Goaltender Dawson Pelletier peeks around a crease-crashing foe during a B.C. Major Midget Hockey League game with the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds. Having now graduated from the major midget ranks, Pelletier will tend net for the Pacific Junior B Hockey League’s Chilliwack Jets in 2020-21. (Trent Rolfe photo)

Clayton Robinson builds Chilliwack Jets from ground up during pandemic

Getting a new team off the ground is no easy task. Doing it in a global pandemic is doubly difficult

Starting a team from scratch in any sport is no easy task.

Doing so during a global pandemic adds an extra level of complexity that Clayton Robinson would rather not have.

But the building of the brand new junior B Chilliwack Jets goes on because it must.

On the ice, Robinson has announced several new players in recent weeks, keeping the Jets Twitter feed busy.

As he said he would, Robinson has constructed a roster that is heavy on local talent. Of the 18 skaters currently listed at chilliwackjets.com, nine are from Chilliwack, two are from Hope, two are from Mission and one apiece hail from Abbotsford and Fort Langley.

“It hasn’t been as challenging as I thought it’d be,” Robinson said. “The only difference is we haven’t been able to have an (evaluation) camp, but luckily I wasn’t starting completely from scratch.

“I had a head scout, Cam Miller, with the Nanaimo Buccaneers (of the Vancouver Island Junior B Hockey League) who followed me to Chilliwack and we’ve been able to use the information he brought with him. And we’ve definitely tried to get as many local players as we can.”

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Robinson also had the advantage of having coached several of his current players a few years back at the midget level.

His first addition, via trade, was Chilliwack kid Dylan Devers.

“I’ve known Dylan since he was 15 years old,” Robinson said. “He played for me here and played for me in Nanaimo. He’s helped a lot bringing some of these local guys back together.

“A lot of it is word of mouth too with guys I’ve gotten to know in the hockey world, and I think we’ve found some diamonds in the rough.”

Off the ice, it’s been more challenging than it might usually be getting sponsorship dollars in a tough business climate.

The camp that Robinson couldn’t hold because of COVID-19 restrictions would have been a revenue generator, and it’s tough approaching business people who are busy trying to survive.

That’s why Robinson hasn’t gone all-in pursuing sponsorships yet.

“We haven’t really gotten out there too much, but people have been quite generous so far,” he said. “We’re leaving things be a little because in the first year it doesn’t matter if we make the revenue at the beginning of the year or the end of the year.

“I’d almost rather wait until things smooth out a bit before we push.”

The PJHL is a pay-to-play league, and revenue from players is a big part of the bottom line.

On the plus side, the Jets will also have advertising revenue from whatever goes on the walls at the new Sardis Sports Complex rink.

“It’s a bare building with nothing in there, so there’s a lot of work to do,” Robinson said. “Luckily for us, myself and my partners have strong ties to the community and I think we’ll do okay. I think the more we get out there, the more people know about the team and how local we are, the more they’ll support us.”

The team ran its first full practice Monday night, with 15 guys on the ice for a no-contact physically-distanced workout at the Chilliwack Coliseum, which gave Robinson a reminder of why he’s doing what he’s doing.

“It’s tons of fun and I’m loving it,” Robinson said. “It’s a job but it’s not a job, talking hockey with people 24/7.

“All of it’s like living my dream.”


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