The Chilliwack Chiefs have had some great teams during their 30 year history. However, no team is better than the 2001-02 version. The Chiefs produced the best team they have ever had and it showed with the team setting records left, right, and centre. And it happened with the team coming off a very disappointing 2000-01 season where they were the defending champs and bounced in the first round.
A lot of the team from 2000-01 returned to the Chiefs the following year. Some key departures were team captain Kevin Estrada (Michigan State), Brad McFaul (Sacred Heart), Shawn Metheral (Wentworth Institute), and Ryan Cyr (Seattle Thunderbirds). Their replacements came in the part of Adam Powell, Jeff Royston, Matt Kunsman, Ralph Vos, and Steve Vallee.
The Chiefs started the season fast, winning six of their first seven games. By November, Chilliwack had a record of 19-4-2. Back up goalie Vallee started his season 3-0 including a relief effort where the Chiefs came back from a 5-2 deficit against Burnaby to win 6-5 in overtime.
Halfway through the season, things started to look incredible for the Chiefs. They were 16 points ahead of Surrey at the top of the Mainland Division, one point up on Nanaimo for the overall BCHL lead, and had five players all within two points of each other in the top 10 of the league scoring race. The Chiefs hadn’t lost a game to any Interior Conference teams and only lost a total of two games outside of their division to that point.
Getting even better
Then Chilliwack added some beef to its line up. In a trade with Burnaby, the Chiefs acquired Mike Bickley in exchange for Brandon Janes. They also sent Kevin Popovic to Prince George for Brent McIsaac.
The Chiefs had the team they needed to go all the way. With their top two lines on a scoring tear, their young gun line adding what they could, and their sandpaper line of Dan Mahe, Tyson Terry, and newly acquired Bickley protecting their stars.
As the calendar flipped to February, the Chiefs had locked up the Mainland Division title with a 25 point cushion and seven games to go. Victoria, Nanaimo, and Salmon Arm were the only non-Mainland Division teams to beat Chilliwack.
The Chiefs finished off the regular season with a 46-10-4 record, tops in BCHL, and franchise history. Jeff Tambellini won the BCHL scoring title with 117 points, and Micah Sanford led the league in goals with 47, one more than Tambellini.
Fred Page Cup playoffs
Chilliwack met Coquitlam in the first round of the playoffs. In a surprise move, Chiefs coach Harvey Smyl started Vallee over Marc Narduzzi in game one. Vallee stopped 53 shots in a 6-4 win and Tambellini scored four goals to take a 1-0 lead. Game two saw the Express bounce back and win 5-4 at the Chilliwack Coliseum to take home ice away from the high powered Chiefs.
The Chiefs flexed their muscles and won game three 7-2. Tambellini notched four goals for the second time in the series in game five to clinch it and eliminate the Express.
Chilliwack faced Surrey in the second round but it proved to be but a stepping stone for the Chiefs. They dominated the Eagles from start to finish, sweeping them 3-0 with a combined score of 22-10. Sanford posted a hat trick in both games one and two.
Nanaimo was the next test for Chilliwack after the Chiefs and Clippers split the regular season series 1-1. Chilliwack started with a bang by winning game one 10-2. Game two was a closer contest with the Chiefs prevailing 3-2 to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
In Nanaimo, Chilliwack took a 3-0 lead, but Nanaimo wouldn’t quit and took game four 4-3 to send it back to the Fraser Valley for game five. Chilliwack blew a 4-1 lead in game five and the Clippers forced overtime.
In OT, the most unlikely of heroes emerged as Shawn Germain, who didn’t score a single goal all season, fired a harmless point shot past Clippers netminder Sebastian Crete to send the Chiefs back to the BCHL finals.
Vipers-Chiefs part 3
For the third time in four years, the Chiefs faced the Vernon Vipers in the BCHL finals. Both teams were top of their respective divisions at the season’s end. The series started in Vernon, and the Vipers jumped out to a 2-0 series lead heading back to Chilliwack.
Snakes netminder Tyson Motz was the star of the first two games, only allowing one goal off the stick of Sanford. Chilliwack bounced back at home, winning game three 3-1 and game four 4-2. Tensions boiled over as a line brawl broke out near the end of game four.
With game five back in Vernon, the Chiefs won 8-2 to set up game six back home. In front of a crowd of 2,784, which was more than a sellout at the old Coliseum, the Chiefs won their third BCHL championship by a score of 5-2.
It was the third time the Chiefs would play for the Doyle Cup after the previous two efforts resulted in losses to the Calgary Canucks in 1995 and Fort McMurray Oil Barons in 2000.
2002 Doyle Cup
In the Pacific region Doyle Cup championship series, the Chiefs met the Drayton Valley Thunder, who had swept the Alberta Junior Hockey League final over the Grand Prairie Storm.
The first two games of the Doyle Cup started in Alberta at the Omniplex in Drayton Valley. The Chiefs took game one 4-3 in a nail biter. As a funny side note, Chilliwack Progress reporter Dale Cory won the $2,000 50/50 jackpot and received a rousing round of boos from 1,600 Thunder fans to make the night a bit sweeter for the BC side.
Game two saw the Thunder even the series with a 3-0 win and give the Drayton Valley faithful a third game at the Omniplex.
Chiefs alumni Travis Churchman, Wyatt Tunnicliff, and Jeff Yopyk were in attendance in game three, sporting their Chilliwack jerseys in hostile territory with pride. However, the Thunder took a 2-1 series lead with an 8-5 win. The two teams got chippy with fights on the ice and penalty box. It boiled over to the stands where Thunder star player Jade Galbraith’s father went after the Chiefs broadcast team of Barry Douglas and Rich Brew by yelling expletives at them while on the air.
With the Alberta leg of the series finished, the Thunder headed to Chilliwack for the rowdiest crowd in the BCHL. With home support, the Chiefs came out flying and won game four 7-2 and game five 4-2.
Game six gave the Chiefs a chance to exercise some demons of the past. 2,171 fans packed the Chilliwack Coliseum to see a second championship win for the Chiefs and they were not disappointed. With the game going into double overtime, David Van Der Gulik took a pass from Mark Woywitka in the slot and deked out Thunder goalie Glenn Fisher to give the Chiefs their first ever Doyle Cup and a trip to Halifax for the Royal Bank Cup.
2002 Royal Bank Cup
This is the second time in team history the Chiefs made it to the Royal Bank Cup national junior A championship. This time around they played a familiar opponent in the Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats. The other three teams were the host Halifax Oland Exports, the OCN Blizzard representing the West region, and the Ottawa Jr. Senators representing the East region.
During the round robin, the Chiefs finished second behind Halifax, as the Exports were the only team Chilliwack lost to, falling 4-3 in the opening game of the tournament. After the loss, the Chiefs went on to dominate the other four teams. They beat Rayside-Balfour 9-2, OCN 8-5, and Ottawa 5-2 to finish the tournament with 25 goals, eight more than the next best team.
Tambellini took home MVP and top scorer honors, while Jeff Barlow took the best defenseman award.
The Chiefs faced the Blizzard in the semifinals. They went down early 2-0, but Sanford got the team back in it by scoring two goals. Sanford’s linemate Kaleb Betts gave the Chiefs their first lead at 3-2, but OCN came back and tied the game at three with seven seconds left in the second period. The Blizzard sealed the game with 6:12 left in the third to eliminate the Chiefs and advance to the RBC Cup final.
Even though they didn’t win the big prize at the end of the year, the 2001-02 Chiefs were a very close group of players and did a lot of special things during the regular season and playoffs. My hope is for the 20th anniversary in 2021-22, the Chiefs bring this team back to Chilliwack and celebrate the accomplishments and standard they set for the franchise.