(This article was originally published on July. 18, 2020.)
Chilliwack has produced a lot of great players who have gone on to play NCAA hockey, with the likes of Jeff Tambellini, Kevin Estrada, Gabe Gauthier, Shawn Horcoff, and Hobey Baker Award winner Jason Krog. However, there is one player who tops them all, and that is the Abbotsford native Jordan Kawaguchi.
Kawaguchi is the cousin of former NHLer Devin Setoguchi. He started playing for the Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association before joining the Pursuit of Excellence program up in Kelowna. With the POE U15 prep team, Kawaguchi had 57 goals, 74 assists for 131 points in just 43 games. That summer, the Spokane Chiefs selected Kawaguchi in the fourth round, 80th overall, in the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft.
He went back to play another season with POE, this time with the U18 Prep team in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League and the U18 AAA team in the North American Prospects Hockey League. In the CSSHL, he had four goals in five games, and in NAPHL competition, he had eight goals and six assists in 13 games. That same year Kawaguchi got into two games as an affiliate player with the West Kelowna Warriors.
Transition to the BCHL
After finishing the 2012-13 season in Kelowna with POE, Kawaguchi decided to come home and commit to playing for general manager and head coach Harvey Smyl and the Chilliwack Chiefs. His first year with Chilliwack wasn’t as stellar as some might hope. The team was dreadful and finished last in the Mainland Division and missed the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. For Kawaguchi, he played in 49 games as a rookie and put up nine goals and nine assists.
A lot of people speculated after the terrible season and the Chiefs let Smyl go that Kawaguchi would jump to the WHL and play with Spokane. New Chilliwack GM and head coach Jason Tatarnic convinced him otherwise and Kawaguchi returned to the BCHL for his sophomore season.
— Grand Forks Herald (@gfherald) October 14, 2016
Kawaguchi was named assistant captain of the Chiefs that year. He tripled his production from his rookie year and posted 28 goals and 28 assists in 53 games, good enough for second on the team in scoring. In the playoffs, Kawaguchi had five goals and 10 assists in 12 games, helping the Chiefs get to the BCHL round-robin semi-final.
Kawaguchi came into his third season with the Chiefs ready to take the team to the next level. He was named captain for 2015-16 and just like the previous season, his production increased. Kawaguchi put up 45 goals and 38 assists in 56 games, leading the Chiefs to a second straight Mainland Division regular-season title.
In the playoffs, he continued leading the way taking his team to Fred Page Cup finals where the Chiefs lost to the West Kelowna Warriors in six games. Kawaguchi finished tied for the playoff scoring lead with Kylar Hope of the Warriors with 24 points. He was also named to the BCHL second all-star team.
Coming back for his fourth season with Chilliwack in 2016-17, he became only the second Chiefs player to serve as the captain in two consecutive seasons. Kawaguchi was also the first Chiefs player to commit to the University of North Dakota.
It was a year to remember for Kawaguchi. He helped lead the Chiefs to the second-best record in team history, became the all-time Chiefs leader in goals with 120 and tied Doug Ast for the all-time scoring leader with 242 points.
Thanks to @UnderK9 and the @BCHLExpress for providing this great clip of Jordan Kawaguchi's record breaking goal.
Posted by Chilliwack Chiefs on Monday, November 21, 2016
He finished the season with 38 goals, 47 assists for 85 points. The Chiefs went all the way to the finals again losing to the Penticton Vees in seven games, as well as the Western Canada Cup where the Chiefs fell just short again. Kawaguchi finished with the BCHL lead in playoff goals, assists, and points that year. He was named to the BCHL first-team all-stars as well.
North Dakota and the future ahead
After finishing his four years with Chilliwack, Kawaguchi took his talents to Grand Forks to play for the renowned University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. In his freshman year of 2017-18, Kawaguchi put up five goals and 14 assists in 38 games. Much like in junior hockey, he improved in his sophomore season and notched 10 goals and 16 assists in 37 games.
Kawaguchi took off during his junior year. After being named assistant captain by his fellow teammates, he led his team with 15 goals and 30 assists for 45 points in 33 games. He was named to the All-USCHO First Team, NCHC First All-Star Team, NCHC Forward of the Year, NCHC Three-Star Award winner, NCAA West First All-American Team, as well as helping UND win the Penrose Cup as NCHC regular-season champions. To top it all off, Kawaguchi was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey.
After the COVID-19 pandemic ended his season and a possible shot at the Frozen Four, Kawaguchi was approached by several NHL teams to sign as an undrafted free agent. After consulting with UND alumni and current NHLer Drake Cagguila, Kawaguchi decided to return to North Dakota to finish what he had started last season. He was also voted captain of the Fighting Hawks for 2020-21.
What does the future hold for the Abbotsford native? He could don an NHL jersey sooner than we think given his work ethic and commitment to whatever team he is on. Currently, Jordan plays for the Texas Stars of the AHL. Wherever he ends up, Kawaguchi will be loved by both teammates and fans alike, and he’ll always be considered one of the Chilliwack Chiefs all-time greats.