March 28, 1997 in Sports

Chiefs Find A Welcome Addition Dewaele Delivers As A Versatile Late-Season Acquisition

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Kirk Dewaele had it on good authority that the club he was joining at the trade deadline treated its players with unaccustomed class.

It didn’t take long for the evidence - a new pair of running shoes, compliments of the Spokane Chiefs - to materialize in Dewaele’s dressing cubicle at the Arena.

As the new kid in town, he felt warmed and welcomed by the gift.

After three seasons with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, followed by an injury-plagued year in Calgary and half of this season with the Western Hockey League expansion club in Edmonton, the 20-year-old defenseman was eager to join a winner.

So when the Edmonton Ice dealt him to Spokane on Jan. 24, Dewaele (pronounced Doo-wall) was anxious to find out if what he’d heard about Spokane from his buddy, Bryan McCabe, was fact.

McCabe, now with the New York Islanders, captained the Chiefs in ‘94-95. Prior to that, McCabe and Dewaele played bantam hockey together in Calgary.

Over the years, McCabe had told Dewaele what a great port of call Spokane is.

Dewaele never thought he’d find out first-hand, but the Chiefs had been shopping for a versatile, reliable veteran whom they could bring in without giving up the future.

Dewaele fit the bill.

The Chiefs sent a fourth-round pick in next year’s bantam draft to Edmonton. In return they got Dewaele, plus Edmonton’s fifth-round pick in the ‘98 draft.

“We wanted an older guy - bigger, stronger, more experienced - who could help solidify us in all situations in the back end,” Chiefs GM Tim Speltz said. “Kirk looks after himself. We knew we wouldn’t have to get after him to do his job.”

The improvement in the team hasn’t been dramatic, but Dewaele and center Chad Reich from Edmonton have made the Chiefs stronger - and certainly justified the modest price Speltz paid to bring them here.

Even though he had OK’d the trade, Dewaele knew that relocation is never easy. New teammates, new billets, a new system, in his case less ice time - from about 40 minutes a game in all situations in Edmonton to about half that here. It all takes a while to sink in.

He hadn’t had time to settle when he found that coach Mike Babcock divides the 72-game regular-season into 12-game segments. Win a segment and rewards are forthcoming.

It’s an incentive. It might be sweats. This time it was shoes.

“When I got here, I had nothing to do with the 12-game segment they’d just won, but they gave me the shoes anyway,” Dewaele said. “It may not seem like a big thing but it made me feel a part of the team right away.

“It’s great, the things they do for you here. Ask for something you need - equipment, sticks, or just to talk to somebody - and you’ll get it.”

The perks don’t roll down a one-way street. Dewaele had also heard that the Chiefs are expected to work as hard as anybody in the WHL.

“Babcock keeps driving that into you,” Dewaele said. “Practice is like a game. You’ve got to win the one-on-one battles there. You get used to doing it.

“The biggest focus here is on the defensive zone. We work on threeon-three situations down low. Babs always says that’s where the game is won or lost, down low in your own zone. That’s what they emphasize.”

So what happened down low Wednesday, when the Rockets closed to within a game of Spokane in their best-of-seven series with a 5-2 win?

The Chiefs, in the first two games, were able to hold up the Rockets in the neutral zone in tiny Kelowna Memorial Arena - narrower and shorter than the standard.

“Their rink is so small there’s not much room to skate,” Dewaele said. “It’s pretty much a dump-and-chase game there. We didn’t let them have too many chances off the rush.

“The last game, we didn’t have that sense of urgency. If we come to work (tonight), we’ll be all right.”

The current chapter of the Kirk Dewaele story is a work in progress. The highlight of his career is being drafted by the NHL Islanders. It was a kick, he said, just hearing his name called in the 10th round, when he wasn’t projected to go at all in the ‘94 draft.

He didn’t sign and is again a free agent in his final year of junior hockey. Two collarbone fractures last year limited him to 39 games and retarded his development.

He hopes to convince a pro club to give him a shot next year.

“If nothing comes up, I’ll probably play at the university level,” he said. “When I have to get out of hockey, I’ll know I’ll be lost for a while without it. It’s a great life. The biggest part is the strong friendships. Just hangin’ out with the guys. Everybody becomes family.”

The highlight of his brief stay here?

“I’m not sure I’ve had one yet,” he smiled. “The big one is yet to come, hopefully. If we come to work and play the way we can, we can move on in the playoffs. That’d be a highlight.”

A series win probably would mean more to a veteran than anything in the regular season, free shoes and all.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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