The Chilliwack Progress

30 Years of Chiefs Hockey: Part 2 – Enter the Rage

In 1998-99, the Chilliwack Chiefs went in a different direction when it came to their appearance. After starting with a more traditional red, white, and blue Winnipeg Jets/New York Rangers style jersey, the team would go to a more intimidating black, yellow, and white. As well as a brand new style of jersey not seen before in the BCHL, it would become the team’s most famous jersey. It’s known as the era of the “Rage”.

In the first season with the new colors and the addition of top scorer Travis Banga, 16-year-old Kevin Estrada and future NHLer Wade Dubielewicz, the Chiefs finished the year with a 38-20-2 record, second in the Mainland Division behind the two-time back-to-back champion South Surrey Eagles. In the Playoffs, they started against Cowichan, beating the Capitals 3-0 in the Divisional Quarter-Finals. In the Divisional Semi-Finals, the Chiefs faced a tough test with the Victoria Salsa coming out on top 3-2, setting up for a third year in a row against the South Surrey Eagles. Chilliwack went on to beat the Eagles 4-3 on an overtime goal in game 7 by Jeff Yopyk at the South Surrey Arena. They played Vernon in their second appearance in the league finals, but fell to the soon-to-be national champions 4-1, setting up a five year rivalry with the North Okanagan club.

In 1999-00 the Chiefs were motivated to get back to the Fred Page Cup again with the return of top scorers Banga (who would captain the team that year), Estrada, and local star Nathan Martz. The roster was also buoyed by solid stay at home defensemen Brad McFaul and Shawn Landry, along with the addition of 15-year-old California-born centre Gabe Gauthier , Whistler forward Matt Gibbons and 15-year-old goaltender Ryan Cyr. The club also had a group of tough guys to protect the stars in Jeff Barlow, Bobby Henderson, Ashlee Langdone, Garrett Stroshein and Tyson Terry.

The team finished second in the Mainland Division with a 38-20-5 record and was the highest-scoring team with 307 goals. Chilliwack featured three players with 90-plus points, including 51-goal-scorer Jeremy Jackson. In the first round of the playoffs, the Chiefs once again played the Cowichan Valley Capitals and swept them 4-0, which set up a date with the Nanaimo Clippers. After losing Banga to a knee injury, the Chiefs still won the series 4-2. After beating the Clippers, they played the division champion Langley Hornets. Chilliwack won the series 4-2 which meant a rematch with the defending Fred Page Cup, Doyle Cup, and Royal Bank Cup Champion Vernon Vipers. The Chiefs wanted revenge for the year before and they got it, beating the Vipers 4-1 and sending them to the Doyle Cup series against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. Chilliwack lost the Doyle Cup 4-1, but due to the Oil Barons hosting the national championship, the Chiefs got an automatic spot in the Royal Bank Cup.

At the Royal Bank Cup in Fort Mac, the Chiefs faced off against three teams they had never seen before. The Ontario powerhouse Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats, the Battlefords North Stars and the Cornwall Colts. Chilliwack opened the tournament with a barn burner game that went to double-overtime, but fell 8-7 to the Sabrecats. The Chiefs bounced back with a win over Cornwall 3-2 in their second game. Next up was the sixth game in 14 days between the Oil Barons and Chiefs, and Fort McMurray took the win 4-3. The Chiefs beat Battlefords 5-2 and finished the round robin in third place, which put them into the first Semi-final against the Sabrecats. Chilliwack lost 3-2 and its hopes for a Royal Bank Cup were dashed. The Chiefs played in the first and last bronze medal game in Royal Bank Cup history and beat Battlefords 3-2 in double overtime.

2000-01 saw the Chiefs rebuild their core of players after their first appearance at the Royal Bank Cup. They did, however, return Gauthier, Estrada, Cyr, Henderson, Terry, Gibbons, Barlow, and McFaul from the previous season. They added a lot of firepower to their ranks, with Jeff Tambellini, David Van Der Gulik, Micah Sanford, and Kaleb Betts, as well as defensemen Mark Woywitka and Brandon Janes, and solid back up goalie Marc Narduzzi. They finished the regular season with a 34-22-0-4 record to finish second in the Mainland Division and setting themselves up for another title run. In the playoffs, the Chiefs were upset in the first round by the South Surrey Eagles 4-1.

2001-02 wound up as a record-setting year for the Chiefs. After the disappointing end to the previous season, Chilliwack added a couple more players to make a run at another championship. With the additions of Adam Powell, Dan Mahe, Jeff Royston, Ralph Vos and Shawn Germain on defense, and veteran goalie Steve Vallee to back up Narduzzi. The team acquired Matt Bickley from Burnaby mid-season to round out the bottom six forwards. They finished with a 42-10-0-4 record, good enough for for first in the Mainland Division and the BCHL. In the playoffs, Chilliwack knocked out Coquitlam 4-1, Surrey 3-0, and Nanaimo 4-1 and put the Chiefs in the Fred Page Cup finals for the third time in four years against the Vernon Vipers. The Chiefs took the series in six games for their third BCHL championship. Chilliwack played against the Drayton Valley Thunder in the Doyle Cup. The Chiefs won their first Doyle Cup in six games on an overtime winner at the Chilliwack Coliseum by Van Der Gulik and advanced to their second Royal Bank Cup in franchise history.

At the 2002 Royal Bank Cup in Halifax, Chilliwack came in as one of the favorites to win the national championship. The Chiefs opened the tournament against the host Halifax Oland Exports and lost 4-3 in overtime. After the loss, Chilliwack went on a tear through the rest of the round robin. They came up against an old foe in the Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats and pushed them aside 9-2. Then came the OCN Blizzard from the MJHL and Chilliwack won 8-5. They finished the round robin with a 5-2 win over the  Ottawa Jr. Senators. The Chiefs finished the round robin with 25 goals, eight more than the next team, and Tambellini was named Top Scorer and tournament MVP. In the Semi-finals, the Chiefs lost 4-3 to OCN and ended hopes for what would have been the greatest finish in team history.

In 2002-03, the Chiefs faced another rebuild with some key players leaving the team. Returning players included Henderson, Germain, Terry, Royston and Powell. The team added a new goaltending tandem in Curtis Darling and Derek Janzen, along with forwards Tyler Burton, Darin Olver and Kevin Broad, as well as defensemen Sheldon Lee, Zach Tarkir and Blake Cosgrove. The team finished first in the Mainland Division with a 36-17-1-6 record. In the playoffs, the Chiefs played the Coquitlam Express in the first round and won 4-3, they beat the Powell River Kings 3-0 in the quarterfinals, and the Surrey Eagles 4-1 in the semi-finals. It set up the final chapter in the half-decade rivalry with the Vernon Vipers. Chilliwack was swept by the Vipers in the Fred Page Cup final final after a pretty impressive season despite the mass turnover from the year before.

2003-04 was the end of an era for the Chiefs and the City of Chilliwack as they were set to close the legendary Chilliwack Coliseum – the “Old Barn” – and open Prospera Centre in the fall of 2004. The Chiefs finished the year with a 36-20-0-4 record and in the final regular-season game at the Coliseum, Powell, who was team captain, closed the building by kissing center ice and skating off to the dressing room. In the playoffs, the Chiefs beat the Coquitlam Express in seven games in the first round, but officially closed the Coliseum with a four game loss to Nanaimo in the quarterfinals.

The Chiefs started 2004-05 with the opening of the brand new Prospera Centre. They also had brand new jerseys featuring a more traditional look with Boston Bruins-inspired striping. Long time mascot Chief Wannawin flew down from the rafters to center ice, minor hockey players brought over all of the championship banners from the Coliseum to Prospera Centre, and finally, all-time Chiefs penalty minute leader and former captain Bobby Henderson addressed the crowd. The Chiefs finished the season second in the Mainland Division with a 37-21-0-2 record and looked forward a first-round match-up once again with the Coquitlam Express. They Chiefs beat their Mainland rivals for the fourth straight year, winning the series in seven games. Chilliwack ended their first season in Prospera Centre with a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Surrey Eagles in the quarterfinals.

2005-06 was the final season for the Chiefs in Chilliwack after the city was awarded an expansion franchise in the Western Hockey League. The Chiefs finished the year atop of the Mainland Division with a 36-16-3-5 record. In the playoffs, Chilliwack beat the Powell River Kings 4-1 and set up another series with the Express this time in Burnaby. Chilliwack lost in five games to Kyle Turris and the eventual Royal Bank Cup champions. The loss ended 16 years of BCHL hockey in Chilliwack as the Chiefs packed their bags to move west to Langley after the Hornets relocated to West Kelowna.

Stay tuned for the final part of the series – “The Move to Langley and the Return to The ‘Wack”.