Any Spokane Chiefs player could sing the praises of team captain Brenden Kichton.
But Chiefs left wing Alessio Bertaggia knows what it’s like to prepare to play against Kichton.
Before his trade to Spokane in January, Bertaggia played for the Brandon Wheat Kings. Although Brandon and Spokane are members of different Western Hockey League conferences and meet infrequently, Bertaggia knew all about Kichton.
“The scouting report was saying, ‘Shut him down,’” Bertaggia said. “He’s just the kind (of player) who lights up on the ice.”
Kichton is the unquestioned leader of the Chiefs, who will open the first round of the WHL playoffs at home Friday and Saturday against the Tri-City Americans.
The 20-year-old enters his final postseason with Spokane as the team’s all-time leader for a defenseman in games played (333), goals (67), assists (201) and points (268).
“Everything he does, he’s like a perfectionist,” Chiefs left wing Carter Proft said. “Everything he does is to the best of his ability, whether it’s taping his stick, playing video games. He’s a competitor.”
Kichton is the only player on the Chiefs’ roster drafted by an NHL team, selected by the New York Islanders in 2011.
During his five seasons in Spokane, it’s been a given that he’ll be in the lineup for each game. Kichton recalls missing seven games with a broken finger two seasons ago, and one game the year before with a concussion.
Last season was typical for Kichton until the playoffs. After recording 57 assists and 74 points in 71 regular-season games, his postseason ended during Game 1 of the first round against Vancouver, when a puck delivered by a slap shot broke his jaw.
“It was devastating and I was in a lot of pain, too,” Kichton said. “I spent a couple of days in the hospital. But I’m looking forward to having great playoffs this year and rounding out my career with a championship.”
Kichton began his Chiefs career as a 16-year-old during the 2008-09 season. Until the Chiefs selected him in the third round of the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft, he had pondered playing college hockey.
“Once I got drafted by the Chiefs and came here, and noticed the tremendous building and organization, it was hard to resist,” Kichton said. “I would go back to the WHL any day of the week.”
The first year away from his parents, Fred and Lorreen of Spruce Grove, Alberta, was a difficult adjustment. Kichton remembered the kindness shown to him by the team’s older players, which he kept in mind as he became one of the Chiefs’ elder statesmen.
Nurturing the younger players is one of the captain’s main duties.
“They’re kids and I’m still a kid, so we get to have a lot of fun together,” Kichton said. “If it’s time to work, we work, but if it’s time to have fun, we have a lot of fun.”
Kichton said his individual highlight might be his overtime goal to defeat Kootenay last season. It was Military Night at the Arena, so Kichton saluted the crowd after the score.
Kichton said the Islanders’ plans for him are murky.
“We haven’t come to terms with anything on a contract, so we’re kind of in a waiting stage right now, to see what they’re going to do and what my agent wants from them,” Kichton said.
Chiefs third-year coach Don Nachbaur has no doubts that the Islanders will like what they see.
“Not many kids have accomplished what he’s done, whether it’s games played, whether it’s the awards, the goals or the assists,” Nachbaur said. “He’s had a tremendous career and he’s going to be a good pro.”