(This article was originally published on Aug. 23, 2020.)
Since coming into the BC Hockey League in 1990, the Chilliwack Chiefs have played some highly intense games and playoff series against teams located in Langley. This is a look at how the rivalry between the two Fraser Valley cities started and the fact that it is still very much alive in the BCHL.
In the early years of the BCHL, the two communities had a few incarnations that would play against each other. In Chilliwack, there were the Bruins and Colts, and in Langley, the Lords, and Thunder. The Bruins entered the league first in 1970 followed by the Lords in 1973. During the Lords’ first season, they won the Coastal Division with a 38-24-2 record, while the Bruins finished third with a not-so-great 22-39-3 record. The two teams played against each other for three seasons before the Bruins moved to Maple Ridge.
The Lords changed their name to Thunder in 1976. Chilliwack re-entered the league with the Colts in 1978. The two teams only played one season against each other with the Colts edging out the Thunder for the last playoff spot. Then the Thunder, Delta Suns, and Vernon Canadians left the league. Meanwhile, in Chilliwack, the Colts ceased operations halfway through the 1980-81 season.
The Langley Eagles entered the league in 1981. They played there until 1987 when they moved to Chilliwack. This was a precursor to another move almost 20 years later.
After the Eagles moved to Ladner in 1989, Chilliwack came back to the BCHL a year later when the Richmond Sockeyes relocated to the Fraser Valley to become the Chiefs. Langley came back to the league in 1994 alongside the Victoria Salsa and Royal City Outlaws. Langley dug into its past and brought back the Thunder name from 1976.
The Chiefs and Thunder had a very intense rivalry with several division title battles and playoff series. In 1994-95 and 1995-96, the teams finished 1-2 in the Mainland Divison with the Chiefs in first both seasons. Chilliwack finished just four points ahead of Langley in 1994-95 and 13 points clear in 1995-96.
Their most notable playoff meeting came in 1996 as the two teams met in the Coastal Conference semifinal with the winner going to the Fred Page Cup final. Chilliwack was looking to repeat as BCHL champions.
In game one, Langley surprised the Chiefs and beat them 7-6 in Chilliwack to take away home-ice advantage. Side note here: the referee for that contest was current NHL referee Kelly Sutherland. Chilliwack bounced back and won 6-3 in game two.
The teams split the next two games in Langley with the Chiefs winning game three 4-2 and the Thunder winning game four 4-1. Chilliwack took the series lead back at home in game five with a 6-4 victory.
Langley won game six to force a seventh game back in Chilliwack. The Thunder rode the momentum and won game seven to end the Chiefs’ chances of a repeat. Langley played the Vernon Vipers in the 1996 Fred Page Cup final and lost the series in five games against the eventual national champions.
Buzz of the Hornets
In 1998, Langley changed its name again from Thunder to Hornets. After two straight disappointing seasons with the Thunder name, the Hornets’ first season of 1998-99 wasn’t the greatest either. Langley wound up with a third place finish in the Mainland Division, 36 points behind the Chiefs. The Hornets’ record was 20-38-2 while the Chiefs went 38-20-2.
1999-00 was a better season for the Hornets, which made for a much more competitive season series against the Chiefs. Langley finished first in the Mainland Division, nine points ahead of Chilliwack. The Hornets also claimed the season series with a 5-4-1 record over the Chiefs. Both teams breezed through the playoffs and met in the Coastal Conference finals. Chilliwack upset the Hornets in six games and went on to win the Fred Page Cup over Vernon.
Cooling of the rivalry
In 2000-01 and 2001-02, the Hornets-Chiefs rivalry cooled off a bit given that Chilliwack was really good and Langley not so much.
For 2002-03, the Hornets had a much better season, pushing the defending champion Chiefs for the division title throughout the year. In the end, the Chiefs prevailed with a seven-point difference over Langley to finish in first place.
During the 2003 playoffs, Chilliwack went back to the finals against Vernon while Langley fell in the elimination round. Had the Hornets beat Surrey, it would have set up a matchup between Langley and Chiefs but alas it wasn’t meant to be.
Over the next three seasons, the Chiefs stayed at the top of the Mainland Division while the Hornets dropped to the bottom of the division.
In 2006, 20 years after the Langley Eagles relocated to Chilliwack, the Chilliwack Chiefs relocated to Langley to make room for the Western Hockey League. Meanwhile, the Hornets relocated to West Kelowna to become the Warriors, which put the rivalry on pause for the time being.
Chilliwack returned to the BCHL after the sale of the Quesnel Millionaires in 2011. Langley rebranded again at the same time, which brought forth the Rivermen. The rivalry heated up again with some pretty intense games in the first season back in the league together. The two teams renewed a division rivalry in 2012-13 as the Chiefs moved back to the Mainland Division.
Chilliwack and Langley’s rivalry got very heated in recent seasons, including a handful of playoff match-ups. The rivalry gained more fuel when former Chiefs captain and all-time penalty minute leader Bobby Henderson took over as head coach of the Rivermen and coached against his mentor Harvey Smyl.
After Smyl was let go in 2014, the Chiefs and Rivermen are even in their overall season series. Chilliwack won its first playoff series against the Rivermen in six games in 2017 on the way to the Fred Page Cup final.
The two teams played again in the playoffs in 2019. Langley jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first round but Chilliwack came back and won the next four to win the series and eliminate the Rivermen from the playoffs. The Chiefs were swept in the Mainland Division final by Prince George.
The future looks bright for this rivalry between two teams separated by just a 45-minute drive. Both teams have been competitive for the past several years, which makes it more fun to watch when they meet up. Despite a 30 year history, I’m sure there are many more chapters to be written in this rivalry.