NO ONE COULD BLAME A player for having a few butterflies playing in his first junior hockey game nearly 3,000 miles from home.
That was the situation Kevin Wall found himself in to start the 2018-19 season. However, his play on the ice demonstrated nerves of steel. Wall, who played prep hockey the past two seasons at Salisbury, scored a goal in each of his first three games and in five of his first six with the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs.
“It was nerve-racking. A couple of the Salisbury kids before me had come in thinking they’d put up a good number of points like they did in prep school. Coach (Brian) Maloney told me not to worry about it and to remember it’s a long season and a good league,” Wall explained of his mindset heading into his first game.
“For me to get my first goal in the first game against Prince George was a relief. I was nervous and getting the first one out of the way was huge for my confidence,” Wall continued.
Chilliwack is the seventh largest city in British Columbia, just over an hour away from Vancouver. The Chiefs play in the BCHL, considered the top Junior A league in Canada.
“It’s been a treat for me,” said Wall of his first few months in the BCHL. “I have a great billet family who do a lot for my roommate and me. Two other guys from Salisbury are here, which is huge since I have guys I know.
Chilliwack didn’t have high expectations coming into the season. Perennial powerhouse Penticton Vees and the Victoria Grizzlies garnered much of the preseason headlines. However, with Wall leading the team in scoring, the Chiefs have exceeded expectations.
“The coaches are great guys and give it to you straightforward. They tell you what they want from you night in and night out. The team is doing really well. We had a knock against us that we’d be a young team, but we’re showing we have a lot of good character in the room and we don’t quit,” Wall explained.
Despite his hot start, there was still quite an adjustment going from prep hockey to junior hockey. The speed, pace, size and physicality of the league were all steps up from the competition Wall faced while at Salisbury.
“Things happen a lot faster. You can’t really stop moving your feet and think about things. You have to know the game and make the quick, smart plays. Every team has skilled forwards who are going to be on you right away. Thinking the game faster is an adjustment,” Wall stated.
“It’s more physical than prep school. Some teams have guys who are just enforcers. It’s a huge step getting to the next level. Things are taken so seriously. I’m just focusing on hockey right now and doing everything I can to get to the collegiate level.”
Wall, a native of Fairport, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester, committed to Merrimack College last spring but isn’t slated to begin his college career until the 2020-21 season. At 6-feet, he has decent size and uses his size and strength and his hard shot to his advantage.
“I’m a power forward. I’m not the fastest guy, but I like to use my size and skill to separate myself from defensemen. I have a good shot and try to get it off as much as I can,” said Wall when asked to describe his style of play.
Wall, who played for the Buffalo Juniors Sabres prior to heading to Salisbury, is used to the pressure cooker of playing at top programs. He’s also been around the rink his whole life, which has allowed his hockey sense to take off.
“I have good hockey IQ and read plays well. I try to find my teammates. I have an attitude where I like feeling the pressure,” Wall said.
A right wing by trade, Wall tries to emulate Dallas Stars right wing Tyler Seguin to pick up pointers and learn how to be a better player in his own right.
“I like Tyler Seguin. He’s not the flashiest player, but he works hard and has a hard shot. He makes a lot of really good plays. He’s always in the right areas and he has skill. I try to go by the way he plays,” Wall explained.
With high school being behind him and hockey on the forefront of his mind, Wall will focus on refining his game and becoming even better for when he arrives on Merrimack’s North Andover, Mass., campus.
“Being more explosive and getting a quicker first step,” said Wall of the areas of his game he’s looking to improve upon this season. “Once I get going, I can be pretty fast, but it’s important to get that first step going so you can explode down the ice. I want to get stronger and bigger and get ready for the next level.”
Merrimack’s small college feel was an important ingredient when choosing a program.
“It’s a smaller school, which I liked coming from Salisbury with 300 kids. You get used to that small environment and community feel. The teachers know you. They take the time to work with you and offer a lot of help,” Wall said.
“I like the Merrimack mission of how they’re trying to rebuild the team and get them back to a top program. Hockey East is a great league. I wanted to go somewhere (near) Boston because I love Boston. It just felt right,” said Wall.
Before Merrimack, Wall and his Chilliwack teammates have one thing on their minds: Winning the Fred Page Cup, given to the champion of the BCHL.