Jason Tatarnic’s recruiting job has been easier this summer thanks to the Royal Bank Cup, and Corey Andonovski is proof.
The latest prospect to sign with the Chilliwack Chiefs did so, in large part, for the opportunity to play in next spring’s Canadian national junior A championship at Prospera Centre.
“That’s huge because I get to play hockey until the second week of May or whenever the tournament begins, and that’s not something a lot of teams get to do,” the Ontario native said. “It gives me extra time to develop, which is really important.”
Andonovski spent last year playing for St. Andrew’s College, a prep-school program in Aurora, ON.. The second-leading scorer on the Saints with 32 goals and 74 points in 57 games, he was good enough to be mentioned as a potential late-round pick leading up to last week’s National Hockey League entry draft.
Andonovski was a sought-after commodity with lots of options, and considered every possible angle before committing to the Chiefs.
There are dozens of junior A teams between his home (Uxbridge, ON.) and B.C. but somehow he ended up here.
“I had interest from top-end teams in Ontario, but the difference is the depth of the BCHL and how good it is,” he said. “In Ontario, maybe the top third or quarter of the league are solid teams, but it starts to fall off as you go further down the rankings.
“I find the quality of hockey in B.C. is higher end, if you want to call it that, and that attracts a lot more people. You see a lot more BCHL guys committing to school or being drafted into the NHL, so if I wanted to play at the highest level while staying in Canada, it was going to be out in B.C.”
Andonovski comes to Chilliwack with an NCAA deal already in hand.
After one season with the Chiefs the six-foot and 192 pound forward will jump to the Ivy League Princeton Tigers in 2018-19.
If the RBC Cup and the BCHL were selling points one and two, Tatarnic’s ability to coach up players going to the next level was number three.
“He talked a lot about the structure of the program, how often they’re on the ice and how often they work out,” Andonovski said. “It’s structured a lot like St. Andrew’s was where there’s ice time for the guys every day and workouts two or three times a week.
“Being able to access those kinds of things is important because it’s pretty easy to get out of shape and you don’t want that to be the case when you’re playing high-level hockey.”
One of Coach T’s greatest sales pitches is his approach to offensive hockey.
His Chiefs are expected to back check diligently and pay attention to their defensive tasks, but he tells recruits that from the red line in players have the freedom to be creative in search of goals.
Andonovski feels that philosophy meshes well with his game.
“When you see me play live you’ll see a player who plays with speed, uses his shot off the rush, likes to play with possession and has a good skill set to use in tight,” the teenager said. “Whenever I have the puck on my stick I’m able to make plays, whether it’s a small pass under a stick to set a guy up or taking the right shot at the right time.
“Although I’m not one of the bigger guys on the ice, I have a physical aspect to my game too and I’m not afraid to throw my weight around.”
Tatarnic watched Andonovski play live a few times last year and sees him making a quick transition to junior A.
“Corey comes from a good program and we believe he’ll be an offensive player for us,” the bench boss noted. “He’s a guy that we stayed on all year and we are very excited he has decided to play in Chilliwack.”
The first thing any player says when asked what they need to improve on is, ‘get stronger and faster.’
Taking those off the table, Andonovski says his next focus is developing a better 200 foot game.
“I’d like to be a more complete player and hopefully Coach Tatarnic can help me with that,” Andonovski said. “I think I’ve taken some big steps over the past couple years, from being a guy who was just an offensive threat to a guy who’s a threat but also plays a 200 foot game.
“The style I like to play in the offensive zone, I can’t do that if my team doesn’t have the puck, so I have to work on taking care of the defensive side.”