Veteran BCHL netminder saved the day earlier during the COVID crisis for his off-season goalie coach Jeff Battah and his wife while they went to work by taking care of their two young kids

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Mathieu Caron’s preparation for this last season with the Chilliwack Chiefs has been, let’s say, a matter of kids play — with a little ball hockey thrown in.

Caron, a goaltender from Abbotsford who wraps up his five-year tour with the B.C. Hockey League’s Chiefs on Sunday with Chilliwack’s pod-season finale, spent weekdays for a couple of months earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic looking after nine-year-old Brooke and four-year-old Bowen, the children of his off-season goalie coach Jeff Battah.

Battah and wife Jamee both needed to get to their day jobs. They couldn’t find suitable day care at the time. They turned to Caron and, after all the necessary safety precautions were taken care of, they found a routine that worked for all involved.

Caron took the kids to the park. He took them on walks with the family dog. He made a tiny net out of cardboard, found goalie gear for Bowen and taught him a thing or two.

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“He was great with our kids. Our little guy especially flourished with him,” said Battah, whose has been on coaching staffs over the years with the UBC Thunderbirds and Vancouver Giants, among others. “What 20-year-old can do that?

“You don’t trust your kids with just any 20-year-old either. I get that. It’s who he is. He’ll be successful whatever he does. It’s because of the person he is and how he was raised and how he cares about people.”

When he was 10 years old, Caron was asked to join a spring team and the other goalie on that squad happened to be working already with Battah. Caron and Battah connected and have remained close ever since.

Chilliwack Chiefs veteran Mathieu Caron lets four-year-old Bowen Battah wear the goalie pads for a change, as they play some street hockey. Caron helped look after Bowen and his seven-year-old sister Brooke last year during the first wave of COVID-19 while their parents went to work.
Chilliwack Chiefs veteran Mathieu Caron lets four-year-old Bowen Battah wear the goalie pads for a change, as they play some street hockey. Caron helped look after Bowen and his seven-year-old sister Brooke last year during the first wave of COVID-19 while their parents went to work. Photo by Handout

“Jeff’s like family to me. He’s a big part of me growing into the person that I am,” Caron, an alum of the Yale Hockey Academy, said. “Jeff’s done so much for me. That was the least I could do for him.

“I was keeping them busy during the day. Brooke was great. She was the boss of the house. I was good with that. Bowen is all into sports, so we got along just fine, too.”

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Caron, who turned 21 in March, is one of the two players left with the Chiefs who were a part of their 2018 national championship team as tournament hosts. The other is forward Ethan Bowen, 18.

Caron sustained a season-ending knee injury n November 2018, but bounced back last season to be second in the league in minutes played. He committed to Brown University, an Ivy League school in Providence, R.I., in February 2020, and likely would have been there this season if not for the pandemic.

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It’s all been a challenge to navigate, Caron admits. The BCHL opted to start an exhibition season in September. It was shut down in November due to COVID-19 restrictions. Teams remained together in practice mode, feeling all along that they were close to playing again sometime soon. That finally came to be when they started up a 20-game season based in five pods in early April.

“This year has been such a mental battle,” Caron said. “We were being told  ‘just two more weeks, just two more weeks.’ After you are told that for the fourth or fifth time you start to wonder about what you’re doing. We were practising our butts off. We were having systems practices, like we were about to play a game.”

Chilliwack, which is hosting its pod, has a Saturday match-up against the Merritt Centennials and then a Sunday game with the Prince George Spruce Kings, and that will be it for their season and for Caron’s tenure with the Chiefs.

He’s 10-5-0, with a 2.64 goals against average and a .904 save percentage on the campaign, and 66-37-1, with a 2.65 goals against average and a .906 save percentage, for his regular season career with Chilliwack going into the weekend.

“It’s been a crazy ride. I’ve been flashing back to when I was 16 and I was driving to a Chiefs game to be the backup for the first time,” Caron said.  “I’ve spent so much time in Chilliwack being a Chief, from 16 until now. It’s crazy to think about all the time and all the lessons that I’ve learned over those years.”

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