Before there were Chiefs, before there were Colts and Eagles, a group of hockey pioneers paved the way for junior hockey in Chilliwack.
This town’s BCHL lineage can be traced back to the early 1970’s and the Chilliwack Bruins.
A collection of guys from here, there and everywhere, Chilliwack’s original junior A team played six seasons (1970-76) in the BCHL and another two in the Pacific Junior A Hockey League before changing their name to the Colts in 1978.
Their accomplishments have faded into history and it is the Chiefs, not the Bruins, whose name holds synonymous with junior A hockey in Chilliwack.
But if you look hard enough, you can still find two or three members of that Bruins squad who are happy to reminisce.
Like Richard Kramp, who first experienced Chilliwack as a visiting player in 1969.
“I was playing junior B with the Nanaimo Buccanneers one year,” Kramp recalled. “We won the Island division and went up against the Chilliwack Jets.”
The games were played at the old Chilliwack Coliseum, with 3,500 or so fans jammed into the old barn.
“Into a 2,500 seat arena,” Kramp laughed. “They were hanging from the rafters. It was unbelievable.”
In a best of three series, Kramp’s Nanaimo squad took game one then lost the next two, robbed by a hot goaltender whose name he cannot remember.
“The final game was on a Sunday and he wasn’t supposed to play because he was religious and wasn’t allowed to play on Sundays,” Kramp said. “So we thought it was going to be easy. We thought it was ours, but somehow he ended up playing and stoned us again.”
Chilliwack turned junior A that summer and Kramp got an invite to camp from Bob Foster.
Suddenly he was on the home team, with those rabid rafter-hanging fans cheering for him.
“I loved playing in that barn. It always had good ice and the atmosphere was just pure old-time hockey,” Kramp said with a smile. “I talked to lots of guys who played there, and it was intimidating. The boards were set up a bit different, quite high. The spectators were about eight feet above the ice, which probably made it louder.”
Kramp and company struggled in their first year, ending with a record of 12-43-5 (according to www.hockeydb.com).
Throughout that season, the Bruins were battered and soundly beaten by a crew from Victoria.
“They were 59 points ahead of us in the standings, and they beat us all year long by scores of 10-2, 8-1, 12-3 — they just had their way with us,” Kramp said. “In the playoffs, it was first versus fourth, so we had to take them on again. Everybody was going, ‘Well, that’s the end of that.’”
But a funny thing happened on the way to the slaughterhouse. Victoria won the first game, but only by two or three goals.
“It wasn’t a rout or anything, and it gave us confidence because they didn’t spank us like they normally did,” Kramp said. “We started thinking that maybe we did have a chance. We won the next game and the game after that, and we just knew we could beat them.”
Chilliwack won four straight to send Victoria packing.
A broken foot kept Kramp out of the lineup in the second round as the Bruins fell to the Vancouver Centennials. Regardless, they’d already etched their names in hockey history.
“That series against the Cougars, it was always considered the biggest upset in B.C. junior hockey history,” Kramp said with pride. “I think all the adrenaline and everything with the Victoria series, we were due for a let-down against Vancouver.”
Kramp had 39 goals and 89 points in 60 games the following year, captaining the Bruins to a much-improved 25-31-4 record.
“We had a lot of local guys who played on those Bruin teams, and I think Greg Reid is still around,” Kramp said. “The local guys, that’s probably why we had the good following that we did. We had a bunch of guys from Saskatchewan too, and a couple from the States. We had a lot of fun and the community did so much for us.”
Kramp fondly remembers ‘Breakfasts with the Bruins’ every weekend at the Royal Hotel. The local radio station did live broadcasts from the hotel Sunday mornings.
Kramp’s on-ice play earned him a tryout with the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres, who ended up sending him to the Charlotte Checkers of the EHL.
He ended up spending most of the 1972-73 season with the USHL Chicago Warriors. In the years to come, Kramp spent time with the IHL’s Kalamazoo Wings, Milwaukee Admirals and Grand Rapids Owls.
He played for two more USHL teams, the Central Wisconsin Flyers and Grand Rapids Blades.
Kramp played his last professional hockey in 1980-81, scoring 20 goals in 47 games for the EHL’s Hampton Aces.
After his playing days were done, Kramp could have returned to his hometown of Comox. Instead, he chose to settle in Chilliwack.
“It’s because of the experience I had playing hockey here, that’s why I came back when my playing days were done,” he said.
Kramp was sad when they knocked down the old Coliseum, likening it to an old house full of wonderful memories.
Kramp will see some of his old teammates from time to time at old-timers hockey tournaments.
Legendary coach Ernie ‘Punch’ McLean still looks him up when he comes through Chilliwack.
Most of the time, life’s too busy for Kramp to spend thinking about the good old days. But once in a while, it’s nice to take that trip down memory lane.
“It’s a different game now than when we played,” he said. “But I still run into fans who remember us, and it’s nice to sit and talk about it.”