where the Chiefs lost in five games.
In 1998 with the addition of Brian Maloney to the team, the Chiefs once again finished second in the division to the Eagles. In the playoffs that year, Chilliwack beat Victoria in seven games in the first round, putting them up against the Eagles for the second straight year.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, it was déjà vu as they lost in five games for the second straight year against the defending champions.
In their first eight years of existence in Chilliwack, the Chiefs had a successful history in only missing the playoffs once. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this three-part series, which will focus on 1999-2006, which is known in Chilliwack as the “rage” era.