Photo credit: Garrett James Photography
By Scott Onyschak
Over the last two seasons, Chilliwack Chiefs forward AJ Lacroix has become one of the premier players in the BCHL.
His path to the league was long and winding, but he has made the most of his opportunities since arriving.
He was born in Livingston, N.J. to French Canadian parents, but his family relocated to British Columbia when he was only a year old. He started playing minor hockey in Whistler, B.C. and eventually moved to West Vancouver when he was 11. After playing academy hockey for West Van and a brief stint with Delta, he joined the Chiefs at the start of the 2021-22 campaign.
In two seasons in the BCHL, he has scored a combined 40 goals and 84 points in 106 regular season matchups. His play earned him a scholarship to Michigan State University and, as a dual citizen, allowed him to represent team USA at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. In addition, he is on the radar for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft this summer, having been ranked multiple times by Central Scouting throughout the year.
According to his head coach Brian Maloney, the main thing that stands out about Lacroix is his maturity.
“He plays like he’s been playing junior hockey for four years,” said Maloney. “Lots of kids will cheat the game offensively and you teach them how to play away from the puck. AJ is the opposite.”
Lacroix’s maturity combined with his size and skill are what have allowed him to succeed in the BCHL and will be crucial to his success in college. Maloney also mentioned that Lacroix is blessed with the body type to be a physical force. Being six feet tall and nearly 200 pounds allows him to control the play and be a factor in all three zones.
Lacroix, who just turned 18 last week, had multiple options when mapping out his hockey future, but there was only one path he wanted to take.
“I fell in love with the college route,” said Lacroix. “Education is really important in my family. And as soon as I met the coaching staff in Chilliwack, I knew it was the place I wanted to be.”
In his two years with the Chiefs, he has seen steady, but noticeable improvement in his game as time goes on. This season saw a four-point jump in his point total, but this postseason is where he has taken his game to the next level.
Through 13 playoff games, Lacroix has eight goals, fourth most in the league, and 17 points, the fifth highest postseason total.
He credits his coaches, as well as his current and former teammates like Ethan Bowen, Abram Wiebe and Kienan Draper for helping develop him into the impressive player and person he is today. He specifically credits Draper for taking him under his wing last year, along with the other young Chiefs players.
Chilliwack is currently in the Coastal Conference Finals, trailing 2-0 in the series to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. The team has gotten this far in large part to Lacroix’s playoff production.
Whatever happens the rest of the postseason, once his BCHL career is over, he will take his talents to Michigan State for the next chapter in his career. Maloney, a former Spartan himself, is confident his player has what it takes to make the transition and succeed at the next level.
“For AJ to succeed at Michigan State, he just has to keep doing what he’s doing,” said Maloney. “That’s consistently playing with speed and physicality.”
“He’s always asking questions. He is a student of the game and wants to learn.”
The reason Lacroix went to Chilliwack is the same reason why he committed to Michigan State. Even though he hasn’t played for the Spartans yet, he has already built strong relationships with the staff.
“They have a coaching staff that is very personal and easy to talk to,” he said. “They’re always there with open arms trying to help.”
Even though he grew up a Montreal Canadiens fan, when asked about the possibility of being selected in the NHL entry draft this summer, he kept his options open.
“Any kid would say there’s 32 teams and you’d be the happiest kid in the world to go to any of them.”
A true testament to the maturity he has at just 18 years old.