Mark Esposito may be part of the answer for a Chilliwack Chiefs defence that bled goals at an alarming rate last season.

Will new skaters fix leaky Chiefs D?

The Chilliwack Chiefs start their exhibition slate tonight at 7 p.m. at Prospera Centre versus Surrey, testing out several new D-men.

The BCHL Chilliwack Chiefs held their training camp Tuesday and Wednesday at Prospera Centre, and now turn their attention to prepping for the BCHL Showcase.

The roster of the junior A team has gone through a major makeover, with new head coach/general manager Jason Tatarnic putting his stamp on the team.

His first priority was to fix a leaky defence that caused the Chiefs to miss the playoffs last spring.

 

 

Film from last year tells the tale of a defensive unit that left opposing forwards to wander free around the Chilliwack zone.

As shaky as goalies Josh Halpenny and Spencer Tremblay were last year, they were done no favours by the D.

Odd-man rushes caused by ill-advised pinches.

Opponents standing alone in the goal-crease, collecting rebounds like rocks at a beach.

Poor coverage allowing high percentage shots and just a general cluelessness about how to defend the  net.

Only one player returns from that unit.

Eric Roberts enters his third year with the Chiefs after suiting up for 51 games last year.

The Abbotsford native will never provide much offence (1-9-10 in 2013-14), but Chiefs head coach and general manager Jason Tatarnic thinks Roberts is the sort of dependable D-man he likes.

‘We want our D-core to be steady and reliable and we don’t go looking for six flashy guys,” Tatarnic said. “We wanted to add guys who play with a little bit of jam, are mobile and can move the puck. You used to be able to get away with body position, clutching, grabbing and hooking guys with a long stick. Now, if you can’t move your feet you’re in trouble.”

Roberts will wear the captain’s C for the Chiefs.

He’ll be joined by new names    Olivier Arseneau, Vincent Desharnais, Mark Esposito, Evan McEachern and Brandon Tkachuk. Langley native Dennis Cholowski is only 16 years old, but his high-end skill will have him pressing for playing time.

With the group he’s assembled, Tatarnic feels comfortable going head to head with any opponent and any style.

“No matter who we play, we want to act and not react, moving our feet and the puck and making plays,” Tatarnic said. “When you face the physical teams, it’s about your willingness to take a check to make a play.  Being ‘tough’ isn’t so much about being the team that gives as it is being the team that takes it and keeps on going.”

Tatarnic witnessed that first hand coaching his Woodstock Slammers against the Penticton Vees in the 2013 Royal Bank Cup tourney.

“We were a big physical team while they were very mobile, and they were labelled as a soft team,” he recalled. “It’s true they weren’t a big, punishing team. But when you hit them they just kept going about their business.”

To get his crew up to speed on the ‘jam quotient,’ Tatarnic will have them doing battle drills in practice every day.

“If you want something bad enough, you’re willing to do it,” Tatarnic said. “If you constantly practice on-on-one battles it will become a habit.”

“If you want to play our style of hockey, you have to buy in,” assistant coach Kyle Adams added. “We’re not saying you have to fight or go  around swinging your stick like an idiot. It’s about playing in the dirty areas and how hard you compete on pucks.”

On special teams, Carter Cochrane was the guy opponents had to game-plan around last year, scoring eight of his 16 goals on the power play.

Tatarnic doesn’t know if he has ‘the guy’ who will be a big PP threat.

Nor does he believe his group is devoid of offensive ability.

“You can get in trouble if you just rely on one guy, because it’s easy to just key on that guy, steer the puck in one direction and make the opponents’ choices for them,” the coach cautioned. “If you have two guys back there, it makes it really hard to defend, and that’s what we’re hoping. Two defencemen working as a tandem to provide some vision back there. Or, maybe one and a forward.”

Back to five on five, Tatarnic said his defensemen will have the green light to get involved offensively, but they have to be smart about it.

He encourages them to join the rush if it means turning a two-on-two into a three-on-two. But where pinches are concerned, they’ll have to be more cautious.

“What we have to teach the guys is, ‘if you’re going to pinch, what is the result of the play going to be?’” Tatarnic said. “If it’s just to keep a puck in and get it down low, you’ve got to weigh the risk and reward. You can pinch, but you’ve got to be 100 per cent sure you’re going to get the puck. If not, don’t do it.”

The Chiefs open their exhibition slate tonight (Friday), facing the Surrey Eagles at 7 p.m. at Prospera Centre.

They visit Surrey Saturday.

The Chiefs and Coquitlam Express will meet next Thursday in Hope and the Powell River Kings are in town to wrap up preseason play Sept. 13.

See chilliwackchiefs.net

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