Photo credit: Garrett James Photography
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By Nick Greenizan
Chilliwack Chiefs defenceman Abram Wiebe is used to having to work a little harder to prove he belongs.
At 14, playing for a relatively small minor hockey association in his hometown of Mission, B.C., he was passed over in the Major Junior draft; he was cut from Team BC once; and when he made the jump to the Abbotsford-based Fraser Valley Thunderbirds program, he started in minor midget before making the leap to major midget in his second year.
And though he’s excelled at every stop, even his journey to becoming an NHL prospect took a little bit longer than it does for many. He was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the seventh round of last summer’s NHL Draft, but in his second year of eligibility.
“My draft year, it was my first year at the [BCHL] level, and it was the COVID season where we only played 20 games, so I knew it was going to be tough to get drafted,” Wiebe said. “But going into last season, I knew it was my best shot. I knew it was my year to finally prove people wrong.”
“To see my name go up on that [draft] board was definitely a surreal moment because nothing like that had ever happened to me before.”
Last season with the Chiefs, the six-foot-three left-shot defenceman posted 31 points in 54 games, and so far this season has been even better, scoring at more than a point-per-game pace from the blueline, with 10 goals and 34 assists in 43 games.
“I had a really good year last year, a good offseason, and all the hard work has paid off,” said Wiebe, whose uncle is former NHL defenceman Keith Brown, who played 16 seasons for the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers from 1979 to 1995.
Not only has he cemented himself as one of the BC Hockey League’s top defencemen and been picked in the NHL Draft, he also earned a scholarship at the University of North Dakota, where he’ll play next season, having chosen UND from a list of more than three dozen interested schools, he said.
And though being passed over earlier in his career hurt in the moment, it’s worked out for the best, Wiebe said. Not only has he secured a promising future for himself, he’s been able to play as close to his hometown as he could have hoped, with Chilliwack just a short drive from Mission.
His family – parents and four siblings – make it out to nearly every Chiefs home game, as well as road games against their Lower Mainland rivals in Surrey, Coquitlam and Langley, he said.
“I have a big family,” said Wiebe. “So it’s really nice and it’s been pretty special to be able to play so close to home and have them come out to almost every game.”
Though his career is about to take him to the United States, Wiebe is quick to note how grateful he is to have come from Mission.
“I just grew up playing hockey – road hockey outside with my friends,” he said. “It’s kind of in my family bloodlines, with my uncle playing in Chicago, and when I started skating just before I was five years old, that’s when I really started to fall in love with it.”
“I think playing in Mission, it was a huge part of what has got me here. Playing in a smaller association, you get more individual training – there are fewer teams, the teams are smaller, there’s more coaches, you play more, too.”
Wiebe also credited two coaches, Todd Geddes and Damon Matkovich, for helping him early in his development.
“They’re the ones I grew up with, they taught me how to skate,” he said. “Without them, I don’t know where I’d be, but I definitely know that I owe them a lot for helping me develop my game at such a young age, and teaching me the fundamentals.”
Now, as he stands on the cusp of jumping to the NCAA and, perhaps, the pro ranks, Wiebe knows it’s important to take with him the same mindset that got him to this point, and through any bumps in the road that have presented themselves along the way.
“These kinds of things happen,” said Wiebe. “I just have to keep working, and keep pushing myself every day to get better.”