The Chilliwack Chiefs are traditionally a team that doesn’t mind playing 16-year-olds.
Head coach/general manager Brian Maloney said last year that it doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 20. If you can play you play.
Peter Reynolds and Hudson Thornton are proving the hockey boss right early this season, playing key roles for a Chiefs team that is among the best in the BCHL.
Reynolds, a Chilliwack product who spent the last three seasons at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota, has collected four goals and 12 points in 15 early season games and was just named to Hockey Canada’s 66-man roster for November’s World U-17 Hockey Challenge.
The five-foot-10 and 165-pound forward is already being used on the first power play unit, which is nearly unheard of for a player his age.
“It’s a huge adjustment coming from minor hockey and playing U-16. That’s tough and I’m still transitioning right now,” Reynolds said. “But I think it’s going really well for the expectations I had.
“The points, you can’t think about that too much, but I’m happy I’ve been able to get a few. I’m pretty fortunate to get that (power play) time as well, and I’m thankful for the opportunity. But I’ve got to keep showing coach that I can keep doing that.”
If there’s been any intimidation for the teenager going up against foes who are four years older than him, it hasn’t shown on the ice.
Indeed, one of the most noticeable aspects of his game in early action has been his willingness to get involved and go where he needs to go to create offence.
“You can’t be intimidated because you can’t perform the way you want to when you’re thinking about bigger guys and stronger people,” he said. “My biggest concern jumping up to this level was actually the speed and going up against guys who are faster than me because they’re four or five years older, but that’s been okay so far.
“For a lot of my life, I’ve had the skill to make plays and make my teammates better and I’ve been able to do that here.”
The adjustment is typically tougher for a defenceman. Thornton has had the odd positional oopsie and has struggled to deal with burly veteran forwards.
But like Reynolds, he is a ton of fun to watch when he’s wheeling the puck up ice and making plays.
He’s got two assists in 12 games so far, but the offensive upside is obvious in the way he moves the puck through the neutral zone, jumps into plays and mans the point in the O zone.
“Obviously it’s a huge jump coming from midget, and it was a little bit of a tough start where it took me five to seven games to adjust to the league,” said Thorton, a Chilliwack product who spent the last three seasons at the Rink Hockey Academy in Oak Bluff, Manitoba. “But after that seven game mark I kind of figured things out a little bit and I’ve been going uphill since then.
“I was confident in my IQ and my skill and my biggest concern coming in was that I wouldn’t be able to play my game right away.”
No one likes taking a seat in the pressbox, but a couple nights off early in the season helped Thornton immensely.
“I was out of the lineup a couple times, and it helped to sit out and watch and see that I probably have more time out there than I think,” he said. “It allowed me to feel more confident when I got back in the lineup, and it was the first game against Alberni Valley (Sept. 28) when I started feeling a lot more confident.”
The off-ice adjustment has been smooth for both players.
Reynolds and Thornton go to school at Sardis secondary during the day, before coming to the Chilliwack Coliseum for early-afternoon practices.
They still have rookie duties to tend to — cleaning up pucks and water bottles after practices, loading the bus for road trips — but otherwise they’ve fit seamlessly into the locker room.
“For sure, that’s always fun, loading and unloading the bus,” Reynolds said, with more than a touch of sarcasm. “But really, the guys are all like big brothers to us. We look up to them and they help us with everything. They see us struggling and they give us a tap on the butt and tell us to keep going because they’ve been through it too.”
Rookie hazing is becoming a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be something for the freshmen.
Worst case scenario, Reynolds and Thornton believe they may be asked to sing a song for the vets at some point, and they are ready.
“That hasn’t happened yet, thankfully, because I don’t have the best voice,” Reynolds laughed. “I’m thinking Beauty and the Beat by Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj might be my top candidate, but whatever I do it’s going to be pretty awful because I am not a singer.
Thornton isn’t either, but he said he’ll feel good belting out a tune from a renowned vocal powerhouse.
“Adelle’s Someone Like You is my go-to,” he said with a grin. “And if someone’s got that, I’ll go with Hey Brother by Avicci.
“If Adelle actually heard it, I think she’d tear up from how bad it is, but I don’t shy away from stuff like that and embarrassing myself a little bit. If it comes to that I will take some pride in it.”
The rookies are back in action this weekend as the Chiefs host back-to-back home games at the Coliseum.
The Penticton Vees are in town for a Saturday night tilt (7 p.m.) and the Surrey Eagles provide the opposition Sunday afternoon (2 p.m.)