Let the games begin for the Chilliwack Chiefs.
The 2017-18 regular season officially got underway for the 2018 RBC Cup
hosts on Sept. 8, 253 days before Canada’s National Junior A Championship
faces off at the Prospera Centre.
The Chiefs headed north to Prince George, B.C., for their first two B.C.
Hockey League games, settling for a 5-5 tie in the season opener before
dropping an 8-2 decision to the Spruce Kings.
They returned home to raise the RBC Cup host banner in front of a
franchise-record crowd of more than 4,000 for their home-opener, a 2-1 loss
to the Langley Rivermen, before they finally got into the win column with a
5-4 overtime road victory over the Rivermen.
Despite the slow start, the Chiefs know there’s no need to panic just over
a week into a 58-game regular season. It’s a long road to the national
championship, and they’ll be ready.
“I’ve been to a few tournaments and one of the things I’ve taken out of it
is that the teams that have hosted have often put pressure on their guys
right from the get-go,” Chilliwack head coach Jason Tatarnic, who led the
Woodstock Slammers to the RBC Cup final in 2012, told The Province
“And I don’t think it’s a great thing. It’s there. We know about it. When
the time comes, we’ll deal with it. Right now, we’re just trying to get
better every day.”
While the early results were certainly not what they wanted, there were a
few bright spots for the Chiefs.
Expected to be an offensive leader after posting 50 points in 56 games a
year ago, Chilliwack captain Will Calverley was just that in the season
opener, needing just 34 seconds to score the first goal of the season, and
finishing his hat trick late in the second period before adding an assist
in the third.
And Chilliwack has spread around the offence – five players scored goals
and eight had a point in the overtime win over Langley, and through four
games 14 of the 21 skaters who have seen action have found the scoresheet.
Chilliwack has turned over almost its entire roster for the new season; of
the 20 players who dressed for the season opener, only four – Calverley,
Tommy Lee, Powell Connor and back-up goaltender Mathieu Caron – were in the
line-up for the final game of the 2016-17 season, and only six saw any
action at all last year.
The Chiefs have been among the most consistent teams in the BCHL in recent
years, winning the Mainland Division regular-season championship three
years in a row, reaching the league final in back-to-back seasons, and
coming within one win of a trip to the RBC Cup last year.
They already know they’ll take that next step next spring; it will be the
third trip to the national championship for Chilliwack, which lost in the
semifinals in its previous two appearances, in 2000 and 2002.