Jason Tatarnic’s social experiment is about to begin as the 2015-16 Chilliwack Chiefs gather Monday for the start of training camp.
Tatarnic’s locker room dynamic is different this year, thanks to a recruiting binge in the state of Connecticut. The Chiefs head coach is bringing in eight players from ‘The Constitution State,’ seven of them from one all-star high school squad.
Vimal Sukumaran, Kale Kane, Jeremy Germain, Jake Smith, Ben Sharf, Zach Giuttari and Matteo Esposito were all members of the U-18 Connecticut Wolf Park, 2015 Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier 1 National champs.
Another Connecticut kid, Tommy Dunleavy, is jumping in to replace Eric Benshadle, who committed to the Chiefs and then decided to pursue a USHL opportunity instead.
This group of recruits steps into a locker room that’s stocked with returning players Brandon Potomak, Ryan Roseboom, Darren Rizzolo, Olivier Arseneau, Aiden Pelino, Dennis Cholowski, Mark Esposito, Bennett Morrison, Jesse Lansdell and Jordan Kawaguchi.
There is potential for cliques to develop, for the locker room to be split right down the middle between new and old.
“A lot of people have put that question out whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing recruiting so many kids from one school,” Tatarnic admitted.
He doesn’t foresee problems.
“We might not recruit the most skilled players all the time like other teams do,” the coach noted. “We really try to recruit on character first, and that helps with integration.”
“If you have good kids that ‘get it,’ they generally care about everyone on the team and it’s an easier process for them.”
Still, there are things a crafty coach can do to push the process in the right direction.
Walk into the Chiefs’ sanctuary and you’ll notice Tatarnic has carefully arranged the name placards so new and old alternate all the way around the room.
“They’re going to get in there, look to their left and right and see kids they don’t know,” he said. “So they’re going to get to know two new kids right away.”
Tatarnic believes the training camp structure works in his favour. Starting Monday, his players will have very little time to split off into groups.
“We’re doing two-a-days Monday through Thursday and then we’re into exhibition games, so they’re being thrown into the fire right away together,” he said.
Teams often conduct ‘team building’ exercises off the ice.
Tatarnic’s crew will get together for a hike after their last exhibition game.
“Us and Langley have discussed doing a team-builder together, us against them in paintball,” Tatarnic chuckled. “We’re still toying around with that idea because we’re not entirely sure how it would end.”
The final element working in the coach’s favour is an offseason dressing room renovation.
The key addition is theatre seating for 24 and a 65 inch television.
“It’s going to allow them to get to know each other a little better and I expect them to be in here more than they were last year,” Tatarnic said.
— The Chiefs made a late addition to the training camp roster, adding defenceman Austin Adam.
Standing six-foot-five and tipping the scales at 205 pounds, Adam has 182 games of major junior experience with the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips and Moose Jaw Warriors.
“He passed through waivers in the WHL and reached out to us,” Tatarnic said. “He skates well. He’s very mobile and he played in a very structured system under coach Kevin Constantine in Everett. I’m looking to him for some quiet leadership, showing the way with his experience.”
Adam had seven goals and 24 points in his WHL career.
— The Chiefs have on-ice sessions Tuesday and Wednesday from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.
They’ll skate on the main ice sheet at Prospera Centre.
For all other on-ice times, see the Chiefs Twitter and Facebook feeds.
Also see chilliwackchiefs.net.