Let the chemistry experiment begin.
There will be plenty of new faces vying for head coach Harvey Smyl's attention as the Chilliwack Chiefs begin training camp this week at Prospera Centre.
After bidding adieu to half his roster at the end of last season, Smyl spent the summer trying to restock his cupboard with new talent. The Chiefs' official roster now boasts no fewer than 11 new names-including goaltender Lyndon Stanwood and former Langley Riverman Ben Butcher.
Those and other additions mean Smyl will be watching carefully this week to not only evaluate new talent, but also to see how the various pieces of the puzzle fit together.
"Right now, because we're replacing so many guys-and guys in key roles-it's going to be more about getting some chemistry, seeing who works well together and trying to figure out who can do what well for our club," Smyl told the Times. "It's not a matter of just putting a piece here and trying to make it work. We've got so many pieces that we're replacing; we have a ton of work to do."
Despite all that work ahead and the uncertainties that come with a rebuilt roster, Smyl sounds confident that the Chiefs will be competitive this year.
"I like what we have going on. I like the group of kids returning. I like the group of kids coming to try out," he said. "From what I see we should have a very competitive camp. I think in the long run our team will be OK."
But while he has added a couple handfuls of new players to the team's roster, Smyl stressed that what he sees at training camp and in the preseason can alter any plans made during the summer.
"The guys we have in here, we want to see how they mix and who competes for what," he said. "It's an open thing. If someone comes and outplays you and you don't deserve to be here, you won't be here in the long run."
And with a couple roster spots still open, the dozens of camp hopefuls have plenty of reason to want to put their best foot forward.
Smyl said he will also be looking to his returnees to assume key roles on the ice and in the dressing room.
With three full years of BCHL hockey under his belt, Austin Plevy is no longer one of the youngest players on the team. He led the Chiefs in scoring last year; this year, Smyl said he will be asked to take a key leadership role.
Smyl said he'll also be looking for Mathieu Tibbet to show that he's ready to take a major step forward. Tibbet scored nine goals in 34 games for the Chiefs last year but showed
more potential, particularly in the post-season.
The ability of Tibbet and Jaret Babych to step into top-six forward roles-and, crucially, avoid injury-will also be a key factor in determining how successful this year's Chiefs will be.
Training camp opened Saturday, with some 80 players on four different teams competing for spots. Inter-squad games take place Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The climax of camp takes place on Thursday with the Crimson-Gold game from 6 to 9 p.m. Spectators are welcome to watch. The Chiefs play their first exhibition games this weekend. After visiting Surrey Friday evening, the Chiefs host the Eagles Saturday at 7 p.m. at Prospera Centre.
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