Darien Craighead (right) was the focus of Nanaimo’s defensive efforts Saturday night with Vimal Sukumaran

Chiefs step up with big guns absent

Though they lost in overtime, the shorthanded Chilliwack Chiefs gave the full-power Nanaimo Clippers all they could handle.

With Dennis Cholowski off turning heads at a World Junior A Challenge tryout camp, the Chilliwack Chiefs needed a D-man to step up and fill the void.

Who better than Zach Giuttari?

The steady, dependable and normally points-deficient blueliner channeled his inner offence and scored his first two goals of the year in weekend games against Coquitlam and Nanaimo.

“I don’t know that I’m the go-to guy,” he laughed. “But I definitely had to step up. Everyone on the team had to step up and I was lucky to get a couple shots through.”

The BCHL rookie  came into the weekend with three assists in 25 outings.

His first goal of the year was a wrister from the point that snuck past Coquitlam keeper Tyger Howat.

He also earned an assist in Friday’s 9-4 win.

The next night he put the only puck behind Nanaimo’s Evan Johnson in a 2-1 overtime loss.

“Obviously you want one now and then and I got chirped at a bit by the boys,” he smiled. “I’m a defenceman, so I don’t worry much about points and I figured it’d happen when it happened.”

When he wasn’t lighting the lamp, the Rhode Island native spent the rest of his time playing typically airtight D. Giuttari and his Chiefs have been one of the most difficult teams to score on over the last month and a half.

Even BCHL goal scoring leader Sheldon Rempel (34 goals in 32 games) and his high-flying Clippers had trouble denting the defence.

“We work on it every day in practice,” Giuttari said. “And it’s not just the D and goalies but the forwards help too. We always have the center down low and the wingers are there for wall support.”

“Everyone’s buying in.”

Giuttari’s most frequently paired with second year man Mark Esposito.

“He’s a great guy who’s really easy to play with,” Giuttari said. “He keeps everything simple with lots of communication so you always know what you have to do.”

But with Cholowski absent, the D pairings were throw into the air.

“I kind of rotated where I was with Austin (Adam) a bit, Connor (McCarthy), Nolan (Zweep) and (Olivier) Arseneau as well,” Giuttari said. “It kept us on our toes because we never knew who we were going out with next.”

“We just heard Kyle (assistant coach Adams) say, ‘OK, you two next.’”

Saturday’s game against Nanaimo was a case of paying the price for success.

So good have the Chiefs been this year that they had five guys selected for the Canada West World Junior A Challenge camp.

Cholowski, goalie Matteo Esposito and forwards Vimal Sukumaran, Kohen Olischefski and Jordan Kawaguchi were all missing.

Against the Island division leading Clips (21-10-0-1) that could have been a recipe for disaster.

Even Giuttari would probably be stretching the truth to say he expected his crew to out-shoot the visitors 40-29.

“We were a little nervous missing some of our highest scorers and I think we knew we had to work harder to overcome that adversity,” Giuttari said. “We did our best and it took extra time for them to win.”

Kawaguchi and Sukumaran may have made the difference when Chilliwack misfired on a lengthy five-on-three power play. They came up empty again on a five-minute third period power play, when Nanaimo’s Charley Borek cross-checked Mark Esposito in the face.

“They are goal-scorers and we definitely could have used them in those situations,” Giuttari noted. “The guys who were missing are almost our entire first unit power play. If we’d capitalized on either of those chances it would have been different.”

But there were no heads hanging Monday morning.

“We knew we could play with them and we’re feeling really good today,” Giuttari noted. “We’re looking forward to a good road trip up to Prince George.”

Giuttari and crew are in PG Friday and Saturday to face a Spruce Kings squad they’ve already beaten twice this season. PG holds down fifth place in the Mainland division standings with a 8-22-0-2 record.

The Chiefs are back home Sunday at 5 p.m. to host the Merritt Centennials (10-20-0-2) at Prospera Centre.

Get more info at bchl.ca or chilliwackchiefs.net.