The BC Hockey League was given the official okay to play in five pods across the province consisting of three to four teams. One of those five pods is based in the Chilliwack Coliseum. This isn’t the first pod, so to speak, to be hosted in Chilliwack because, for a portion of the exhibition season, the Coliseum played host to the three other Lower Mainland-based teams.
The Chilliwack Chiefs will have cardboard cutouts of fans for the games at the Coliseum.
The Chilliwack Pod will consist of the host Chiefs, the Prince George Spruce Kings, and the Merritt Centennials. Logistically, it makes a lot of sense given that Merritt is just over a two-hour drive away from Chilliwack. Prince George will be isolated in a hotel bubble.
Prince George and Merritt played against each other four times in the exhibition season. The Spruce Kings owned a 3-1 record over the Cents. Given that both teams play in small rinks, they will have lots of room on the Coliseum ice to create space and generate scoring chances.
Chilliwack is the only BCHL team to face clubs from outside their conference as they play two teams from the Interior.
Last season, Chilliwack had a 2-0 record over the Centennials with a 7-1 win in Merritt and a 6-4 win in Chilliwack. The Chiefs had an impressive 7-1 record against Prince George with the lone loss coming in overtime in Prince George.
This is an interesting group with the teams being cross-conference, especially when it comes to the potential of any sort of playoffs. Prince George had an okay record at 4-3 in exhibition with the Centennials having a 2-5 record and Chilliwack finishing with a 3-3-1-1 record.
Chilliwack has the upper hand in this group given they have home ice throughout and play in the Coastal Conference. That said, PG and Chilliwack were divisional rivals for the past nine seasons, so the teams are very familiar with each other.
It will be very interesting to see where the Chiefs finish compared to the seven other Coastal Conference teams.
I talked to the head coach of each team about how they feel about the pod and match up against their opponents.
We’re ready😤 #BCHLIsBack
— Chilliwack Chiefs (@Chiefs_Hockey) March 16, 2021
Chiefs head coach Brian Maloney
Eric Clarke: How do the Chiefs shape up against Merritt and Prince George?
Brian Maloney: We expect our two opponents to be fairly strong. This is still the BCHL, so there will be some quality games and hard-fought battles for both sides. There have been a lot of (roster) turnover, not only with our team but throughout the league, so there definitely are a lot of unknowns going into this pod season.
EC: Does hosting the pod give your team an advantage?
BM: Being familiar with your home rink is definitely an advantage. That being said, all three teams are playing on the same ice surface over the course of five weeks. It might take an adjustment for the two visiting teams, but we expect them to adjust fairly quickly.
Sleeping in our own beds would definitely be an advantage, especially for an old coach like myself. (laughs) As far as the business operations, there are a lot of moving parts to hosting a pod, but our staff is doing an exceptional job handling it.
EC: Having to play non-conference teams, does that lead to a lot of scoreboard watching when it comes to potential playoff matchups?
BM: I think there will be a lot of scoreboard watching throughout the league this year mainly because we’re all fans of hockey and just excited to have our players back on the ice and playing.
It’s definitely a different situation this year with teams and conferences overlapping, but once we start we’ll be mainly focused on our pod alone.
— Merritt Centennials (@BCHLCentennials) March 12, 2021
Centennials head coach Derek Sweet-Coulter
Eric Clarke: How do you think your team shapes up against the Chiefs?
Derek Sweet-Coulter: With all the changes that happened this season and no games, it’s very hard to predict how anyone matches up right now. One thing I will say is they are a well-coached group and will be prepared every night and we need to be at our best to be successful.
EC: Do you think there’s a disadvantage to the Centennials having to commute to games while their two opponents don’t have to travel?
DSC: I think overall there are pros and cons to every team’s situation during this unique time, but I don’t see it as a disadvantage for us. At the end of the day, it’s about the kids playing games and furthering their development and careers. We are extremely grateful for the league’s hard work at getting the kids back into games, especially the 20-year-olds
EC: Does having played the Spruce Kings in the exhibition season give you an idea of how to play against them?
DSC: What we know is that Prince George has a well-structured veteran club. It has been a very long time since we last played them so we have to be ready for anything.
— Prince George Spruce Kings (@SpruceKings) March 19, 2021
Spruce Kings head coach Alex Evin
Eric Clarke: How do the Spruce Kings shape up against Chilliwack and Merritt?
Alex Evin: First off, the leadership at the BCHL deserves a lot of praise for their hard work on our Return to Play. I can’t speak for other teams but we are very grateful to begin play.
I haven’t been following any of the rosters very much since there were so many players departing the league so we will be focused on being consistent within our group and getting back into game mode. There should be a lot of excitement and energy from all teams, especially at the beginning.
EC: Does having played Merritt during the exhibition season give you an advantage over your Interior rivals?
AE: The makeup of the rosters has changed since the exhibition games in 2020. That was so long ago, I can barely remember those games. I think we won a couple and lost a couple back in the Fall. Both teams are very hard working, so they should be good games.
EC: Does staying in the pod city give your team an advantage by having to not travel and staying together as a group?
AE: Having to be one of four teams located in a city for six weeks will definitely have its challenges but it will also have its positives. Our players don’t get to go home to their billet families and live in the surroundings they are used to.
On the bright side, we will be very busy playing 20 games in 36 days. Our focus will be on hockey, rest, and recovery. We are excited to come to Chilliwack and play in a great rink. I’m sure the Chiefs and the community will do an admirable job as hosts.