(This article was originally published on Nov. 20, 2020.)
Before coming to BCHLNetwork, I spent two seasons as the Chilliwack Chiefs mascot. I had the honor of portraying the legendary Chief Wannawin and the very first Belle the Cow.
One of the most difficult things to do is follow a legend in Kris Reddmenn as Chief Wannawin. The portrayal of the character is hard to mimic and copy, but also I didn’t want to change the way the mascot was portrayed.
The easiest thing is to be the first of a mascot. Being the first Belle, I was able to start fresh and could do whatever I wanted to make the character my own.
The one thing that can be taken without guilt is drawing inspiration from other mascots and blend their antics to make them your own. Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty is a perfect example of this. He does his own thing, but also you can see he uses ideas from other mascots like Youppi! of the Montreal Canadiens and Phillie Phanatic of the Philadelphia Phillies.
When I was a mascot, my pre-game routine was very similar to any hockey player. I got to the rink about an hour to 90 minutes before game time, went through security, and headed to my locker room next to the referees.
Once I put my bag in the locker room, I went and grabbed my mascot suit from the timekeeper/volunteer room and brought it to my room to get it set up. Once the mascot suit is sorted, I changed into the gear that I wore under the suit.
Once changed, I used to head over to the Chiefs bench and set up the warm-up pucks in a design usually saying “WIN” on the bench wall. After I wasn’t allowed on the bench, I stood in the end zone by the Chiefs dressing room and fist bump the players as they came back from the on-ice warm-up. When the last player came through I headed back to my dressing room and got the mascot suit on.
As Chief Wannawin, after getting dressed, I grabbed my flag and headed to the endzone to wait for five minutes before running on the ice to get the fans fired up.
After the players came onto the ice for the start of the game, I joined them on the blue line with the seventh man, which was usually a Chilliwack minor hockey player. After the national anthems, I headed back to my locker room to take the head off for a second and take my shoe covers off, before going to the concourse for the first period.
As Belle, it was essentially the same routine as Chief Wannawin minus the flag. Instead of going to the blue line with the team, I quickly got to the hallway by the Chiefs locker room, took my head off and shoe covers off, and then headed up to section F for my cowbell start before the opening faceoff.
During the game was the hardest part of Chief Wannawin because the character had a drum. The unfortunate part was because of noise complaints, it could only be used in the tarped off section. I also had to go downstairs and sit with the kids because the head was massive and blocked people’s view of the play if I was in the stands.
As Belle, it was hard just because it had a tail that became the target of being pulled as I walked around the concourse. Luckily, I had a very good handler named Kayla who kept the kids from pulling the tail. One thing all mascots need is a good handler to help with walking and talking since you can’t talk to people in the suit.
I made sure to visit the regular fans who saw me every game as well as those in suites so they weren’t left out. Sometimes in the suites, depending on the party, it could get a bit rowdy. I just had to watch out for those more “friendly” fans. My handler also helped with taking pictures with fans.
Depending on the score and what was happening, I usually headed down under the stands around the 15-minute mark for intermissions and got ready for the festivities.
— Chilliwack Chiefs (@Chiefs_Hockey) February 29, 2020
Once that was done, I headed back to the timekeeper’s room to get some water and maybe something to eat. I sat with the timekeeper’s crew and talked shop and learned what’s happening around the BC Hockey League, the Chiefs, and other things.
At the end of the game, if the Chiefs won, I headed down to the tunnel by the bench. There I waited for the final whistle and the opposing team to leave before I headed out onto the ice.
I gave fist bumps as the Chiefs headed off the ice, then waited for the three stars and fist-bumped them too. Once that was done, I headed back to my locker room to change out of the suit.
I put all the non-clothing items in the bag and if its a back-to-back situation, I left the pants and head to air out for me to do the same thing all over again the next night or afternoon.
I feel sometimes mascots aren’t given a lot of credit. Even though the players are the ones scoring goals and making saves, the mascot has to endure a lot to make the kids smile, have fun, and pose for pictures.
Often they’re doing all this while being beaten up from behind. It’s not easy because you lose your peripheral vision wearing the head of the character. Pro mascots like Gritty, are treated as a part of the team but at the junior level, I feel they are kind of a forgotten aspect in some cases.
I’m sure one day the mascots might be more popular than some of the players. It will take time and effort from both actors and team personnel to make a mascot legendary like Chief Wannawin was.