They’ve been nearly unbeatable at home this season, but when the Chilliwack Chiefs leave the friendly confines of Prospera Centre they have been quite mediocre.
The Chiefs are 7-1-0-0 at home and 5-6-0-1 away, coming off a disastrous three-games-in-three-days Vancouver Island swing.
The Chiefs started off in Powell River Friday, absorbing a 6-1 loss at the hands of the Kings.
“Next time we go there, knowing what I know now, we’ll probably travel a bit differently because that is a long day,” said Chiefs head coach Jason Tatarnic, a newcomer to west coast geography. “As it is, it was a 6-1 game but we had our chances to make it a lot closer. We just couldn’t capitalize, while they made us pay for the mistakes that we made.”
Powell River scored three in the first and three in the third, sandwiching a second period snipe by Chilliwack’s Kurt Black.
The Chiefs were out-shot 37-31.
“We lost (defenceman Evan) McEachern one shift into the second period and we were down to four regulars and a 15 year old affiliate player (Jarret Tyszka), and I thought we battled hard,” Tatarnic noted.
Goalie Aidan Pelino stopped 25 of 31 shots and was lifted after the sixth Powell River goal. Backup Tyler Shugrue finished up.
Pelino was back between the pipes Saturday, facing a tough Alberni Valley Bulldog squad at Port Alberni’s Weyerhaeuser Arena. The Ontario native was solid in this one, stopping 33 of 36 Bulldog shots.
But Craig Puffer and Jordan Kawaguchi were the only Chiefs lighting the lamp in a 4-2 loss.
“We played a great first two periods, but two mistakes led to two semi-breakaways and both ended up in our net,” Tatarnic said. “We had our chances to tie the game, but couldn’t find the back of the net. I give our guys credit for that one.”
The Chiefs had two affiliates dressed for that game (Tyszka and Connor Birmingham), but assistant coach Kyle Adams was able to shelter them effectively. That wasn’t possible the next day against a talented Nanaimo Clippers squad.
Chilliwack was bombed 10-2 in the 2 p.m. start, with the blueliner shortage reaching crisis status. Brandon Tkachuk left the game early and Vinnie Desharnais’s skate malfunction had the Chiefs playing much of the match with Eric Roberts as the only veteran defender.
“We controlled play for the first 17 minutes, and Nanaimo had a lot of trouble with our speed,” Tatarnic said. “But bang, one mistake and it was in our net off a skate. With 10 seconds left we make another mistake and it’s 2-0. When you play 17 minutes of spectacular hockey and that happens, it was hard to swallow.”
Chilliwack got goals from Tipper Higgins and Rory Bell, but the Clippers went four-for-six on the power play, blitzing the Chiefs with a five-goal second period outburst.
Pelino was pulled after the fifth Nanaimo goal. Shugrue, a 16 year old Burnaby native filling in for the recently traded Mitchell Datz, fared no better, yielding five goals on 16 shots.
“When you lose 2-1, 5-1, 7-1 or 10-2, a loss is a loss,” said Tatarnic, who believes this is the first time one of his teams allowed double-digit goals. “Some people might be devastated, but we’re not. What happened Sunday doesn’t determine what happens next.”
Chilliwack comes out of the weekend 12-7-0-1, falling back into the pack after a torrid start.
They’re now five points behind the Prince George Spruce Kings (14-8-0-2) in the Mainland division standings, and only one point up on the third place Langley Rivermen (10-7-1-3).
They’ve lost six of their last eight, heading into a mid-week matchup with the Sprucies. The teams face off tonight (Wednesday) at Prospera Centre with a 7 p.m. start.
Injuries will continue to be a concern against Prince George.
McEachern should be back, but Tatarnic doesn’t expect Tkachuk, Mark Esposito or Olivier Arseneau to dress.
“This is the toughest and busiest part of the schedule, and not having bodies doesn’t help,” the coach said. “That’s not an excuse, but it does make things more difficult. It’s not the main reason we lost, but it contributes.”
The Chiefs have two more home games this weekend, hosting Coquitlam Saturday and Salmon Arm Sunday.
See chilliwackchiefs.net or bchl.ca.