The Chilliwack Progress / Black Press Media

Chiefs alumni look: Travis Banga

 

Chilliwack has been home to some fantastic forwards over the years. Many graced the ice of the historic Chilliwack Coliseum and others, the current Chilliwack Coliseum.

The greats include the likes of Joey Potskin, Marc Gagnon, Shawn Horcoff, Jason Krog, Brian Maloney, Jordan Kawaguchi, and Jeff Tambellini just to name a few. One forward graced the ice with speed, skill, leadership, and heart – Travis Banga.

I caught up with the former captain to talk about his time in Chilliwack and career after leaving the Green Heart of the Province.

Eric Clarke: How were you acquired by Chilliwack?

Travis Banga: I was playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League for two years with now (Chiefs) head coach Brian Maloney. He left halfway through our second year to Chilliwack. He constantly told me how great of an organization Chilliwack was and how much the BCHL would benefit my game.

After talks over the phone and one sit-down dinner with my dad, I asked for my trade out of Olds. That sit-down dinner was a tough one, as my dad was not very happy with me moving 10 hours away from home. He used to go to almost every game of mine, but Brian was very convincing and Harvey Smyl got the trade done for me to come to Chilliwack for the 1998-99 season.

EC: How was your transition from the AJHL to the BC Hockey League?

TB: My first experience of getting to Chilliwack, living with Maloney, and the best billets ever in Ross and Val Beebe made the off-ice transition so easy! But I remember training camp being the worst.

I was coming off of knee surgery that summer, so I was so out of shape. But once the season started it took off! We had a great group of young and veteran players, probably one of the most skilled teams I have ever played on. I lined up with Nolan Graham who was coming off rookie of the year honours and Wyatt Tunnicliffe, who was a perfect fit for wingers.

The league was pretty offensive so it fit my game well. It was after that year that we lost in the final to Vernon and I finished fifth in the league in scoring. My dad told Brian that (going to Chilliwack) was the right move for me.

EC: The next season you were named captain. How did you find out you received the ‘C’? Did you get a key chain like other captains?

TB: It was such an honor to be named captain of the Chiefs as there is a long list of former great captains. It was a long time ago but I recall just having the “special key chain” tradition with Maloney. I won’t get into details, but it is passed on to the new captain from the former captain.

I was very excited to be leading the Chiefs into the next season after some unfinished business of losing to Vernon. We had a great core coming back and I knew Harvey was going to bring in the right mix to take the team back to the finals.

EC: Talk about that 1999-00 team and leading it to the promised land, so to speak.

TB: The 1999-00 team had everything. Old, young, skill, and toughness. I was very fortunate to play with two of the best wingers in the league that year. Jeremy Jackson was a pure goal scorer and Nathan Martz had really taken off as a threat every night.

My roommate Greg Keith exploded for 43 goals that year and we had two 15-year-olds in Gabe Gauthier and Ryan Cyr (who) played much older. We had four of the toughest players in the league that gave us the freedom to play fearlessly. Ashlee Langdon, Garrett Stroshien, Bobby Henderson, and Jeff Barlow were all guys that could play the game well but also did what they had to do.

It wasn’t so much me leading them to the promised land as we had all the tools to score, hit and fight! I ended up getting hurt in the first round that year and with the depth our team had, we didn’t miss a beat. Finally healthy enough to play, I came back just in time to hoist the (Fred Page) Cup in Vernon, giving us the much-owed championship that we barely missed the year prior.

EC: You guys played Fort McMurray in the Doyle Cup and the Royal Bank Cup. What was it like for you going back to play in Alberta?

TB: The minute we won the BCHL championship we knew we were headed to the Royal Bank Cup. That was because Fort Mac was hosting so we were going regardless of Doyle Cup (results). Personally, I used the Doyle Cup to find my game after missing 85 percent of playoffs due to injury. I felt the guys were a little tired after the long road to winning the BCHL.

I was excited to head back to Alberta to play as I had a lot of family (who) came to Fort Mac to watch. Fort Mac was stacked as they had no limit on 20-year-olds, but we felt confident heading to the Royal Bank. After making the semis and with us down 2-1 with a couple of minutes left I had the chance to tie the game… it still haunts me when I think about it, I hit the post with an empty net and we lost 2-1 and no chance to compete for the national title.

The only year they played a bronze medal game. we ended up going to overtime or maybe double overtime. crazy to say we won our last game of the year and finished third. It was tough getting that close and coming up a little short.

EC: How was your overall experience in Chilliwack?

TB: My experience was a great one in Chilliwack. The team and the owners treated everyone like a pro. They helped young kids turn into young men! The city gave us great support. To this day while coaching, I try to treat players the same way.

EC: After Chilliwack, you played one season at the University of New Hampshire and then transferred to New England College the following season. How was your transition to the college game?

TB: My transition to the college game didn’t go as well as hoped. We had a very strong team and it took me a little longer to adjust to the Olympic size ice at UNH. Could I have got more of an opportunity? Sure, but I made the decision my sophomore year that just practicing wasn’t helping my progress.

EC: Why did you transfer to NCAA Division III?

TB: There were no hard feelings between myself and UNH and I decided Div III was the best opportunity to play right away. Transferring (from) D1 to D1 you have to sit for a full year and I wanted to get playing. I talked to a lot of teams and found New England College, down the road about one hour, was the best fit for me at the time. I was able to transfer at Christmas and play my first game three days later.

EC: Once at New England College you exploded as a scorer as you did in junior. After college, you turned pro. Was there any adjustment that you needed to make the jump to the pro level?

TB: I was fortunate to play with some good linemates and we had a deep team. I knew going to D3, I had to make people notice me again. It was great to find my confidence again and the next two years were a blast! We won 39 games in two years and I was the school’s first two time first-team all-American.

The year I went pro was the year of the NHL lockout so it was a brutal start. I signed with two other teams before landing and finding a home in Memphis. It didn’t take long for me to find my stride. I found the pro game was better suited for me because the play wasn’t as crazy as college. (It was) way more controlled and structured

EC: You won another championship in the Central Hockey League with the Texas Brahmas. After that season you jumped over to Europe to play one season in the Netherlands. Was it all that different playing over there than here?

TB: Yeah, the championship in Texas was amazing! We were so solid from top to bottom. Anytime you win a championship at any level it is special. I knew the next year was going to be my last, as the body was starting to get run down. The wife and I thought, ‘Why not try Europe?’

It was a bit of a struggle at first because I went without her for a couple of months to get settled and then she came over in early December. We practiced late at night and the rinks were huge. The most different thing was that all teams were top-heavy with five to six imports and then the rest filled out with Dutch players.

There were some amazing local kids but the bottom line was (they were) real young kids they groom for their international hockey. All in all, it was an amazing experience and we are glad we went over for a year. My only regret was that I wish I went to Europe earlier in my career.

EC: After retiring you joined New England College as an assistant coach in 2011-12. Did you receive a call from Harvey Smyl to join his staff back in Chilliwack following their return after five years in Langley?

TB: No, I never received a call from Coach Smyl. I took a job working for New Hampshire Distributors delivering Budweiser because it worked out with (an) opportunity to help out with New England College as an assistant. I have now been there for 10 years and seen some great players go through the system.

We play in what I feel is the best Div 3 league in the country and hope to one day be a full-time coach in the hockey world. I really took to golf over the last eight years and just last year we started a golf team at New England College and I was chosen to be the head coach. The last year was tough with COVID so we didn’t get a chance to get a season in, but we are looking to get rolling this fall!

EC: Now that your friend and former teammate Brian Maloney is the head coach of the Chiefs, has there been any outreach from him to become a part of his coaching staff?

TB: No, he has not. I was so excited for him to get the chance to take over for the Chiefs and win the national championship! The Chiefs got a great guy and a great coach to mentor those kids.

EC: Have you been back to Chilliwack since leaving in 2000?

TB: I was back for an alumni game in 2001, but have not been able to make it back since. (I) would love to get back there one of these years.

Banga played two seasons with the Chiefs from 1998-2000. Over the two years, Banga accumulated 239 points and sits third on the Chiefs all-time points list behind Doug Ast and Jordan Kawaguchi. Banga was a fan favorite and a beloved captain of the Chiefs in 1999-00.

After Chilliwack, Banga played one season with the University of New Hampshire before transferring to New England College. Over three years with the Pilgrims, Banga had 128 points and was named captain of the  in his senior season of 2003-04.

Banga turned pro in 2004-05 with Memphis of the CHL. Banga played three seasons with the RiverKings,  putting up 190 points. Banga played a season and a half with the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees before being traded to the Texas Brahmas where Banga won the CHL championship in 2009.

Banga jumped over to Europe to finish his playing career with Eindhoven in the Netherlands. After retirement, Banga became an assistant coach with New England College and has been there for the last 10 years.