by Eric Welsh – The Progress
Jason Tatarnic expected to see Luke Albert wearing an Alberni Valley Bulldog jersey this season.
But things change.
After the Dogs missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, head coach Kevin Willison paid the price.
Alberni Valley swung the axe April 17, setting off a chain of events that have re-routed the promising blueliner to Chilliwack.
“I was out there (Alberni Valley) last summer and I was looking forward to going there, but having an opportunity to play in Chilliwack was something I couldn’t pass up,” Albert explained. “With the whole coaching change, I wasn’t too familiar with the new guy (Matt Hughes) and it didn’t feel like AV was the right spot for me anymore.”
Released by the Bulldogs, the 18 year old Ontario native had a fall-back option. The USHL’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders drafted him in the 13th round (196th overall) of their 2017 draft, and it looked like he was heading to Iowa until Tatarnic intervened.
“The first thing I did was give Alberni a call to make sure they’d parted ways with Luke, and Matt indicated that they had,” said Tatarnic, the head coach/GM of the Chiefs. “Then I talked to Luke and we went from there.
“Fortunately, his prep school coach and I played junior hockey together, and that probably played a little part in it.”
Albert spent the last three seasons at New Hampton School, a prep program in New Hampshire.
His coach was Casey Kesselring.
Kesselring and Tatarnic were long-ago teammates with the Notre Dame Hounds in Wilcox, SK.
“That’s how I got in touch with Jason and Casey had a lot of good things to say about him,” Albert confirmed. “Our talks were brief in the beginning but then it got more in depth, and I started seriously considering it the last few weeks.
“It made perfect sense to come here.”
Tatarnic used the RBC Cup in his sales pitch and that resonated with the Ontario kid.
“Not many people can say they’ve played in that tournament, so it’s going to be pretty awesome to do that,” Albert said. “A couple of my buddies won it last spring with Cobourg, and they say it’s something that changes your life.
“To play in it and maybe win it would be life-changing for me.”
Tatarnic also talked about what Albert’s potential role on the team might be.
The D-man had 12 goals and 39 points in 37 outings last year, good production from a blueliner in any league.
Eliteprospects.com has him listed at six-foot-two and 190 pounds and he says he’s in the gym five days a week.
He skates well, has good vision and plays a solid two-way game.
“We’ll see how it translates to his first year in our league, but it translated pretty well for (Colin) Bernard who was a 30 point guy for us last year,” Tatarnic said. “It’s possible for Luke to have success his first season.
“It’ll be a learning curve, but he’s talented, he’ll adjust and I think he’ll be just fine.”
It’d be really, really, really good for Tatarnic if Albert is a quick study.
From the defensive corps that finished last season, only Bernard and 17 year old Powell Connor remain.
Olivier Arseneau and Connor McCarthy graduated.
Carver Watson’s gone back home to Wisconsin to play for the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers and Davis Bunz has joined the USHL’s Bloomington Thunder.
“I think Luke can carry a lot of minutes and he has the potential to be a lead guy,” Tatarnic said. “We have a lot of first-year guys — Sean Thomson, Sean McCloskey, Nick Ormon, Matt Slick — but we had the same situation last year, and the success we had gives us confidence that we can bring these guys in and everything will be all right.
“We just have to give them a little time.”
Albert feels he’s up to the challenge and can’t wait to see what 2017-18 brings.
“I want to grow as a person and player on and off the ice,” he said. “For sure I want to put up some points too, but most of all I want to win.”