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The Chilliwack Chiefs experience – part 2

A few years back I wrote an article about how the Chilliwack Coliseum and the Chilliwack Chiefs lost the atmosphere and intimidation that the team grew back in the old Coliseum during the 1990s and early 2000s.

That article (which you can read here) highlights my opinion on the lack of creativity and atmosphere in the arena and how it’s contributing factor as to why people aren’t attending games. I also touched on how to make the arena a more intimidating experience for the visiting team and an enjoyable rink to attend games for the fans.

Since I wrote that article, I’ve been back to watch three games at the Coliseum and every time I go, there are more things to be improved, and some that haven’t changed since I wrote it.

Before I look at what still needs to be worked on, I want to praise the Chiefs for the things they do very well.

The good

Before I get into the flaws, I want to start this version of the Chiefs’ experience with some good things they do. The Chiefs are one of the best community-minded teams in the BC Hockey League. It’s not often that a day goes by and the Chiefs players aren’t out doing something in the City of Chilliwack and Eastern Fraser Valley. Some of the great work they do includes, reading at a local school, helping with the Special Olympics floor hockey team, volunteering with Chilliwack Minor Hockey Association teams, and delivering food with the Meals on Wheels group.

The team and its players did exceptional work in the community during the 2021 flooding and landslides that cut Chilliwack off from the Lower Mainland and BC Interior. They helped out at the Salvation Army, cleaned stalls at Heritage Park, and just overall, stepped up anywhere they could to aid those in need in the city.

The Chiefs have always had a strong fan base, which is why they have been right next to Penticton in average attendance every year since returning to Chilliwack 11 years ago. It’s also how they were able to break the BCHL attendance record with 5,008 fans for their game against Cranbrook on Jan. 7.

The Chiefs also do a fantastic job promoting the team on social media, in newspapers, on the radio, on billboards, and around town. From what I can tell, the only other teams that might rival the Chiefs’ promotional skills are Penticton and Wenatchee.

However, with the good, there are always places to improve, so let’s dive into that.

The cosmetic effect

The Chilliwack Coliseum is almost 20 years old and not much has changed since it first opened in 2004. The seats have been the same since it opened and several of them still have a different colored seat to the back, or the armrest hardware is a different colour.

If you look closely at where the seats spell out the word “CHIEFS”, you can still see the outline of where the seats were changed to say “BRUINS” when the Western Hockey League’s Chilliwack Bruins were there for five years.

The back netting hasn’t changed much since it opened either. The only change I notice is that one section of the netting that has a rip in it had the tape changed from white to black to try and mask the rip. With a keen eye though, you can still see where the rip is.

The City of Chilliwack will take over ownership of the building in the next year or two, so maybe it will do a major overhaul to make it more enjoyable. It might not be a bad idea to replace all the red and yellow seats with a more neutral color so it’s easier to make any repairs.

It’s also time for the building to be renovated so the sight lines aren’t so harsh. If you sit high in a corner, it is difficult to see the opposite corner on the same side. If you sit at ice level in a corner, you can’t see through the 18 panes of glass or the player’s bench. Yes, there is a video screen showing the game, but with the play going so fast, you’ll probably miss what happens if you don’t look at the screen quickly enough.

Upper deck bar and suites

After I wrote the previous article, I mentioned the upper deck bar issues, and they haven’t been addressed to this point. The bar itself was built as a part of the lower bowl back in 2004. After the expansion of the lower bowl for the WHL’s Bruins, the bar moved above the seats.

The problem with it though is that the seating in the lower part of the bar is at an angle that makes it very difficult to see the visiting net. You have to either sit on the edge of the seat or stand up to see the end of the ice sheet. The bar either needs to come back down to the lower bowl or needs to be modified so you can sit in the seats and still be able to see the entire ice surface.

The bar used to be considered a restaurant and you could order food from the same kitchen as the suites. Now with a new Molson Coors sponsorship, it’s more of just a bar. After I met with Chiefs management, they mentioned that the bar would end up being more of a party zone. It seems as if it hasn’t become that other than securing the Molson Coors sponsor and offering $5 Molson products for five mins after each goal.

The suite boxes are a whole different animal. The suites have the same issue as the bar, where if you’re sitting in the seats you can only see half the ice surface. Another big issue with the suites is the food. I was lucky enough to attend a game in a suite earlier this season and I swear the price for a large pizza was $48.

Truthfully, most of the time, people hop down to the concourse and just buy food from the concession stand and come back up to their suite.

The mascot

This is a personal subject to me as I spent two years as Chiefs mascot in 2016-17 as Chief Wannawin and 2017-18 as the very first Belle the Cow. I wrote about my experiences as the mascot in this article. Since I retired as the mascot, it has gone back into obscurity. I did my part to be around the fans, engage with them and the players, and be part of the team. Now, it seems the mascot is an afterthought again.

It’s the mascot’s role to get the crowd pumped up and get behind their team. Often, mascots get fans chanting, pump up players before the game, and after a win. When I was the mascot, I also felt the role was an afterthought and I pushed hard to make sure it wasn’t.

In the games I’ve attended since retiring as the mascot of the Chiefs, Belle was up on the concourse before the game and then missing for long periods. From experience, I know the suit is warm. However, in one of the games I attended, I couldn’t see the mascot at all.

I know it takes a specific type of person to be a mascot. I mean, during the intermission, even stuffing the t-shirt cannon or slingshot was done by one of the Zamboni drivers while the mascot stood by and cheered on. If the mascot is treated as an afterthought, what’s the point of having it other than to attract kids to the games?

In-game presentation

There are a lot of things the Chiefs do right, but there is also a lot that could be improved. In my last article, I mentioned that there’s way too much going on between the whistles. In fairness, the Chiefs have lessened the number of things announced on the PA but there is still so much going on.

I understand sponsors pay for each spot and sponsor-specific things, but there’s a giant video screen over centre ice that shows the sponsor details. Just because some NHL teams announce power plays and penalty kills, doesn’t mean the Chiefs have to copy it. The fans in Chilliwack are a knowledgeable group, there’s no need to announce the “sponsor name” power play or the “sponsor name” penalty kill, especially if it’s being shown on the video screen before the penalty is even announced.

It also might be time to do away with introducing the team for the second and third periods. You introduced them at the start of the game, I don’t think people need to be reminded that the Chiefs are coming back on the ice, especially since the visiting team is usually already out there, along with the officials. When the Chiefs are announced back, the sound system still causes massive echoes from bouncing off the metal ceiling and concrete floor. Altogether, it is a bit over the top.

Now I’m not sure who decides what the goal song is but my goodness, this season’s goal song is something out of a European nightclub. It sounds like a mash-up of an old techno song with something from TikTok. To be completely honest, it’s the most annoying thing I’ve heard as a goal song, and we’ve heard Chelsea Dagger a million times when the Canucks play in Chicago.

The final thing is there’s no need to announce the out-of-town scoreboard. Pretty much everyone has a smartphone and can look up the scores on the BCHL’s website.

In conclusion

I know some will give me flack for this article and probably cause another meeting with the Chiefs but things need to improve. The Chiefs have a great culture, amazing billets, and a community mindset, and alumni rave about their time spent in Chilliwack. That’s why it’s time for the fan experience to change so it’s more fun to attend games and things get back to the intimidating status the old Chilliwack Coliseum brought.

It’s time to renovate the nearly 20-year-old building outside the Chiefs dressing room and do a paint job under the stands. Even the Langley Rivermen had George Preston Recreation Centre renovated when they returned there after the Giants moved to the Langley Events Centre in 2016. The Express relocated back to Coquitlam following extensive renovations to Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex in 2010. It’s time for the Chiefs ownership and the City of Chilliwack to step up and help renovate the Chilliwack Coliseum.