Brenden Kichton seems to smile a lot.
Of course, with the season he produced for the Spokane Chiefs, there’s no reason for the 18-year-old defenseman not to smile.
He is just the fourth blue-liner in franchise history to reach 20 goals, notching 23 to rank third in club history. Combined with 58 assists, his 81 points are second all time for Spokane.
“I wouldn’t say it exceeds my wildest dreams, but it’s definitely a surprise,” Kichton said. “Coming in I was hoping for around 50 points. I have to credit all the guys on the team … (coaches) Don (Nachbaur) and Jon (Klemm) really helped me along the way. It’s just nice that I can help my team win.”
The Chiefs finished second in the Western Conference of the Western Hockey League with 102 points on 48 wins, both third in team history. And now they’re sporting a 2-0 lead in their best-of-7 playoff series against Chilliwack with Game 3 at the Arena tonight.
What makes Kichton’s offensive outburst more impressive – he is just one point behind NHL veteran Bryan McCabe’s 82-point season for the Chiefs more than 15 years ago – is that he missed the first seven games.
The Chiefs went 2-5 before Kichton had healed enough from a hand injury suffered in the Detroit Red Wings’ preseason prospects camp to join the lineup.
“I came in with a clean slate for everybody, but you could see it immediately,” said Nachbaur, in his first season with the Chiefs. “He had confidence with the puck. He saw the ice, made plays. It was just a matter of how big the contribution would be.”
Last season Kichton had four goals and 19 points with the best offensive opportunities for a defenseman going to Jared Spurgeon, who is now with the Minnesota Wild of the NHL.
“Practicing 300 shots a day in my backyard rink during the summer helped my shot along,” Kichton said. “The opportunities the coaches gave to me, and again all the guys made nice passes to me and I was able to bury it.”
Chiefs captain Jared Cowen, Kichton’s partner, was paired with Spurgeon last year.
“They’re similar,” he said. “ ‘Spurg’ did the same thing, came down the wall, skated with the puck. They have different styles a bit. Spurg might see the ice a bit better coming out of the zone, but ‘Kich’ has been passing so unbelievably. And he’s been shooting real well. He’s done a pretty good job of being consistent and he has a lot of poise on the blue line.”
Growing up in Spruce Grove, Alberta, 15 minutes north of Edmonton, Kichton was always a defenseman, but mostly because of his passion for offense.
“When I was younger we used to only have four (defensemen) on our team so I’d get more ice time,” he said. “Coach would play me all game. I liked that a lot. I loved scoring goals. I think that’s why I turned into an offensive defenseman.”
It is why he is the perfect partner for Cowen.
“They’re like Batman and Robin,” Nachbaur said. “One defends very well. That makes it easier to come ahead with the puck and when he’s down low he’s comfortable because he has the big man behind him.”
Cowen certainly likes it.
“I think it makes it easier to do my job on the ice,” he said. “I’m not worried about putting points on the board. I’m more of the defensive part. It makes both of our jobs easier.”
Cowen has also had his best offensive season. Only the third Spokane defenseman with a hat trick, he finished the regular season with 18 goals and 48 points in 57 games and was a plus-44.
“I think guys all play to their personalities and with Kich his mind is offense,” Nachbaur said. “That doesn’t mean he’s unreliable defensively. He’s plus-50. That shows he’s pretty good on the other side.
“I think ‘Cow’ plays to his strength. He’s defense first. He doesn’t get a lot of accolades, but we know on this team. It gives Kich a little more freedom.”
That certainly is a reason to smile.
• Former Chief T.C. Cratsenberg is going to miss the next two games against his old team for a boarding major and game misconduct penalty late in Spokane’s 5-0 win at Chilliwack.
The WHL suspended him Monday afternoon for the third and fourth games of the series.