After winning the U18 AAA BC Elite Hockey League (BCEHL) championship at the end of March, Whistler hockey player Aiden Bayliffe and his team the Vancouver North East Chiefs travelled to Alberta where they played, and beat, the Calgary Buffaloes in a three-game series to punch their ticket to the Telus Cup.
“This is the first time in our organization’s history that we’ve made it and we all know that it’s a super big opportunity,” said Bayliffe. “So we’re all super excited, knowing how many teams have never been able to achieve that, and the opportunity we have to work hard and really do something great.”
Capping off the season with a national championship berth is the cherry on top of a dream season for Bayliffe and the Chiefs.
After a good start to the season that had them sitting third in the standings, the Chiefs really started to click coming out of the Christmas break, and went on to finish in first place with a record of 26-4-1-5, good enough for 58 points—five more than the Vancouver North West Hawks in second.
After sweeping both games against the North Island Silvertips in the first round of the playoffs, the Chiefs dropped Game 1 against the Greater Vancouver Canadians before rallying to win the next two to advance to the league final against the Hawks.
“It’s hard to say what went wrong, but in that second game it was do or die and we knew we weren’t going to have this team again, so we really pushed back, and we wanted it a lot more compared to that first game,” Bayliffe said. “I think maybe we weren’t taking them very serious because we did so well in the first round, but I think that second game we realized we had to work a lot harder, and we didn’t want our season to end right there. I think once we won that second one, we knew we would win the third. We just knew we had the momentum to win after that.”
Heading into the finals against the Hawks—who they split the season series with—the Chiefs were able to keep the momentum with an overtime win in Game 1 before capping off the series in Game 2 with a regulation victory and a chance to be the Telus Cup’s western representative with one more series win against the Calgary Buffaloes.
“Game 1 [against Calgary] we lost in overtime. It was a tight game and we knew it was going to be tight. So it was a little unfortunate we lost that first one because we were kind of on the back foot, but we knew we could push back and win both,” said Bayliffe.
Game 2 also proved competitive, going to double overtime—but a big win swung momentum back in the Chiefs’ favour for Game 3, which they won in regulation.
“It was another super tight game; [it] was tied for most of the game,” Bayliffe said. “So it was super hard, super physical, super scrappy. It was a hard series but luckily we won.”
This year’s Telus Cup, getting underway in Alberta on May 16, marks the first since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and consists of the top team from each of the Pacific, West, Central, Quebec and Atlantic regions as well as a host team.
Each team will play a five-game round robin with the top four making the single-elimination playoff bracket.
Heading in, Bayliffe knows that this will be the toughest test his team will have faced this year, but believes if they play their game, anything is possible.
“Obviously the goal is to try to win it, but our goals are definitely just to go shift by shift,” he said. “We want to win each shift. If we win each shift, we’ll win the games. Just knowing what we have to do and knowing what the key to our game is, and what we’ve worked on all year to get it done.”