Chloe Primerano has a determined hype man in Richard Matvichuk.
The Vancouver Giants made Primerano, 15, the first female skater ever drafted by a CHL team when they selected the Burnaby Winter Club defender in the 13th round of the WHL Draft on Thursday.
Giants general manager Barclay Parneta says that Vancouver scouts would regularly leave BWC Under-15 Prep team games talking up Primerano’s competitiveness and hockey sense. He also says that Matvichuk, the BWC director of hockey who helped coach that Under-15 team, would routinely bring up unsolicited how Primerano deserved to be drafted when they spoke about players.
Matvichuk, 49, was an NHL defenceman for 14 seasons, getting in 796 regular-season games, with the majority of those coming with the Dallas Stars. He was a head coach in the WHL with the Prince George Cougars (2016-19) before coming to work at BWC.
He was an assistant with the Under-15 Prep team this year, handling the defence for head coach Dan Cioffi.
“She played in our top four all season long and there wasn’t one situation where I couldn’t put her out on the ice,” Matvichuk said of Primerano, who’s from North Vancouver. “Her compete level is off the charts. I’ve explained to Barclay that she’s not coming to your training camp next season just happy to be there because you picked her and she’s a girl. She’ll be coming there to make the team.
“This girl is legit. She’s going to be an Olympian one day. I’m certain of that.”
Primerano can’t be a full-time Giant next season. No one from this year’s WHL Draft class can be a regular with their team until their 16-year-old seasons in 2023-24. It’s league rules. You still understand Matvichuk’s point, though.
Primerano, who’s a 5-foot-7, 138 pound, left handed shooting blueliner, had two goals and 17 assists in 30 games with BWC this past season. She had nine power-play assists. BWC finished third in the 17-team Under-15 Prep league at 23-5-0-2.
She says that she’s tried to pattern her game after the likes of Edmonton Oilers veteran Duncan Keith, a puck-moving rearguard type.
“This isn’t a gimmick,” Parneta explained. “We think we drafted a good hockey player. There were nights that we went to watch her team play and she was the best defender on the ice on either team.”
She heard “some rumblings” about the possibility of her being drafted. She says that she found out initially when she saw her name pop up on the WHL website.
“It was really crazy. I still didn’t think that it was real,” Primerano said.
The Giants picking Primerano quickly became national news and she did a stint on Hockey Night In Canada on Thursday.
“She’s handled it all so well. It’s easy to forget she’s just 15,” Parneta said.
Players who play in the WHL aren’t eligible for the NCAA because the NCAA looks at those leagues as professional since players receive stipends to help with expenses. That doesn’t look like that would apply to a Primerano, though, if it gets to that point.
Rule 12.1.3 in the 2021-22 NCAA Division I manual states: “A professional athlete in one sport may represent a member institution in a different sport and may receive institutional financial assistance in the second sport.”
In line with that, goalie Eve Gascon, 19, played two games with the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL this season and is slated to play this coming NCAA season with the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.
In 2021, goalie Taya Currie became the first female drafted into the OHL when she was selected by the Sarnia Sting in the 14th round.
The WHL had Shannon Szabados play for the Tri-City Americans in 2002.
The Medicine Hat Tigers had the first pick Thursday and took forward Gavin McKenna, a Whitehorse native who was with the Rink Academy Kelowna Under-18 team. The first B.C.-born player to go went to the Giants at No. 7, when they took Prince George forward Cameron Schmidt, who was with Rink Academy.
Primerano was one of three BWC Under-15 Prep team players chosen by the Giants, along with Simon Ward, a centre from Burnaby who went in the ninth round, and Matson Waring, a defenceman from North Van who was chosen in the 10th round.
Stories about players picked late in a WHL Draft or passed over altogether and catching on with a team — Milan Lucic and Cody Franson fall under that category in Giants history — aren’t as common place as they once were, but they do still happen. Vancouver winger Kyle Bochek, who excelled during the Giants’ recent playoff run, was a 12th-rounder in 2018, for example.