Trail Smoke Eaters veteran defenceman Kyle Chernenkoff’s playing career came to an abrupt end last month, but the Smoke Eaters did all they could to help soften the blow.
After sitting out all of December, Chernenkoff returned to action in the New Year. However, five games in he suffered another blow to the head against the Wenatchee Wild on Jan. 18, in what would be his last game on the ice in a Smokies uniform.
“Our biggest loss is losing defenceman Kyle Chernenkoff for the season,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “But we made Cherny an assistant coach going forward for the remainder of the season. He’s already been a part of our staff for the past couple weeks, and he’s done an amazing job.”
‘Cherny’ played tough defensive hockey, but a career marked by multiple concussions finally caught up to the 20-year-old Crescent Valley native.
“It wasn’t really a hard decision to make,” said Chernenkoff. “It was a decision made for me by the doctors. It was a hard pill to swallow so I took a couple days to come to terms with it myself, and then transitioning into the coaching and being with the team made it easier for me to make that transition.”
A character player, Chernenkoff was named assistant captain at the start of the year and the three-year veteran proved as valuable in the dressing room as he was on the ice, so making the decision to appoint him assistant coach, a no-brainer for Tambellini.
“Kyle is one of those guys that has done so well this year as a leader that we knew we had to make him a part of our coaching staff just to keep the impact of him in the dressing room,” said Tambellini. “We know that he can help us going forward.”
Chernenkoff played a vital role in the Smokies resurgence over the past two years, as a leader, a person and a player, yet the loss on the Smoke Eaters backend wasn’t worth the potential health risk.
“Our main goal is always to protect the safety of our players,” said Tambellini. “He’s a kid that would play through anything, so we pivoted right away, and threw him into the coaching staff and it’s like he’s been there all year.”
Chernenkoff played in 124 BCHL games over three years with the Smokies, scoring two goals and 14 assists, while putting up 129 penalty minutes. A career ended by injury is potentially devastating mentally as well as physically, so on a personal level, the Smokies offer to make him assistant coach was a welcome one.
“First of all, it’s a prestigious honour,” said Chernenkoff. “For me to have to go out and move away from the game, probably would have been very hard for me, but the move that they did to bring me onto the coaching staff has been fantastic.”
Many players moving onto another career often choose coaching or broadcasting, but Chernenkoff, in his brief time off the ice, has dabbled in both. Following the Smoke Eaters shootout win over the Merritt Centennials last weekend, the Smoke Eaters debuted an incisive and entertaining twitter feed dubbed ‘Cherny’s Corner.’
“It was just something we were throwing around up top in the office, and I mentioned the name ‘Cherny’s Corner’ and how funny it would be, and I guess they just went for it,” said Chernenkoff. “We had our first trial run on Saturday night and it seems like a hit.”
Chernenkoff’s first guest on the ‘hot seat’ was Smokies rookie Kent Johnson, who scored a dazzling shootout goal in the 3-2 win. Sporting a red tie and dark jacket, with a Smoke Eaters-Best Western back drop, Chernenkoff took control and delivered a seamless Q&A and the Smokies tech team a highly entertaining and professional production.
“It was lucky for me that he (Johnson) did have that beautiful shoot-out goal, so there was a lot of easy things to talk about.”
Despite the loss of Chernenkoff - the player, the Smoke Eaters still have six solid defencemen relatively healthy heading into the final seven games. His loss will still be felt on the ice, but his positive outlook and presence on the bench and in the room is a vital part of the Smoke Eaters culture and a healthy and prosperous future.
“Now that I’ve had time to be outside of the game, I have gotten to think about what comes next,” Chernenkoff added. “I’ve applied to university, and we’ll see how that goes. But I want to be a Smoke Eater as long as I can, so whether it’s coaching or broadcasting or just being an avid fan, I’ll be involved with the organization in some way for the long haul.”