As a coach and letter carrier for much of his adult life, Ken Law knows all about delivery.
While he retired from Canada Post in 2010, the 61-year-old Saskatchewan native is still putting his stamp on winning hockey teams.
The new head coach and assistant general manager of the Kootenay International Junior B Hockey League’s Kelowna Chiefs — with six division championships, five conference-final appearances and a league title in his eight years with the Osoyoos Coyotes — knows what it takes to be successful. And he believes the 2018-19 Chiefs are capable of wearing a KIJHL crown.
“Of course it’s early, but from what I’ve seen so far, we have most of the ingredients and a very good opportunity (to win it all),” said Law after the Chiefs’ final exhibition game on Wednesday (5-0 over the Sicamous Eagles) and on the eve of their first regular-season encounter at the Rutland Area on Friday (7 p.m.) against an old nemesis in the Kamloops Storm.
“If we can keep the guys we have here now and do a little fine-tuning here and there, this team has the ability to do the kinds of things we did in Osoyoos.”
But that might be a big if.
A key ingredient to success for the Chiefs in their ninth season in the league will be 18-year-old Brody Dale, who turns 19 on Oct. 10.
In his third season with the “Straight Out Of Rutland” Chiefs, the Quesnel minor hockey product has split the past two between the KIJHL team and junior A squads in Vernon (B.C. Hockey League) and the OCN Blizzard (Manitoba Junior Hockey League).
In 20 regular-season games with the Chiefs last season, Dale scored 19 goals and finished with 57 points to lead the league in points per game (2.9). With the slick-stick centreman leading the way, the Chiefs slipped into the playoffs where he added eight goals and 23 points in just 13 games, again topping the points-per-game rankings.
In pre-season play this year, Dale has shown no signs of slowing down, putting up an average of three points per game. He had five points in the Chiefs’ 6-3 win against the Summerland Steam on Friday.
All those stats and his impressive performance on the ice continue to draw plenty of attention from junior A teams and phone calls to Law.
But Dale is hesitant to make another move unless he can be assured of sticking with a team at the higher echelon.
“He wants to be sure that if he goes somewhere that it’s for good — not just a hit-and-miss thing again,” noted Law. “It’s not good for Brody or for us to have him bouncing around.”
Law says he tells teams interested in his standout pivot that he and Dale have no problem with him practising with a team for a week or so to see if there’s a fit.
“We just don’t like the idea of them bringing him in for a few games and then sending him back. It starts to become disheartening.”
Law, who spent three years as an assistant coach with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, believes Dale has the ability to be a solid junior A player.
“His vision on the ice and patience with the puck is incredible — something you can’t each. And when a guy can stickhandle in a phone booth with three guys on him, he’s hard to defend against. He draws a lot of attention and because of that, it leaves others guys open and with time to make plays.”
Law went so far as to say he wouldn’t expect Dale to be with the team all season, “but while he’s here, we’ll enjoy his presence.”
With nine other returnees from last year’s team that lost in six games to Osoyoos in the second round the playoffs back in the fold, Law still believes his new team can achieve beyond the 2017-18 edition.
“This team has some great leadership and that became more evident as the pre-season progressed,” he said. “Against Sicamous last night, the guys we’re looking to lead the group got the message and stepped up to get the younger guys going.”
Tyler Love, beginning his fourth full season with the Chiefs, is the captain of the team, and the 20-year-old (Sept. 13) is being looked to lead by example on and off the ice.
“Tyler is well known throughout the league as a tough competitor, and at the team level, people gravitate towards him because of his commitment to the game and his teammates,” said Law. “He leaves his heart on his sleeve, that’s for sure.”
While Love is categorized as a gritty forward and finished with 187 minutes in penalties, he and his teammate will be challenged by Law to tame their enthusiasm.
“We want to be known more for our compete level — everyone completing hard on a daily basis and earning their stripes by earning space,” added Law. “The team played with reckless abandon last year and it cost them a lot penalty-wise. This year we still want to play physical and back up our teammates, but not be stupid about it . . . a little bit more controlled.”
Matt Alcorn, who like Love is a Kelowna minor hockey product, played eight regular-season games with the Chiefs last season and 13 more in the playoffs. He’s one of three alternate captains (along with Dale and Zach Erhardt) and will also be counted on to provide physicality.
“Even at about 6’5” Matt is still one of our better skaters,” points out Law. “So he can make a major impact for us. I’d like to see him be a little more physical, but again, he needs to stay out of the box. There’s a fine line there. We just need him to be walking it.”
Just as Law followed the old adage that the mail must get through, he believes consistency is the key to championships.
“We need a ‘buy in by all’ attitude,” he says. “We all want to play a certain way and maybe some want to reinvent the wheel. If that’s the case, it usually ends up we replace them with those who are committed to the team concept.”
CHIEF CHIPS: As of earlier today, the Chiefs have three goaltenders in camp: Shane Zilka, Braeden Mitchell and Reign Turley . . . Brody Dale is expected to centre Zach Erhardt and Lane Paddison on the top line on Friday against Kamloops . . . Devin Sutton, 19, of Prince George, is expected to rejoin the Chiefs next week and play on the wing with Dale . . . He accumulated 53 points (26 goals and 27 assists) in 39 games last season . . . Carl Poole of Colorado, an assistant to Ken Law in Osoyoos for the past three years, has followed him to Kelowna and will be behind the Chiefs’ bench this season along with trainer and assistant coach Gord Lorenz . . . Jason Tansem, head coach with the Chiefs for the past four years, is still with the team as director of hockey operations while Grant Sheridan remains the general manager . . . Rounding out the 2018-19 Chiefs lineup are Ryan Kanten, Nathan Christensen, Isaac Dutka, Scott Thompson, Noah Danforth, Kayson Gallant, Jordan Woytas, Cameron Welch, Kaden Stewart, Myles Mattila, Jaunre Naude, Tyson Ludba and Marshall Porteous . . . The Chiefs have signed three “special AP players” — forward Blain Worthing and defencemen Kaden Maszaros and Carter Wiebe. They’ll play for the Central Okanagan Zone midget AA team, but will practise and be involved in team gatherings with the Chiefs when available. They’ll also be guaranteed some games in the KIJHL.