Chris Tanev talks Flames culture change, pursuing a finance degree7 min read
Throughout this tenure with the Calgary Flames, players, coaches, and management have lauded Chris Tanev for his selflessness, stability, and impact on younger players. The undrafted blueliner signed a four-year contract with the Flames in 2020 after starting his career with the Vancouver Canucks.
While his impact on the ice and in the dressing room has been immeasurable, Tanev is still a bit of an unknown to hockey fans. He doesn’t say much during press conferences and often defers to the teammate answering questions next to him. Tanev doesn’t have a public Twitter account and has posted just twice on Instagram in the past year and a half.
Despite his low profile, Tanev spent a few minutes with TSN after Monday’s practice to talk about the team’s culture shift under head coach Darryl Sutter, his guidance for young defencemen, and how he almost named his pug after a Seinfeld character.
TSN: You’re nearly done the season. How has this team evolved since game one?
Tanev: “It’s been a long road since we started in October. We’ve evolved a lot. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, the COVID outbreak in December where we barely played and had to make up those games in the last two months. That’s obviously been a challenge. We’ve learned a lot. Darryl keeps us on our toes and makes sure we’re ready every day and makes sure we’re ready to accomplish what we need to do that day to be successful.”
TSN: A lot of players have mentioned the early season road trip through New York and playing teams in the East [Calgary went 5-0-0] as important in defining your process and learning how to win. Do you see that road trip the same way?
Tanev: “Well, we didn’t start how we wanted to. Obviously we lost in Edmonton and here in overtime I believe to Anaheim. Then we went on that road trip and were able to sweep it against some really good teams. It kick-started us into the position we are now. With 10 games left, we’ve got to be able to handle our business now to clinch a playoff spot and move forward.”
TSN: You won an OPJHL [Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League] title in 2009 and had a run with RIT [Rochester Institute of Technology in the NCAA] in 2010. How important was it for you at an early age to be in championship games and learn how to win?
Tanev: “I think most guys at some point in their life have won, whether in minor hockey or junior or college. Obviously, college we came close but didn’t have the outcome we wanted. Those are moments you look back on. When you win, you always remember those times and good things. Those are the people you’re usually closest with throughout life. I don’t know what they say, champions last forever? I’m sure guys that have won the [Stanley] Cup are tightest with those players.”
TSN: You’ve played with a few young blueliners, including Quinn Hughes, Oliver Kylington, and, currently, Connor Mackey. What’s your advice to them and how do you guide these young players you’re paired with?
Tanev: “I just try and have a good relationship with them off the ice, firstly. You need to be able to talk and communicate. They’re all incredibly skilled players and smart players, so as long as they’re comfortable on the ice, that’s when you play well. I just try and do what I can to make it as easy as I can for them and they do the same for me. It’s part of a good partnership, to be able to work together and make it easier for each other. If I make mistakes, hopefully my partner is able to have my back and vice versa. Those are the little things that go into it.”
TSN: Is there an off-ice element to it? Would you spend time off the ice going through shifts together?
Tanev: “Every guy is different, right? Sometimes you may be incredibly close off the ice, sometimes you’re really close at the rink. Maybe someone has kids. There’s obviously different elements that go into that. You do go over tendencies and shifts and, ‘How can I be better here? What can I do better to help you in this situation?’ to make it easier for my partner and for me.”
TSN: Who was your Chris Tanev in your journey through the National Hockey League?
Tanev: “My first partner was Keith Ballard. He was awesome. Coming up right out of college, playing a bit in the minors and getting thrown into the fire and playing in big games in the playoffs in my first year, Bally was incredible. He did everything for me, on and off the ice, for me to adapt and make the game easy for me. It could be the biggest mistake I’d made that game and he’d come back to the bench and say, ‘Hey, my bad kid. I’m going to be better for you,’ even though it was clearly my fault. That’s something I’ve tried to take with me. You learn a lot from the older guys when you’re younger. You try to take care of the younger guys as you get partnered with them.”
TSN: For you, do you set personal goals before every season?
Tanev: “Nothing exact, but you have stuff where you want to be better than last year and improve on what you can. If you’re not getting better, someone else is getting better. Every year I try to get better, and the older you get, the more in shape you have to be and smarter you have to be. I just go into every off-season with the mindset that I need to get my game better and be able to execute better.”
TSN: Shifting to off the ice, last year you said you’d been working on your finance degree. What’s that been like?
Tanev: “Yeah, I went to RIT for a year and obviously didn’t finish school. Then COVID hit and I found myself quite bored at home. My wife was like, ‘Why don’t you go back to school?’ The [NHLPA] has a good partnership where I was able to transfer some credits I had at RIT and basically start going one class at a time. I haven’t stopped since I started. I’m doing well.”
TSN: Is there crossover between playing in the National Hockey League and working on a finance degree?
Tanev: “I find it takes my mind away from hockey sometimes. You can go through tough stretches where you’re not playing the way you want or the team is not as good as you think they should be, and it’s good to be able to get away for an hour or two a day and focus on something else and also keeping my brain active. Not going to school for 10 years, I realized how dumb I had become [laughs], so you lose the book smarts quite quickly when you’re not sitting down with them. So it’s been good to keep my mind sharp and refresh myself on some things I’d forgotten about.”
TSN: What else do you do away from the rink? Are you a guy that watches every single out-of-market game? How do you spend time away from the rink?
Tanev: “I love to cook, so it’s been good with COVID and not being able to go out the last bit. Being home for the past two years, it’s a lot of cook books, a lot of recipes.”
TSN: What’s your specialty?
Tanev: “I’ve gotten pretty good at making a nice steak with the cast-iron pan and all the works. We try and go through different stuff and go through different Asian cuisines and South American stuff. Other than that, I like to golf a lot in the summer and hang out with the guys. I have a really tight group of friends that grew up together since we were five, six years old and have stayed close. And I’ve got two little pugs at home. One’s 10 and one’s one [year old]. They keep us extremely busy.”
TSN: Yeah, Stanley and Riley. Any particular reason for naming Stanley, Stanley?
Tanev: [Laughs] “I don’t know. We just like to name them people names. Riley got rehomed to us when he was a few years old and he had his name already. Stan was something we decided on. We were going back and forth on Stanley and Cosmo – big Seinfeld fans.”
TSN: I feel like it would be tough to have a dog with Kramer’s tendencies.
Tanev: “He’s pretty close. He’s a little wild pup, but he’s started to learn how to behave.”
TSN: Finally, Darryl came in 14 months ago. What’s the biggest shift you’ve seen out of this group since he took over?
Tanev: “Mindset, culture. I think coming to work every day and expecting to win, preparing to win, practising to win. I think he’s changed that all dramatically. Every day is a new day. Regardless of what happened yesterday, you move forward and expect to win the next day. When you’re at practice, you’re expected to make tape-to-tape passes, work hard, skate, and then prepare for the next game. It just becomes a big cycle where you play, reset, and expect to win and try to get better every day at what you can improve on what the team can improve on. That’s going to be a big thing for us down the stretch. We need to clean up some things and get our game to where it needs to be.”
Road city? Chicago, if the weather is good
TV show? Seinfeld
Music group or band? [Red Hot] Chili Peppers
Moment that stands out in your career? Probably when we beat San Jose, game five of the conference final to be able to go to the Stanley Cup Final.
Funniest guy on the team? Z [Nikita Zadorov]
Best style? Backs [Mikael Backlund] can show it off a bit. He knows what he’s doing in that department
Worst style? Mang [Andrew Mangiapane]