The Chilliwack Chiefs’ home rink and the Salisbury Crimson Knights’ arena are separated by 4,914 kilometres, going off one particular Google Maps calculation.
It might be worth having direct flights between the two one day, all things considered.
The Chiefs, who are a BCHL touchstone team, have recruited from the northwest Connecticut prep school juggernaut Salisbury in the past with success and have done it again this year it appears.
Matt Holmes, Kevin Wall and Brett Willits were three of the top four scorers last season on a Salisbury team that lost out in the New England prep school championship game. This year, they’re part of the reason the Chiefs are in the hunt for the BCHL regular-season title.
Chilliwack won the RBC Cup national tournament as hosts last spring, and key members included Salisbury products Tommy Lee and Anthony Vincent.
“You’d maybe think that it would be easier, that you would get the others automatically if you got one,” said Chiefs general manager and coach Brian Maloney. “It’s not like that. Kids today are well educated and they have questions.
“As much as they want to play with their buddies, they also need to know what’s best for them and their development.”
Also keep in mind that Maloney took over the helm late last season, so he had limited time to recruit. He had been assistant coach and assistant GM until the Chiefs opted to promote him to the top jobs just days before the RBC Cup, after they fired Jason Tatarnic.
They won the national banner, and they managed to attract enough talent together to contend again.
Going into a Saturday night game against the Surrey Eagles, the Chiefs had a 27-11-1-0 record, which left them one point behind the Prince George Spruce Kings (26-11-2-2) for the best record in the 17-team loop. Chilliwack had two games in hand.
Holmes, a 6-3, 205-pounder from Rye, N.Y., was their leading scorer to start the day, with 48 points, including 16 goals. Wall, a six-foot, 180-pounder from Fairport, N.Y., was third at 44 points, with 23 coming from goals. Willits, a 5-10, 178-pounder from London, Ont., had eight goals and 29 points, which left him sixth in points on the Chiefs.
“We were late to the party,” Maloney said of the recruiting process, which included connecting with Salisbury coach Andrew Will.
“We brought on some good staff and we got out and made a lot of phone calls. It doesn’t take one or two phone calls to recruit one of these players. It’s about getting to know these guys and making sure it’s a right fit.
“Salisbury is a great program. They’re getting calls from all over. They didn’t really know me to start. But Coach Will and I seemed to have a lot of the same philosophies and we seemed to jell right away. I’m sure that helped.”
Wall, 18, grew up a Buffalo Sabres fan. He grew up a fan of Maxim Afinogenov, which isn’t something you typically hear from BCHLers.
He said he didn’t know much about the league a year ago, but guys who grew up around him who played in the league, like former Langley Rivermen forward Max Kaufman (now with the University of Vermont) raved about it.
“My dad knows a college coach. He says that some people think the USHL is better, but some people think the BCHL is better,” said Wall, who is committed to Penn State for next year and is starting to get some attention for next summer’s NHL Entry Draft at Rogers Arena.
Another Salisbury product, forward Jacques Bouquot, had 17 points through 12 games with Chilliwack heading into Saturday’s action. He signed on with Chilliwack in November after starting the season with the rival Wenatchee Wild.
Still another Salisbury product, forward Chris Brown, was traded to the Brockville Braves of the Ontario-based Central Canada Hockey League in September, after four games with Chilliwack.
Cole Poliziani, David Jankowski and Vimal Sukumaran are among the former Chiefs who have had Salisbury on their resume before coming to Chilliwack.
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