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30 Years of Chiefs Hockey: the move to Langley and a return to the Wack

For the start of the 2006-07 season, the Chilliwack Chiefs packed up their bags and headed down the road to the George Preston Arena to become the Langley Chiefs. They arrived with the same owners, head coach and players. The only modification to the jersey was the removal of Chilliwack from the tomahawk shoulder patch. Langley finished its first year with a 29-27-1-3 record, fifth in the Coastal Division. In the playoffs, the Chiefs faced the Burnaby Express and lost the first round series 4-3.

In the fall of 2007, the Chiefs looked to improve on their first season with the additions of future NHLer Derek Grant, plus Milos Gordic and the return of tough guy Necco Belanger from the NAHL. They wound up with a 33-21-0-6 record for second in the Coastal Conference. In the post-season, Langley played Victoria in the conference quarterfinals and won the series 4-2. The Chiefs advanced to play the first place Nanaimo Clippers to see which team would move on to the league final, but fell in six games.

For 2008-09, the Chiefs unveiled a new logo to represent the City of Langley. The new logo removed the “C” from the headdress and replaced it with an “L” with war paint stripes above it. The new jersey incorporated one of the team’s original colors – blue with the black and yellow. Langley finished the year with a 30-25-2-3 record and fourth in the Coastal Division. In the playoffs, the Chiefs lost in the Coastal Conference quarterfinals to the Surrey Eagles 3-1 in the best-of-five series.

2009-10 saw the team move to the newly built Langley Events Centre and the Chiefs continued to have successful regular seasons in Langley by amassing a 33-22-2-3 record. In the post-season, the Chiefs beat the Surrey Eagles 4-2 in the first round, but was swept by Powell River in the conference quarterfinals.

In 2010-11, the Chiefs celebrated 20 years. In the first two decades, they only missed the playoffs once and won three Fred Page Cup Championships, one Doyle Cup, numerous division titles and two trips to the National Junior A Championship. The Chiefs added to their history by acquiring former stick boy Darnell Dyck from Trail. They came third in the Coastal Division with a 31-21-1-7 record. In the playoffs, the Chiefs would sweep Alberni Valley 4-0 in the first round, but ended their 20th season with a six-game quarterfinal loss to long-time rival Surrey.

The 2011 off season was a very interesting one. The owners of the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins sold the team and moved them to Victoria, opening the door for the BCHL to move back in. The Chiefs Development Group sold the existing team to the Henderson family who would keep it in Langley. In the terms of the deal, the Chiefs name and history were to stay with the Chiefs Development Group as it bought the struggling Quesnel Millionaires and relocated them to Chilliwack. When the dust settled, the Chiefs were back in the ‘Wack.

With the return of the Chiefs to Chilliwack, the 2011-12 roster consisted of mostly players coming over from the Millionaires. With the approval coming in late May 2011, the team was running on a very short off season. They returned with a brand new color scheme of crimson, gold and white. Their jerseys were  inspired by Denver University as former Chiefs Greg Keith and Gabe Gauthier won national titles with the Pioneers.

The team was placed in the Interior Division for the year and finished fourth with a 33-22-2-3 record, backstopped by goalie Mitch Gillam. In the playoffs, the Chiefs played the record-breaking and stacked Penticton Vees losing to them 4-2 in the quarterfinals.

The Chiefs moved to the Mainland Division for 2012-13 along with the Prince George Spruce Kings. The team had Gillam back in goal, Jaret Babych, the son of former NHLer Dave Babych, and the additions of top scorer Austin Plevy and tough guy Tanner Cochrane. Their record was 33-21-1-1 and they finished second in the Mainland Division. In the playoffs, the Chiefs opened up against Prince George and beat the Spruce Kings 3-2 in the best-of-five. Chilliwack played Surrey in a best-of-five Coastal Conference quarterfinal series and was swept 3-0.

In 2013-14, the Chiefs dropped off significantly, like they did 21 years previously, finishing with the second worse record in the league at 14-37-2-5. In the off-season, the Chiefs let go legendary head coach Harvey Smyl and hired Jason Tatarnic from the Woodstock Slammers. The bright side to the down year was the upstart of Jordan Kawaguchi’s junior career.

The Chiefs of 2014-15 bounced back from missing the playoffs for the first time in 20 years by winning the Mainland Division with a 37-17-1-3-10 record. In the Playoffs, the Chiefs dumped Coquitlam in the first round 4-1 and Prince George in the Mainland Division finals 4-0. Chilliwack advanced to the BCHL round robin with Nanaimo and Penticton. The Chiefs didn’t win a game, losing to Nanaimo 7-2 and Penticton twice – 4-3 in overtime and 5-2 – ending their hopes of getting to the Fred Page Cup Finals.

In 2015-16, the Chiefs looked to continue their early success under Tatarnic. With the addition of Wenatchee Wild from the NAHL, the Chiefs had another strong team to contend with for the Mainland crown. Chilliwack won its second straight division title with a 38-13-3-4 record and were led by captain Kawaguchi, goalie Aidan Pelino and current Detroit Red Wings defenceman Dennis Cholowski.

In the playoffs, the Chiefs got past Coquitlam 4-0 in the first round and Wenatchee 4-1 in the second round. The win put Chilliwack back in the BCHL round robin for the second straight year, where they faced the West Kelowna Warriors and the Nanaimo Clippers. The three teams split all of the games, which set up a tiebreaker. The Chiefs were the first team through, beating West Kelowna 4-3 to advance to the Fred Page Cup. Chilliwack played the Warriors in the finals and lost in six games to the eventual National Junior A champions.

Chilliwack looked to get over the hump in 2016-17 and win its fourth Fred Page Cup. The team finished second in the Mainland Division to the regular season champion Wenatchee Wild with a 41-11-0-6 record. In the playoffs, the Chiefs beat Langley 4-2 in the first round and swept the Wild 4-0 in the Mainland Division final. In the Coastal Conference final, the Chiefs faced Victoria. Oddly, the Grizzlies forgot their jerseys for game one and had to wear Chilliwack minor hockey jerseys. The Chiefs beat Victoria 4-2 to advance to the Fred Page Cup for the second consecutive year. Chilliwack fell in seven games against Penticton, but still advanced to the Western Canada Cup because the Vees were hosting. The Chiefs played the Brooks Bandits, Portage Terriers and the Battleford North Stars in the tournament.

The Chiefs finished second in the round robin portion and played for the Western Canada Cup against the Brooks Bandits. The Chiefs lost 6-1 to the Bandits, but with the page playoff format, the Chiefs had another opportunity to advance to the National Junior A Championship. The Chiefs faced host Penticton in the second play in-game and fell 3-2.

2017-18 was a big year for the Chiefs as they hosted the National Junior A Championship. With most of the team returning from the year previous, the Chiefs added a couple pieces to prep for a run to the title. Before the season, the Chiefs announced the retirement of mascot Chief Wannawin and introduced a new ascot – Belle the Cow. The Chiefs record was 26-26-3-3 and they finished fourth in the Mainland Division. In the playoffs, Chilliwack played the division champion Prince George Spruce Kings and lost in seven games.

A week before the city of Chilliwack and the Chilliwack Chiefs were set to host four of the best teams in junior A hockey in Canada and the United States, they fired Head Coach Jason Tatarnic. In his place, they appointed assistant coach and former Chiefs captain Brian Maloney as head coach and general manager.

In the championship tournament, the Chiefs met the Wenatchee Wild, Wellington Dukes, Ottawa Jr. Senators and Steinbach Pistons. Chilliwack opened the Tournament against its BCHL rival from Wenatchee and the Wild took the opener 2-1 in overtime. The Chiefs played Ottawa next and beat the Sens 4-3 in extra time. Wellington was the next opponent for the Chiefs and Daniel Chenard shutout the Dukes 2-0 and Chilliwack was into the semifinals for the third time in team history.  The final round robin game for the Chiefs was against the Steinbach Pistons and the home squad came out on top 4-1 with Mathieu Caron getting the win in his only action of the tournament.

In the semifinals, history was not on the Chiefs’ side as they failed to get past this stage in the franchise’s previous two appearances. Chilliwack beat Ottawa 3-2 and advanced to the final against Wellington. In the final game, the Chiefs went down just 1:30 into the game but tied it on a goal from Kaden Pickering early in the second period. The Dukes took the lead again with a minute left in the second on the power play. It keyed up a dramatic comeback in the third for the Chiefs, starting with the tying goal by Will Calverley at 4:35. Chilliwack took the lead four minutes later on a goal by Corey Andonovski. The Chiefs sealed the game on a goal by Tommy Lee at the 12:20 mark of the third. The win gave Chilliwack its first ever National Championship and exercised the demons of the past.

With the National Championship behind them, the Chiefs got right back to work in 2018-19 to try and defend their title. The team had eight players return from the previous year, including the goaltender tandem of Chenard and Caron. The Chiefs finished the season with the best record in the BCHL at 42-15-1 and faced a first-round match up with the Langley Rivermen. In the playoffs, Chilliwack went down 3-0 to the Rivermen and stormed back to win four straight and the series. The Chiefs played Prince George in the next round and were swept 4-0, ending the hopes of back-to-back national titles.

That is a look at the 30 years of Chiefs hockey. I hope you enjoyed all three parts. I would also like to dedicate the series to the late Jacob Bestebroer, he was the inspiration for these articles as he was well known for his knowledge of the history of the Chilliwack Chiefs.