Take preseason results with a healthy grain of salt, but early returns on the Chilliwack Chiefs look good.
The completely remodeled junior A squad hit the ice Friday and Saturday for preseason games against the Surrey Eagles, coming away with two impressive wins.
Friday night’s game was a homer at Prospera Centre, with the Chiefs taking a 4-1 decision.
After the Eagles opened the scoring, Chilliwack answered back with goals by Tipper Higgins, Kurt Black, Jake Larson and Brandon Tkachuk.
The Chiefs out-shot the Eagles 35-19, with Aidan Pelino going the distance in net.
Mitchell Datz got the goaltending start in Saturday’s rematch, showing what he can do with a 38 save effort.
His Chiefs won 3-1, with goals from Craig Puffer, Larson and Jordan Kawaguchi. Kawaguchi’s came into an empty net in the final minute.
Puffer, a BCHL rookie from New Canaan, CT, displayed an impressive two-way game in both contests, showing good chemistry with linemate Higgins.
Head coach/general manager Jason Tatarnic is excited to see how his deep and talented forward group comes together.
“A person asked me, ‘What do you think you have,’” he said. “And I replied, ‘Well, I have names. I’ll throw ‘em in a bag, shake it up, open it up and see what we have.’”
Tatarnic subscribes to a balanced attack, envisioning wave after wave as he rolls four lines.
“We look for size, skill and speed throughout the lineup,” the coach noted. “Puffer is very skilled and has some grit to him. Higgins is big and can score. Kawaguchi isn’t the biggest guy, but he’s skilled. (Luke) McColgan is big, plays hard and has some skill. (Liam) Ferguson and Mason Boh are very fast.”
Balanced attack is often coach-speak for ‘we don’t have any go-to offensive threats,’ but Tatarnic suggests that’s not the case.
Scanning the depth chart scribbled on his office white-board, he counts off eight guys who could emerge as offensive aces by season’s end.
“There’s potential for that to happen, but I couldn’t tell you who it’s going to be,” he said. “But at the end of the day I’ll take that balanced attack over one good line, because it’s easy to limit the damage of one good line.”
How the lineup shakes down will be interesting.
Tatarnic looks for pairs who play well together, augmented by a ‘complementary player.’
“In a perfect world I could say Higgins is a big-body scorer, Kawaguchi is very skilled and Puffer is very skilled and a responsible two-way player at center,” Tatarnic explained. “On paper, that’s a great line, but until you get them on the ice you don’t know who’s going to complement who.”
A common theme in talks with Tatarnic is the notion that players will make the decisions. How they play will determine what the coaching staff does, with no preconceived notions.
“We only ask one thing from the players, and it’s the only thing they can control during practices and games,” Tatarnic said. “That’s work ethic. You might not be able to score or make nice passes every game. Some nights, things just don’t go well that way. But you can still control your work ethic. And if we have four lines, you’d better be working hard to get on the ice.”
The Chiefs continue their preseason slate Thursday in Hope when the Coquitlam Express pay a visit.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. at the Hope and District Recreation Centre.
The Chiefs are at Prospera Centre Saturday night for a game against the Powell River Kings, then it’s on to meaningful hockey.
The BCHL’s regular season schedule starts with the BCHL Showcase, held Sept. 19-21 in Chilliwack.