The Chilliwack Progress / Black Press Media

Chiefs alumni look: Micah Sanford


(This article was originally published on Sept. 27, 2020)

Chilliwack has had some high scoring forwards in its history with Joey Potskin, Doug Ast, Marc Gagnon, Jeff Tambellini, Kevin Estrada, Travis Banga, and more.

One player during the early 2000s became a sensation and a huge star. His name is Micah Sanford. He played from 2000-02 and was part of the greatest Chiefs team ever in 2001-02.

I caught up with Sanford to talk about his time in Chilliwack, his transition to NCAA, and what he’s up to today.

Eric Clarke: How were you recruited to the Chiefs?

Micah Sanford: I was recruited to play in Chilliwack by Roy Henderson when I was 16. He was on vacation in Las Vegas and went to watch a Junior B game. He saw me play and it went from there. He sent me to play Midget AAA for a year in Vail, Colorado, and then shipped me to Chilliwack.

EC: How much of an influence have your experiences with the Chiefs been on your everyday life?

MS: My two years in Chilliwack were without a doubt the most influential time in my life. I had the honor of playing for a top tier organization that gave me more than just ice hockey skills but life skills as well. The city of Chilliwack had amazing love and support for their team and our owners made sure the players gave back to the community every chance we could.

The coaches held the players to high standards and expected excellence in everything we did. They just didn’t make us better hockey players but better people. These characteristics showed off and on the ice, which was a huge part of our success. Chilliwack is also where I met my wife and mother of our children, so I will always have a special place in my heart for Chilliwack.

EC: Is that Roy Henderson, as in Bobby’s dad?

MS: Yes, that’s Bobby’s dad.

EC: You had an average first season, but exploded in the second season. What are some of your memories of the 2001-02 team?

MS: My first season was a learning curve for me. I learned from watching our veteran players to adjust to the speed of junior A hockey. Then I took the next summer to work on my weakness while living with Bobby Henderson all summer to improve my skating. The 2001-02 season was the most exciting hockey season of my career and it wasn’t just because I put up big numbers.

The team we had that year was highly skilled with a mix of toughness which made us very difficult to play against. Some of the top memories I have that year are our win over Drayton Valley in OT to go to the Royal Bank Cup. The barn was packed and Vandy (David Van Der Gulik) scored a huge goal for the boys.

But the thing I remember most about that year was our team. That was the only team I played for where we honestly believed we would never lose a game. The confidence we had and the depth of players was incredible. I’ll never forget when we lost our first two games against Vernon in their barn for the BCHL finals. After the game, we went back to our locker room to get undressed and our room was completely silent. Our captain Jeff Barlow stood up and said, “Get undressed, let’s get home, we will not lose another game” and we didn’t.

EC: You played a lot on a line with Matt Gibbons and Kaleb Betts. How did you guys get together?

MS: Our line was a mix of three players with a different set of skills. We mixed very well together. Matt was our center and was great in the face-off circle, had great vision, and set me up for a lot of easy tap ins.

Kaleb was the most skilled player on our line and I can admit it now but would have never told him that 20 years ago. He was a unique mix of speed, skill, and toughness. One of the hardest open-ice hitters I’ve ever played with or against, but he also had silky hands and a great shot. A true all-around player.

Then there was me, couldn’t skate but had a scoring talent. I  just found the open ice and waited for one of them to give me the puck then do what I do best. Plus it was nice being the second line behind Tamby (Jeff Tambellini), Gauthier, and Vandy. They took a lot of pressure off us with their own ability to dominate games.

EC: It makes a lot of sense that the top line took the pressure off you guys given that you led the Chiefs in goals that year. Plus you set a BC Hockey League record with 23 goals in the playoffs. 

MS: We were very difficult to play against. Teams had to choose which line they matched their top players against. If they matched up against the top line, it freed up our line to score. Then once that happened, the team switched it to cover our line, and then Tamby’s line went to work. We had a stacked team that year, and Harvey Smyl was masterful behind the bench

EC: After 2002, you went to play at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. How was your transition to the NCAA?

MS: The transition to college hockey was not an easy task. College hockey is a much different game than junior hockey. The players are much bigger, stronger, and faster. It’s the first time you can truly tell the difference between a player that has been in the gym for four years and a player just getting started in college. Each game in college hockey is amplified because of the short season.

Going from playing 70 games a season to 35 to 40 was the hardest part for me. I preferred more games and less practice. The overall transition to the team was not that difficult though. When I went in for my freshman year, Omaha already had numerous BCHL players that I knew, plus Kaleb Betts was a freshman with me which made things much easier.

EC: Did it make it easier when Bobby Henderson came a year later?

MS: Bobby coming in my second year was also a plus. Getting to play college hockey with some of your closest friends from Chilliwack was a comfort most players don’t get to experience.

EC: Next year is the 20th anniversary of the 2001-02 Chiefs. If the Chiefs have a reunion would you come back to be a part of it?

MS: I would definitely be there for it. My wife is from Langley, so I would make a trip out of it.

EC: After you finished playing hockey, what have you been up to?

MS: Once I was done playing I helped run a local ice rink and coached midget AAA hockey for about five years. Then I stopped coaching to take over my family’s business. I now own and operate a local roller rink, but I’ll probably coach again later in life when my kids get older.

EC: How much of an influence was Harvey on your coaching?

MS: My entire coaching philosophy comes from Harvey and Roy Henderson. Harvey was one of the best coaches I’ve ever had because he kept me accountable and I always knew what my job was. He could look at me on the bench and never say a word and I would know exactly what I did.

I coached with the same philosophy. I taught my players to be accountable for their actions on and off the ice. My players always knew what their job was and that I would hold them accountable. As a player, I found it was easiest to play the game when I knew exactly what was expected of me. My father was also a huge influence on my coaching style. He coached me my entire roller hockey career before I switched to ice and made me the player I became by pushing my limits every day.

Sanford played two full seasons with the Chiefs, finishing with 127 points and a BCHL record 23 goals in the 2002 playoffs. After Chilliwack, he played four years at the University of Nebraska-Omaha alongside his linemate Kaleb Betts and Bobby Henderson. Sanford played four games with his hometown Las Vegas Wranglers in the ECHL before retiring from hockey. 

He now resides in Las Vegas, Nevada running his family’s roller rink with his wife, daughter, and baby to be.