If you’re Chilliwack Chiefs bench boss Jason Tatarnic, what do you put more stock in?
Your 37-17-1-3 regular season record and playoff demolitions of Coquitlam and Prince George?
Or your last three games, which firmly established the Chiefs as the third best team in the BCHL?
“Part of our problem in the third round was the long layoff and some of injuries we had, and we weren’t battle ready when it started,” Tatarnic said. “In practices, we had so many guys banged up that we couldn’t do battle drills.”
“That first game in Nanaimo (a 7-3 loss), we struggled and you could tell we were rusty,” he continued. “But the home game against Penticton, I thought we were the better team. We out-played them and deserved a better fate. It just didn’t go our way.”
The Chiefs lost 5-2 in Penticton in the game that ultimately sealed their fate, but for 45 of the 60 minutes Tatarnic again thought they were the better team.
“Give them credit for capitalizing on their chances when we didn’t,” he said “But if I’m going to analyze it, I would have loved to play either one of those teams in a best of seven.”
This time last year, Tatarnic hadn’t even been hired by the Chiefs.
On short notice he completed a rapid rebuild that took Chilliwack from the BCHL cellar to the cusp of the finals.
He’ll need to do similar this year, with only a handful of players set to return.
Right away, his team loses graduating 20 year olds Luke McColgan, Jake Larson, Brandon Tkachuk, Jake Hand and David Jacobson. Craig Puffer, Tipper Higgins, Scott Davidson and captain Eric Roberts are also leaving for the NCAA ranks.
Vincent Desharnais, Mason Boh and Rory Bell may pursue scholastic options.
Brandon Potomak must weigh health concerns against a possible return to either the Chiefs or the Western Hockey League.
“He’s had quite a few injuries, including concussions, and if he was my child I’d be having a discussion about health moving forward,” Tatarnic noted. “He might be a kid who decides to go to school and get on with life. So he’s got that decision to make and we don’t know what that is yet.”
Young gun Ryan Bowen, a bantam draft pick of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, may or may not be major junior bound.
And there’s still at least one rather large shoe to drop in the trade deadline deal that brought Davidson to Chilliwack, with a roster player almost certainly heading to Trail.
As he sits at his desk Wednesday morning, the only players Tatarnic can count on returning to Chilliwack are Jordan Kawaguchi, Dennis Cholowski, Mark Esposito, Bennett Morrison, Olivier Arseneau and Aidan Pelino.
“Vinnie (Desharnais) is waiting on a school decision, but if he’s back, then we’ve potentially got five very good D-men returning,” the coach said. “Up front we have Kawaguchi. Ryan Roseboom and Jesse Lansdell will be here. We’ve got a commitment from Kohen Olischefski and maybe we get Bowen back, depending on the WHL.”
That’s a sparse list, but Tatarnic seems unconcerned. Last offseason saw just five Chiefs return from 2013-14, so he’s used to building from scratch.
“First we have to analyze what’s at our spring camp, and we’ve had some discussions with our recruiting,” Tatarnic said. “So we like where we’re at and I’m not nervous. I’m excited.”
One thing Tatarnic expects is to build his team a little differently. While he’ll still aim to play high-tempo hockey, he’ll also look to add more aggressiveness.
“You’ll see more players, like Lansdell and Roseboom, who have a little more edge to them,” he explained. “People who’d seen my teams in the past would have pointed out that this one didn’t have quite as much in terms of physicality, playing hard and finishing checks.”
The Chiefs spring camp runs April 17-19 at Prospera Centre, open to players born between 1996-99 (2000s by invite only). Register at chilliwackchiefs.net or email firstname.lastname@example.org more info.