Just 36 games into his junior A career, rookie Kohen Olischefski is enjoying a plum assignment with the Chilliwack Chiefs.
The 17 year old spent most of November on a line with Jordan Kawaguchi and Darien Craighead — the sort of died-and-gone-to-BCHL-heaven scenario any freshman would dream of.
“It started about seven or eight games ago when Vimal (Sukumaran) was out with an injury,” the Abbotsford native says. “It’s been a great opportunity and so far I think I’ve taken advantage of it.”
While Olischefski doesn’t possess the video-game numbers his linemates do, he’s far from a passenger on the line.
He feels he’s got a skill-set to complement them well.
“I play with a fast pace and move the puck well,” he suggests. “I give it to those guys and they know how to score.”
“When they give me the puck I like to use my speed, take the D-men wide and get going to the net.”
“When I do, they’re always there, always open and giving me options.”
The natural tendency for a rookie in this situation might be to defer to more experienced linemates.
Olischefski says he hasn’t changed what he does and has listened to tips from the captain.
“You want to give the puck to those guys, but Gooch tells me to not be afraid to shoot the puck,” he says. “Gooch doesn’t care if I shoot because he wants me to score as much as he does.”
Olischefski struggled in the early going this season, finding his way against bigger and faster foes.
It took him nine games to put the puck in the net, a jarring change for a teenager who scored at will in every previous stop. Since bumping that slump, Olischefski’s lit the lamp five times and collected 18 points in 27 games.
Each shift of each game, he’s feeling more comfortable.
“I guess I’m a little surprised at how fast I adapted to the play style,” he notes when asked what’s been the most unexpected thing about the last two months. “I wasn’t expecting to do as well as I am right now.”
“I’m happy that I am though and I’m hoping to keep it up.”
Olischefski says he worked his butt off in the summer preparing for this year, and it’s paying off.
“I’ve worked hard to keep a positive mind-set, even when things aren’t going my way,” he adds. “Not scoring a goal for my first nine or 10 games was different, because I’m used to being the go-to guy and scoring a bunch.”
“That was a hard thing to get used to, but looking back it was a good thing.”
If he ever starts feeling too comfortable, he knows how head coach Jason Tatarnic handles lines.
He may start the next game with Kawaguchi and Craighead.
But after the opening faceoff there are no guarantees.
“Lines are only set for the start of the game and I don’t mind changing things up during the game,” the coach explains. “As far as expectations for Kohen, nothing changes from what we ask of our players every game. Control the only thing you can in a game and that’s your work ethic.”
Olischefski finds himself on a team that’s rocketed up the BCHL standings, winning 12 of its last 13 games dating back to Oct. 21.
They share the league’s second best win percentage (.722) with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Only the Penticton Vees have been better.
“We’ve got such a tight group of guys who want to battle and win for each other,” Olischefski says.
The Chiefs are getting national notice, listed 15th in the latest Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings.
“It’s cool to be recognized like that and it gives us motivation to keep winning games and stay up there,” he adds.
This weekend finds them hosting the Coquitlam Express Friday (7 p.m.) and the Nanaimo Clippers Saturday (7:30 p.m.). The Chiefs saw the Express (12-12-1-3)less than a week ago, swatting them 6-3 at Prospera Centre.
“We know they work hard and they’ve got skill up front and they’ll come at us,” Olischefski observes. “We’ve got to play like we did last Friday and hopefully we get the same result.”
There’s history with the Clippers (18-10-0-1), who helped knock Chilliwack out of the third round of the playoffs last spring.
Olischefski wasn’t a part of that, but the vets have made it clear it’s a big game.
“We know they’re a team to beat and it’s two top teams and we’ll want to come out hard and beat them,” the rookie says. “I think we match up well. We’re both fast and skilled teams and it’ll come down to who wants it more.”