Last spring’s BCHL playoffs are gone, but bitterness lingers on for the Chilliwack Chiefs and their head coach, Jason Tatarnic.
With the Penticton Vees providing the opposition in Friday night’s BCHL Showcase marquee matchup, Coach T was in a talkative mood.
Sitting at his desk Wednesday morning, Tatarnic discussed Penticton bench boss Fred Harbinson and his decision to not go all-out in a round-robin playoff game last April.
The scenario was this.
Penticton was already through to the BCHL final after beating Chilliwack twice.
As the Vees faced off against Nanaimo, Chilliwack watched the out-of-town scoreboard, knowing they needed a Penticton win to stay alive.
But with Chilliwack’s fate hanging in the balance the Vees limited the minutes of several star players and fell 5-2.
Tatarnic’s crew was done.
“You’re sitting back waiting for another game to take place, with the results of that game affecting the outcome of your season,” Tatarnic said. “When you see some regular players not playing, it does leave a sour test in your mouth.”
“Some could question the integrity of the game.”
Tatarnic was quick to acknowledge the Vees earned the right to rest key players by winning their games. He’s just not sure they should have exercised it.
“I totally understand the other side of it, and intelligently you can’t be upset,” Tatarnic said. “But you’d have to ask him (Fred) the same sort of question. If the shoe was on the other foot, how would he feel?”
“We understood what he did, but I’m sure that still doesn’t sit well with our group and we’re going to have that bitterness because it’s human nature.”
Tatarnic said he never discussed it with Harbinson, but it’s notable that the league spent part of its offseason tweaking the playoff format.
The BCHL isn’t doing away with the wonky three-team round robin which brings together the champions of the Interior, Island and Mainland divisions.
But this spring, a team in Penticton’s position won’t be forced to play a meaningless game after they’ve already secured a spot in the final.
The first team to three wins advances.
The other two teams are left to settle it fair and square, on the ice.
“They (the league) looked at the situation last year and everyone knows it wasn’t perfect,” Tatarnic noted. “It was the best solution at the time. They’ve looked at it and revamped it and what they’ve come up with for this year is a step in the right direction.”
“It’s not an easy job, when you have the geography of our league, to try and keep 17 teams happy.”
With the shadow of last spring looming over Friday night, Tatarnic expects an intense game.
But this early in the season, he’s not putting too much on the outcome.
“Right now we’ve got to worry about our own division,” he replied when asked if Penticton has become Chilliwack’s biggest rival. “Langley’s a good hockey team. Wenatchee’s proven they’re going to be really strong.”
“Penticton’s not the team we want to measure up to this year.”
After going 0-2-1 last weekend against Merritt (4-3 loss), Vernon (8-3 loss) and Salmon Arm (4-4) tie, the coach will measure Showcase success by his team’s work ethic and attention to detail.
“If we’re working hard and being physical in the way we compete for pucks and battle, those are things I want to see,” he said. “What we’ve heard about Penticton is that they’re skilled and fast. So we’ll try to match their speed and skill.”
The hottest Chiefs right now are Vimal Sukumaran and Jordan Kawaguchi.
Sukumaran has burst onto the scene with four goals and six points in his first four games.
Captain Kawaguchi has two goals and five points in four outings.
— Chilliwack plays a second game this weekend against Victoria.
The Grizzlies are off to an 0-3 start this season, but they’ve been competitive in each outing — one goal losses to Alberni Valley and Cowichan and a two goal loss to Nanaimo.
Both Chilliwack games are 7:30 p.m. starts.