📝 by Ben Righetti | AHL On The Beat
Paying attention to the little details. Putting your best foot forward. Being a respectful teammate and a good person to your community.
That is how Chase Wouters describes the values of what it means to be an Abbotsford Canuck.
So it’s fitting that by showing these qualities throughout an impressive rookie season, in which he was awarded the team’s Unsung Hero award, that general manager Ryan Johnson would name Wouters the first captain in team history prior to the start of this season.
“I was proud to be a part of that conversation and a few things that Ryan Johnson said were to stay who I am and don’t change, and that my qualities will take care of myself,” Wouters said. “That’s something that I have kept with and something that has been instilled in me from my family. It’s really great to hear those things, it’s a huge honor.”
Wouters, 22, was born and raised in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. A prairie boy through and through, he played parts of six seasons with the local Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League. He spent his final three seasons of major junior hockey with the captain’s ‘C’ on his chest for the Blades, becoming the team’s first ever three-year captain.
Being one of the younger team members in both Saskatoon and Abbotsford, Wouters noted that there were some similarities between his two different captain roles.
“I was named captain at 18 in Saskatoon and there were older guys in the team too, just like there are here,” he said. “There’s still lots to learn for myself and the team as we’re still getting into the swing of things here. There are lots of older guys that were able to help out and people within the organization that all make up the leadership team.”
The decision to name Wouters captain fell to Johnson, who announced it during a team meeting ahead of Abbotsford’s first game of the 2022-23 season in California. During the announcement, Johnson noted that “leadership knows no experience… it takes focus, work and awareness to lead.”
Alongside Wouters in the leadership group are John Stevens and Noah Juulsen, who are each donning the role of an alternate captain this year. Johnson noted that the pair are “obviously a big part of the team” and are “really good people in the organization.” Juulsen and Stevens were part of the meeting with Johnson and Wouters, who found out the news the night before the rest of the team.
“I told him that everyone in the dressing room is going to support him,” Juulsen said. “He’s been a leader before and he’s a leader every day, leading by example. He has all the traits, and he knows there are a group of leaders behind him on this team. I think as a group he has a lot of support and he’s done a great job so far.”
Wouters mentioned Juulsen by name when asked about when he was first told by Johnson that he would be named the captain.
“I was rooming with Noah Juulsen and he really talked me through it and helped me as well as some of the older guys,” Wouters said. “We went and grabbed some dinner and hung out the rest of the night. We’re good friends so there was a little talk about what was going to happen. I mean, nothing changes throughout our team. There are a lot of guys in that room that have leadership qualities. Everyone has been a leader at some point throughout their career.”
Wouters knows that the leadership group goes deeper than just the players with a letter on their jersey, noting multiple times this season that there is a pool of players who possess key leadership qualities. This idea was shared by Johnson, who mentioned the importance of surrounding Wouters with players who are able to step up and share the load of influential players on and off the ice.
“I believe we have an incredible group of leaders on this team that will assist Chase in maintaining the standard we expect,” Johnson said. “In being named captain, Chase is our leader of leaders, but some days he will need to rely on someone else in the room and that’s a good thing.”
Another member of the team with leadership experience is Alex Kannok Leipert. The defenseman signed his first contract with the team less than a month after Wouters signed his, in August of 2021. At 22, he is the same age as Wouters, and is also another former WHL captain. After spending five seasons with the Vancouver Giants, two as captain, Kannok Leipert and Wouters became instant friends when they put on the Fraser Valley Green of the Abbotsford sweater.
Off the ice, it’s impossible to hide the pair’s camaraderie, always joking around, rousing each other, or doing their pre-game chest bump in the hallway. Wouters also added that Kannok Leipert brings “that aspect of home” to Abbotsford.
“Ever since the start, we clicked pretty quickly and he’s kind of been like a brother to me,” Kannok Leipert said. “He’s just that kind of guy who goes out of his way to make everyone feel comfortable. All of last season he was great, he would be the first guy to offer you his car if you need it. He’s been a great friend and obviously a great leader. Right away last year, you could see he was meant for this. He was born for it.”
So after six games with the ‘C’ on his chest, not much has changed for Wouters, saying that he is “still doing what I did last year” and it’s important that he “shows up every day the same way”. And that is all his general manager can ask for.
“The main message to Chase in handing this responsibility to him was to just be himself,” Johnson said. “Nothing needs to change. There is no age or quantity of experience that acknowledges leadership. Chase helped me learn that.”