Hockey players come in a variety of shapes and sizes: short, tall, skinny, almostfat. They might be athletic, but many-especially in junior hockey, when players are still growing into their bodies-are not athletes.
Kyle Westeringh, though, is an athlete.
At just 17 years old, the young Chilliwack Chief fills out his fivefoot-11 frame like a man. And he's able to hurtle that frame around the ice at a rate of speed not easily matched by his peers.
It's a good combination for a player just four games into his first junior hockey season-a stage at which a young hockey player's main duty is to get the puck deep in the opposing team's zone and create havoc.
"He's a bit of a specimen, physically, and he's going to get bigger and stronger," said Chiefs assistant coach Doug Ast.
There's no question that Westeringh belongs on the Prospera Centre ice. Which is good, because the Chiliwack minor hockey product is more than just a young energy player to the Chiefs. A franchise with the slogan "Chilliwack's Team" needs at least a couple locals wearing the jersey on the ice, and with Josh Hanson's departure, the emergence of another local player who grew up cheering on the Chiefs helps maintain that connection between the community and the team. (Netminder Josh Halpenny is the only other Chief raised in Chilliwack).
Westeringh is happy to be that Bridge.
"I always wanted to be part of the Chiefs, in my hometown playing in front of friends and family and obviously with the support of the best fans in the league," he said. "It's always been a dream of mine to play in my hometown."
Westeringh tried out for the Chiefs last year, but failed to stick with the team. It was disappointing, he said, especially with a pair of other 1996-born forwards making the cut. Westeringh, though, persevered, and put up solid numbers-20 points in 25 games-playing with the major midget Fraser Valley Thunderbirds. He also managed to see action as an affiliated player in three BCHL games for the Chiefs.
He said being cut gave him "that much more of a drive" to make the team this year. He evidently did more than enough, and the Chiefs announced his addition to their roster prior to the start of training camp this year.
It was the fulfillment of a pair of dreams-both for Westeringh and his mother, who he says was less than enthused about her child potentially playing hockey in another city.
Now, with seven junior hockey games under his belt, Westeringh is still getting caught up to the faster speed of the BCHL.
Westeringh, like many young centremen used to dominating at a lower level, needs to learn to use his teammates and adapt to the different style of play in junior, Ast said. But he's confident the young Chief will get there sooner rather than later.
"I see him at Christmas time being that much better," he said. "I see him being a solid two-way centreman."
Any hockey player can improve, but for Westeringh, the key seems to come down to one thing: having fun.
He's got an easy smile on and off the ice and says he's always played for the love of the game. Being a Chief now, he says, only adds to the impetus to come to the rink.
"It's awesome. I'm really honoured to be part of the Chiefs," he said. "It's definitely a special atmosphere here in Chilliwack."
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