Chris Klack’s junior hockey career took him far from home. It all started an hour outside his hometown of Georgetown, Ontario with the Ancaster Avalanche as a rookie. From there he went 1,600 kilometres west to Lincoln, Nebraska to spend half a season with the Lincoln Stars before returning to the Avalanche. As an 18 year old he cut that distance down by nearly two thirds in Muskegon, Michigan just over 600 kilometres from home, before ending over 4,000 kilometres west in Penticton.
“I was supposed to go back to the USHL but got traded to a new team and decided not to report,” Klack said of how he first landed in Penticton. “I knew David Eccles at the time and he said Penticton is a great spot. When you first come there the drive in from Kelowna is beautiful. It’s just a really cool spot to have a junior organization, I kind of fell in love right off the bat.”
Having just come off a 50-win season, the Vees were continuing to cement their reputation as a premier junior hockey franchise, one that held true for Klack.
“It was the best two years of my life. I was fortunate to win my first year, though we fell a bit short at the RBC Cup,” Klack said. “I’m going to cherish these memories forever and I’ll remember these guys for the rest of my life.”
Prior to donning the Vees logo, Klack had never played more than 50 games in any given season. His highest total coming in his first junior campaign when he was a member of the Ancaster Avalanche Junior ‘B’ team in 2013-14. That season Klack played 49 regular season and playoff games. After playing 46 games the following year and 43 in 2015-16, Klack surpassed all of those totals before playoffs had even rolled around his first year in the BCHL.
“It was exhausting,” Klack said of playing 89 games in the 2016-17 season. “At the same time you know what’s at stake and you know what’s on the table in front of you. Everyone knows what’s up for grabs and it comes down to whoever wants it more. It’s a grind but I think once you get going you just get this momentum and you just keep rolling through. You go to bed knowing you gave it all and you wake up the next day to do it all over again.”
After not missing a single one of the 58 regular-season games, Klack appeared in 20 of the Vees 21 playoff games recording 18 points, helping them hoist the Fred Page Cup for the fourth time in 10 years. The Vees had just three days off after winning game seven in Chilliwack before their first game at the Western Canada Cup, a 2-1 overtime win over the Battlefords North Stars. Klack scored the winning goal.
The Western Canada Cup saw the Vees play six games in an eight-day span as they punched their ticket to the Royal Bank Cup in Cobourg, Ontario, Sunday May 7. A week later the Vees were on the ice against the Brooks Bandits at the Cobourg Community Centre, the first of five games in seven days which ultimately saw the Vees season end with a 3-1 loss to the host Cobourg Cougars. All told, Penticton played 32 playoff games between March 17 and May 20, a span of 65 days. Klack was an integral piece of the Vees offensive puzzle scoring 72 points in the 89 games he played in.
A season like that makes its mark on a player, giving them a ton of experience to draw on in the future. Nobody would have been surprised if Klack chose to attend Clarkson University in the fall of 2017, but Klack knows he made the right decision to return.
“I only had two months to prepare for Clarkson after the long season. I needed to put on some weight and get stronger. I absolutely loved my time in Penticton and I wanted to come back for one more year,” Klack said.
The Vees were ecstatic Klack decided to return as he was immediately named an alternate captain for the 2017-18 season. It was something Klack didn’t take lightly, with his main goal of gaining respect and showing the younger players on the roster how to carry themselves as Penticton Vees both on and off the ice.
Anyone who followed the Vees 17-18 campaign knows injuries played a major role over the course of the season, and Klack unfortunately wasn’t immune. After scoring eight points in the first nine games of the season, Klack suffered a punctured lung which sidelined him for six games. He played in two games after recovering, but luck was not on his side as he suffered a major injury in practice shortly after returning and would miss the next 20 games.
“Other than stitches here and there I had never been through half a season gone. I’ve seen other guys get injured but it’s completely different when it happens to you,” Klack said. “You just think you’ll rebound no problem, but it does take a mental toll on you. It’s hard seeing your teammates out there battling and you can’t help them. I tried to stay positive and put in the work everyday to get healthy and luckily I was able to come back and make an impact in the second half of the season.”
Once healthy Klack returned to form with 19 points over the final 22 regular season games, helping the Vees win the Interior Division pennant for the seventh straight year.
The ultimate goal of Klack’s return to the Okanagan was to help the team reach the National Championship in Chilliwack and atone for the previous years disappointing finish. It wasn’t in the cards for the Penticton Vees as their season, and Klack’s junior career, came to a halt with a 4-2 loss against the Trail Smoke Eaters in game seven.
“I’ve had a hard time moving on from junior,” Klack said with a slight laugh. “I wanted to win so badly for the fans, my teammates and the city. I just felt like I owed a lot to the organization because I had such a great two years. It’s emotional when that happens. You put everything you have into it for 10 months, every single day, and when that final buzzer sounds and you’re not on the winning side, it’s hard to deal with it.”
Despite only being gone for a month, Klack already has future plans to return to Penticton to visit, saying the team and the city mean too much to him to never come back. He also knows the future of the organization is in good hands with returning crop of skaters.
“I’m always going to believe in this team whether I’m on it or not,” Klack said. “It’s unfinished business for next year and I think that’s the mentality they have to have. They’ve got a great core group coming back and it will be another really fun team. They’re going to make a lot of noise again. I’m going to keep in touch with the players on the team and the coaching staff, I’ll always root for them and support them.”
After spending the majority of the last two years over 4,000 kilometres from his hometown, Klack will now spend the next four years nearly one-tenth of that distance from home as he graduates from a Vee to a Golden Knight, and attends Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York.