In the wake of the surprise firing of Chilliwack Chiefs head coach/general manager Jason Tatarnic late last week, new hockey boss Brian Maloney has been thrown into a very tough situation.
He’s assumed command of a team that will host the RBC Cup in just three days.
There’s no easing into that job.
Maloney is doing everything on the fly, with a hundred balls in the air and a locker room full of Chiefs players looking for leadership.
“You’d have to ask the ownership group exactly whey they decided to do it at this time,” Maloney said. “But my guess would be that the organization felt they owed it to the community and the history of the Chiefs — there’s only ever been one RBC Cup here, and I think ownership’s plan was to give us our best shot at winning this thing.”
To that end, Maloney doesn’t look at the coaching change as a poorly-timed distraction.
He views it as a jolt of energy for a Chiefs team that enters the tournament as fairly huge underdogs.
“When you’re a player who’s on the same line all the time or doing the same things over and over, things can get stagnent,” he said. “But when you show up to the rink and suddenly you’re on a different line, it’s like the world has changed. It can be new and refreshing.”
Maloney hasn’t been parachuted into the head coaching job cold.
He has been Tatarnic’s assistant the last two seasons, forging relationships with all of his players.
“I’ve been around so they all know me and they’re comfortable with me, but it’s still a different voice,” Maloney said. “I’ve been encouraging the guys to ask a lot of questions and the back-and-forth has been really good.
“You know they’re really engaged when they’re asking questions.”
The Chiefs haven’t played a meaningful hockey game since March 11, when they were bounced from the BCHL playoffs by the Prince George Spruce Kings.
Maloney played a key role helping Tatarnic craft a plan to deal with the long layoff. Maloney reached out to Rocky Thompson, who coached the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires to a Memorial Cup title last season. Thompson’s crew faced a similar scenario when they were eliminated early in the 2016-17 OHL playoffs and then hosted Canada’s national major junior championship.
“I played against Rocky when we were both in the American Hockey League, and I reached out to him for help,” Maloney said. “We put together a six-week program that kept the energy and the pace up.”
The Chiefs did tons of conditioning work in the first phase followed by skills and systems work in the middle phase. Over the last while the team has scaled back to a two-days-on-one-day-off schedule as they get ready for go-time.
“Rocky calls it the best time for the players and the worst time for the coach,” Maloney laughed. “The players know they aren’t running stairs or getting skated, but it’s tough for the coach because you almost feel like you’re not doing enough.”
Maloney has a few new faces in the building helping him out. Suneil Karod, head coach of the junior B Victoria Cougars is pitching in along with Brad Rihela, formerly of the Yale Hockey Academy.
Cam Keith, who was recently ousted as head coach and GM in Trail, is lending his experience.
“Cam and I played against each other in the BCHL, the NCAA, the AHL and even in Germany,” Maloney laughed. “We have a good relationship and he’s a good communicator with the guys. And being in Trail, he’s got some experience dealing with Wenatchee.
“There are some fantastic people in the community who have stepped up so I can focus on preparing our guys for the RBC Cup.
“I’d like to thank our host committee for doing such a great job with this tournament. I think it’s a fantastic event and a great opportunity for our community.”