Sunday, March 23rd
The good news for the Chiefs after their overtime loss the night before here in Victoria was they wouldn't have a lot of time to stew over it. Spokane was back on the ice the following afternoon at 5pm for game two in their best of 7 series with the Royals and hoping to get things going offensively against a team that gave up the 2nd fewest goals in the league this season. Spokane getting a good news, bad news on the injury front as the team welcoming back defenseman Colton Bobyk, who had been out about 2 weeks. Unfortunately, the team having to go without forward Keanu Yamamoto, who was knocked out in the first period of game one.
Spokane had scored just one goal in their last 6 plus periods of hockey, but waited all of 47 seconds to get on the board in game two. Dominic Zwerger picked off an errant Joe Hicketts pass in the Royals end and snapped a shot from the right circle past Victoria goalie Patrick Polivka to give the Chiefs their first lead in the series. The lead didn't last long though, as Logan Fisher drove down the left wing and snapped a shot from the left goal line that slipped past goalie Eric Williams to tie the game at one at 1:27 of the first. So the two teams had managed to score as many goals in less than a minute and a half then they had scored in 68 minutes last night.
The Chiefs then saw the Royals take a 2-1 lead when Branden Magee came down the right wing and snapped a shot under the bar at 9:31 of the period. Spokane then got a golden chance to tie the game or take the lead, as they had a 5 on 3 power play for 1:47 right after Magee's goal, but the Chiefs were denied as Spokane ended up going 0-3 on the power play in the period. Things didn't better early in the second when Tyler Soy banged home a rebound of a Travis Brown shot net front at 3:47 of period to give the Royals a 3-1 edge. The Chiefs came right back though as Jason Fram got the puck to Liam Stewart on the left side and Stewart backhanded in his first goal of the playoffs at 4:33 to bring Spokane within 4-3 after two.
Spokane turned away a 5 on 3 for Victoria at the beginning of the third and would kill the remaining power play to keep within one goal. The Chiefs power play, which had gone 0 for 9 in the series, would finally strike midway through the third. Reid Gow would slap one from the point and Mike Aviani set a great screen net front to block Polivka's view and Spokane would even the game at three at 9:07 of the third. Despite being outshot 42-30 through regulation, the Chiefs sent the game to overtime for the second straight contest.
In the overtime, it started with neither team gaining an edge offensively. The puck was in the Chiefs zone heading for the blue line when the Royals Ryan Gagnon one timed a puck that Williams saved. The rebound came out net front to the stick of Logan Nelson, who had missed the game the night before due to injury. Nelson backhanded the puck over Williams at 2:18 of overtime to give the Royals their second straight win in as many nights. It's the first time the Royals/Chilliwack Bruins franchise has led a series 2-0, so it's new territory for them.
As for the Chiefs, they were down 0-2 to Vancouver two years ago and rallied to win 4 straight to advance to the second round. Spokane will need to pick up two wins at home now to avoid a 3-1 deficit heading to Victoria for a game five. That's all wayy down the road though. The Chiefs need to get win #1 in game three and they have to start by getting their main offensive weapons going. Mitch Holmberg, Mike Aviani and Adam Helewka have combined for one assist in two games. That needs to change for the Chiefs to have a chance in this series. Eric Williams has been very good in net, turning away 72 of 78 Royals shots as Victoria has outshot Spokane 78-58 in the series. Unless the Chiefs generate more up front and take some pressure off of Williams in the defensive zone, this series could be over sooner than later. For now though, the team gets to sleep one last night in Victoria before getting on the morning ferry and the long drive home Monday.
Saturday, March 22nd
Playoff time is upon us, although I'm sure the Chiefs would have rather stayed in the state of Washington rather than travel to Canada for their first round series. While I was away the last regular season weekend, the Chiefs fell to 6th in the final Western Conference standings with a split against Tri Cities. Despite 40 wins and 86 points, Spokane was 4th in the U.S. Division, the toughest division I've seen in years in the Western Hockey League. As a result of finishing 6th, instead of facing in state rivals Seattle or Everett, the Chiefs now had to face the 3rd seed, the Victoria Royals. Victoria piled up a franchise record 48 wins and 100 points this season and were the 10th ranked team in the entire Canadian Hockey League. The Royals also held home ice, as the Chiefs had to leave Thursday afternoon to get practice ice Friday morning in Everett.
I drove over on Friday morning, having to leave Spokane at 7am to make the 3pm ferry out of Vancouver for the hour and a half ride to Vancouver Island. By the time me and our video guru Chris Baird made the hotel, it was 5:30pm, capping a solid 9.5 hour travel day. The 4 to 4.5 hour drives to Seattle and Everett sure looked a helluva lot better. The scenery in British Columbia's Capital can't be beat though, and Victoria is my favorite city to visit in the WHL. I was just hoping this trip would be the only one in the playoff series. To do so, Spokane would have to keep up their success on Royals home ice, having won 6 straight since the franchise re-located from Chilliwack in the 2011-12 season. The Chiefs had won back to back convincing games in late September in Victoria, taking 6-2 and 6-1 decisions on September 24 and 25.
That seemed like ancient history now though, as the Chiefs met a Royals team that was vastly improved from that part of the season. Spokane had some good news on their part as well, as forwards Liam Stewart, Jacob Cardiff and Adam Hasic were now off the injured list. The Chiefs also added rookie defenseman Evan Fiala and Tyson Helgeson to their playoff roster as starter Colton Bobyk is still battling back from injury, so there is plenty of depth to go forward into the post-season. Eric Williams would get the start in net as they took on a Royals team that had the top tandem in the league in Patrik Polivka and Coleman Vollrath in goal. Victoria would start Polivka, someone the Chiefs have had better success against in the past.
The Chiefs didn't exactly come out on fire in the first, getting outshot 14-8 in the period. Williams made one spectacular save net front on a shot that he had to dive fully back across the crease to glove. Victoria would break through when Ben Walker scored on a rebound 15:26 of the period to give the Royals a 1-0 lead after one. The news didn't get better for Spokane when they lost forward Keanu Yamamoto on a hit in the period. He would not return to the game and his energy could have certainly been used up front the rest of this game. The Chiefs would get 3 power play chances in the second, but would fail to score as the game remained 1-0 Victoria after two.
The failure to score on the power play was acute for Spokane in this game as they went 0-5 on the night. The Chiefs would get on the board though early in the third to tie the game at one. Cardiff, in his first game back from injury, dug the puck from behind the goal and found Cole Wedman on the right wall. Wedman's shot was saved by Polivka, but Riley Whittingham poked the rebound past Polivka 2:22 into the third for a 1-1 game. That score would remain through regulation as this became the first game of the playoffs to go to overtime. The last time the Chiefs went to OT against the Royals in the playoffs it was when they were the Chilliwack Bruins in their final year in 2011. Darren Kramer scored for Spokane, part of a 9 game win streak the Chiefs had over the Bruins/Royals on their home ice since that 2010-11 season.
Spokane had a goldennn chance early in OT when a puck was laying out front of the Royals net with Polivka scrambling, but neither Mike Aviani or Connor Chartier could get to the puck and the game remained tied. Victoria didn't really threaten offensively until Stephen Hodges got the puck from the left corner and hit Travis Brown back door. Brown slid the puck through Williams pads 8:10 into overtime to give the Royals a 2-1 win and a 1-0 series lead. It could prove to be a defining moment in the series as Victoria picked up their first win over Spokane on their home ice since the Royals came to town. There's no doubt the Royals will gain some confidence, while the Chiefs have to re-group after an emotional loss.
Spokane will probably have to go forward into game 2 without Yamamoto, and will definitely have to up their offensive production from their top players, who were silent in game one. Williams was spectacular and will need to have more of the same tomorrow night for Spokane to even the series. The Chiefs best players were the defensive corp, as Reid Gow and Jason Fram led a great effort from the blue line. Helgeson, in his first game as a Chief, was impressive. Let's just hope the rest of the club is as well tomorrow, or the Chiefs are headed home down 0-2.
Tuesday, March 11th
The end of an 8 day, 4 game road trip was finallllyyy here, as the Chiefs came to Seattle to take on the team they were chasing for 4th place in the Western Conference, the Seattle Thunderbirds. Spokane was 4 points back of the T-Birds with just 4 games left in the regular season, so this game was going to be a make or break for the Chiefs to catch Seattle for the final home ice spot in the first round of the playoffs. Spokane had travelled allll day Sunday, and I mean allll day from Prince George on a 12 hour bus ride. The team was able to practice and then relax on Monday as the team prepared for their last regular season meeting with the Thunderbirds. Spokane had gone 0-5-2 on the seven previous games with Seattle, and if the T-Birds were going to be the first round opponent in a #4-#5 matchup in the first round, the Chiefs needed to prove to themselves they could beat Seattle.
The tone was set from the beginning as Mike Aviani laid a huge hit on Seattle defenseman Evan Wardley and the Chiefs let it be known they would not play tentatively on this night. Spokane had failed to score in their last 3 games vs. the Thunderbirds as goalie Taran Kozun had yet to be scored upon since being acquired from Kamloops at the trade deadline. The Chiefs would break that streak just 8:18 into the game when Riley Whittingham took a Carter Proft pass and whipped a no look feed to an open Dominic Zwerger. Zwerger scored into the open net and Spokane had the early 1-0 lead. Seattle came right back though and scored 2 goals in only 23 seconds to re-take the lead. Alexander Delnov's shot from the left wing slipped past goalie Eric Williams to make it 1-1. Then Sam McKechnie put one over Williams shoulder from the goal line to give Seattle a 2-1 lead. The Chiefs would even it a minute and a half later when Adam Helewka would take the puck off the wall, and snap home his 23rd of the year from between the circles to tie the game at two after one. Connor Chartier and rookie defenseman Evan Fiala, making his Chiefs debut, picked up the assists.
It was more of the same in the second. Mitch Holmberg shot from the left wing and Mike Aviani tipped the puck in just 1:37 into the period to give the Chiefs a 3-2 lead. It was Holmberg's 114th point of the season, just one back on Tyler Johnson's mark from 2010-11 for the 6th most in Spokane history. Seattle came right back again though, getting rebound goals from Matthew Barzal and Ryan Gropp at 5:42 and 11:19 re-grab the lead at 4-3. Spokane would get a power play chance late in the period, and Hudson Elyniuk would snap home a shot from the left wing from Cole Wedman and Marcus Messier at 15:51 to make it a 4-4 going into the third.
It was a huge goal momentum wise for Spokane and when the Chiefs killed off a Seattle power play to start the third, Spokane was in position for their first win over the Thunderbirds in 8 tries. The Chiefs would get the go ahead...and as it turns out..game winning goal late in the third. Mike Aviani forced a turnover with a great forecheck. Keanu Yamamoto got the puck on net, and Aviani got to the rebound in the crease and poked the puck in for his second of the night at 14:34 of the third to give Spokane a 5-4 lead. Seattle would pull Kozun from net in the final 2 minutes, and Connor Chartier would pick off a pass at the Seattle blue line and put home the final goal of the night in the empty net at 18:37 to finish off a 6-4 Chiefs win.
The win now moves the Chiefs within just 2 points of 4th place Seattle with 3 games to play, and gives Spokane a 3 point lead over Everett for 5th in the West. Now it's back over the mountains to the Spokane Arena, as the Silvertips are waiting for the Chiefs in a huge game for both teams tomorrow night. Spokane can tie Seattle for 4th with a win, and go 5 points up on the Tips with a win in regulation with just 3 games left for those two teams. It's going to be a huge game, so the team beat feet and got out of Seattle quickly as they know tonight's win won't mean a great deal unless they finish the deal tomorrow night.
Saturday, March 8th
After snowing the day before, Day 2 in Prince George saw the sun come out and the snow melt all over the city, leaving a slushy mess everywhere. The Chiefs offense had thawed out the night before, like the temperatures, giving Spokane a 4-2 win over the home town Cougars. It was Spokane's mission to keep the offense going, as a week from today, the regular season will come to an end. The Chiefs have just 5 games left in the season, and trailing Seattle by 4 points for the 4th place spot in the West, every win is essential. Prince George is desperate as well, trailing Tri City by 4 points for the final playoff berth with just 3 games left.
With all this as a backdrop, the Chiefs took to the ice Saturday against the Cougars. Unlike the night before, it was the Chiefs that would jump on the scoreboard first. Spokane would go on the power play midway through the first, and the Chiefs capitalized just 6 seconds in when Mike Aviani found an open Mitch Holmberg between the circles and he snapped home his 58th goal of the year under the cross bar at 8:58 to make it 1-0 Spokane. The Chiefs would get another power play chance later in the first, and after a net front scramble, Marcus Messier would bang home a rebound at 16:57 from Holmberg and Aviani to put the Chiefs up 2-0 after the first. Spokane controlled the period, generating and scoring on the only two power plays of the stanza, outshooting Prince George 12-5.
Sometimes the Chiefs have let off the gas in games like this, but not on this night, and Holmberg was the reason why. He'd get open net front and take an Aviani pass and roof a backhander under the bar at 1:59 of the second for his second of the night and 59th of the season to make it 3-0 Chiefs. Spokane then scored two goals in the next 4:11 to blow the game open. Riley Whittingham scored from the slot from Hudson Elyniuk at the 4 minute mark to put Spokane ahead 4-0, and then Jason Fram took a Carter Proft pass at the point and fired home his 6th of the season to give the Chiefs a 5-0 lead after two. Goalie Eric Williams turned aside 14 Cougar shots in the second as the Chiefs killed off two PG power plays in the period.
History would be made in the third and would be done so quickly. Only 4 players had ever scored 60 goals in a season in Chiefs history, and Holmberg would join that select company just 1:19 into the period. On a rush up ice with his linemates Aviani and Keanu Yamamoto, Holmberg took a pass on the right wing and drew the puck back and fired home the Chiefs 6th goal of the night as he joined Pat Falloon, Terry Perkins, Ray Whitney and Valeri Bure as the only Chiefs to score 60 in a season. He's the first player in the WHL to pass that milestone since the 2000-01 season. It was a pretty special moment and the team came out to congratulate Holmberg, who has had a pretty special season in his final year as a Chief. Considering that Bure was the last to score 60, and he scored the record 68, back in 1992-93, it's not a very common occurance.
There was still plenty of game to be played and the Chiefs finished it off in style. Aviani would cap a 4 point night with his 35th of the year, scoring on the power play at 11:30 to make it 7-0 Spokane. Yamamoto notched his career high 3rd assist on the goal. Markson Bechtold then capped the scoring with a highlight reel skate through the Cougar defense and scoring on a backhander a minute later to finish off a dominating 8-0 win. All that was left to be decided was whether Eric Williams would get his 4th shutout of the year, and he would do so with a sprawling save with just 2 seconds left. Williams turned back 28 shots as the Chiefs outshot the Cougars 37-28, going 3-7 on the power play and a perfect 3-3 on the penalty kill. Spokane was a perfect 13-13 against the PG power play this season as the Chiefs swept the 4 game season series.
The win was even bigger as Everett won at Seattle, so that leaves the Chiefs just 2 points back of Seattle for 4th in the Western Conference and 1 point up on Everett for 5th. Those two teams are up next for Spokane as the Chiefs finish off the road trip at Seattle on Tuesday and then head home to take on Everett on Wednesday. There's no question that the results of those games will determine whether Spokane finishes 4th, 5th or 6th in the West heading to the playoffs in two weeks. With only 4 games left in the regular season, it feels like the playoffs are already here. The Chiefs get a bit of a rest as they'll hit the road on the bus tomorrow morning for Seattle. It's an early wake up, so it's time to get some rest and ready for the big week ahead!
Friday, March 7th
Game two of the Chiefs 4 game road swing saw the team head North...and I mean Norrtthhh, as Spokane headed straight into Old Man Winter and Prince George, British Columbia to face the Cougars in back to back games over the weekend. The team left Kelowna Thursday morning for the all day drive to PG, and saw about every weather condition imaginable. Sun gave way to snow, then rain, then sun, then snow again, and finally clearing skies as the team arrived in Prince George about dinner time. It was a bit chilly out as the temperatures were around 20F and there was no doubt that spring is still a ways away here.
The Chiefs offense was as cold as the weather as Spokane arrived with just one goal in their last 3 games. Spokane was 6 points back of Seattle for 4th in the West, while having just a 1 point lead over Everett for the 5th spot. Prince George was 4 points behind Tri City for the last playoff spot in the West, and with just 4 games remaining for the Cougars, every game was a must win. The Cougars came out in the first, putting up 12 shots on Chiefs goalie Garret Hughson while getting two power play chances. Fortunately for Spokane, Hughson was sharp, as he kept PG off the board and the two teams were scoreless heading into the second period. Prince George would break through in the second though, as Troy Bourke rebounding in a Chase Witala shot just 3:09 into the period to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead. PG kept the momentum as former Chief Todd Fiddler broke in down the right wing and beat Hughson with a backhander at 9:19 to make it 2-0. The tough part about the goal is that Mike Aviani had come in on the rush at the other end, but was stoned on a good save by goalie Ty Edmonds, and the puck was turned around and fed up ice to an open Fiddler, who extended his points scoring streak to 19 straight games.
Fiddler is now second to his linemate from last year, Mitch Holmberg, for goals in the WHL with 46. Holmberg's 57 look pretty safe to win the goal scoring championship, but Spokane wouldn't mind a few more down the stretch as they try to move up in the standings. But I digress...back to the game. PG had a 2-0 lead after two, and the Chiefs had generated just one power play through 40 minutes, and generally looked lifeless offensively. Spokane was going to need a jolt in the third to wake up their offense, and they got it from the Cougars early in the third. A delay of game penalty from seldom used defenseman Peter Kosterman put the Chiefs on the power play, and Adam Helewka would get the puck between the circles and snap home his 22nd of the season at 3:32 to bring Spokane within 2-1. Reid Gow and Jason Fram got their 26th power play assists of the season, 4th in the WHL.
The goal ignited the Chiefs offense, as Holmberg would find a wide open Aviani net front at 4:48 to tie the game at two. Aviani has struggled offensively of late, scoring just 2 goals in his last 21 games, but this one was huge, as the Chiefs had tied the game at two and put Prince George back on their heels. The two teams went back and forth in the third until Fram found Keanu Yamamoto in front of the Cougar net with 5:01 left in the game. Yamamoto's 10th of the season gave Spokane a 3-2 lead as Reid Gow also picked up his 3rd straight assist of the period. Garret Hughson and the defense shut down the Cougars from there, and Aviani would cap the 4-2 win with an empty netter from Holmberg and Helewka with 1:08 left.
It was just the 6th time in 27 games that the Chiefs came back to win a game when trailing after two periods. With the struggles of the Chiefs offense entering the game, it's a huge bounce back victory for Spokane. It will hopefully jump start the team's offense again as the Chiefs head into the final 5 games of the regular season. Spokane is still a point up on Everett as the Silvertips won in Tri City, while the Chiefs moved within 4 points of Seattle for 4th after the Thunderbirds lost at Portland. Spokane's fate is in their hands as they now face Prince George tomorrow before finishing the year with games vs. Seattle, Everett and two with Tri City. The weather is even getting warmer here in PG tonight as the snow is starting to melt! Hopefully it's a sign of things to come tomorrow for the Chiefs...
Wednesday, March 5th
The Chiefs were hoping March would come in like a lion, at least offensively, as Spokane started their last big road trip of the season with a 4 game journey through Kelowna, Prince George and Seattle. Spokane was coming off back to back shutout losses at home to division rivals Portland and Tri City, so the Chiefs were hoping they could find their offense on the road. Game one was about as tough as it gets, as the team took on the #1 team in the CHL, the Kelowna Rockets. Spokane had played well against the Rockets this season, winning 2 of 3, including a come from behind 6-5 shootout the last time the Chiefs played in Kelowna on January 29th.
Spokane had fallen the last encounter in Spokane 2-1 on a goal with just 27 seconds left in a game that was one of the Chiefs best efforts of the season. Kelowna was coming off a 5-1 shellacking the night before in Everett, while the Chiefs travelled that Tuesday up to Kelowna. After a practice in Osoyoos that afternoon, the team arrived in Kelowna at dinner time and were well rested for the Rockets, while Kelowna arrived in the middle of the night after their game on the West Side.
The Chiefs got off to a good start in this contest, as Spokane put up the first 6 shots of the game on their way to outshooting Kelowna 12-8 in the first period. Connor Chartier would score off a backhander after a net front scramble at 17:03 to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. This was a good sign for the Chiefs, as the team that had scored first in the previous 7 games between the two teams had gone on to win the game. It looked like Chartier's goal would hold up through one, but Kelowna scored on a power play goal when Nick Merkley re-directed a Myles Bell pass net front with just 3 seconds left in the period to tie the game at one.
It was a blow for Spokane and Kelowna carried the momentum into the second. Goalie Eric Williams turned away 10 Rockets shots and had two go off the post to keep Kelowna off the scoreboard. Spokane's Dominic Zwerger had a chance to give the Chiefs the lead with a 1 on 1 chance on Kelowna goalie Jordan Cooke, but Cooke made the save to keep the game tied at 1 heading into the third period.
Matching minor penalties just 20 seconds into the third left the two teams on a 4 on 4, and Kelowna took advantage. Merkley got himself open net front behind the Chiefs defense, and scored his second of the night 1:25 into the third to give Kelowna a 2-1 lead. Madison Bowey then scored off another 4 on 4 with a blast from the right blue line at 16:56 to give the Rockets a huge insurance goal at 3-1. Spokane would get a power play late and after pulling Williams from the net, would have a 6 on 4 advantage for nearly a minute. Unfortunately, the Chiefs failed to score on that opportunity as well as another power play in the third, as Kelowna evened the season series at two apiece with a 3-1 win.
It was just a handful of plays that separated Spokane from getting its' 3rd win over Kelowna on the year. The Chiefs offense is still struggling, as the team had some open chances to convert in this game, yet failed to find the net. Hopefully the struggles will end quickly, as the Chiefs lead is now just 1 point over Everett for 5th in the West. Now the team has to head to Prince George to play a Cougars team that is 4 points out of the playoffs with just 4 games left for PG. They will be desperate, and the Chiefs have to match that or risk falling to 6th. Let's hope the team bounces back Friday or this trip could turn into a longgg one.
Friday, February 21st
After being at home for the past week and a half, it seemed almost odd to get back on the bus for just a one game road trip...and a day trip at that, as the Chiefs headed North to Canada for the next to last time this season. Thattt in itself seems hard to believe, as the teams' trips to the Great White North seem almost over this year, but the reality is the Chiefs have just 13 games left in the season as Spokane headed up to Cranbrook, B.C. today to play the Kootenay Ice. Spokane had not seen their rivals since right after the holiday break, when the two clubs split a home and home series in late December; with the visiting team winning each game.
The Chiefs had been scuffling along around the .500 mark the past 3 weeks, while the Ice were getting on a roll, winning 9 of their last 10 heading into Friday's matchup. Spokane was coming off a 4-1 home loss to Prince Albert Wednesday, while Kootenay had beaten Medicine Hat at home that night. Each team was 5th in their respective conferences, on the outside of a home ice playoff spot in the first round. The first period proved to be indicative of what direction each team was going, as from the opening shift of the game, Kootenay controlled the puck and the offensive play of the period. The Ice would get all 3 power plays of the period, but would fail to score. Kootenay would break through though on Jagger Dirk's one timer from the right point at 13:13 of the first to take a 1-0 lead after one.
Fortunately for Spokane, goalie Eric Williams was sharp as he kept the Chiefs close. Kootenay would strike again though early in the second when Radim Valiev scored from the point just 5:45 in to make it 2-0 Ice. When it looked like it might open up for Kootenay, the Chiefs came charging back, specifically behind the line of Marcus Messier, Connor Chartier and Keanu Yamamoto. Messier and Chartier led a rush up ice, and fed Yamamoto who came in late and fired a shot from the slot at 8:15 to bring the Chiefs within 2-1. Then at 15:45, Messier and Chartier put the puck on net, and Yamamoto cleaned up the rebound with a backhander for his second of the night and 4th goal in 4 games to tie the game at two heading into the third.
Any momentum built up offensively in that second period disappeared in the third though, as Spokane had to kill off two more Kootenay power plays and Spokane was outshot 15-7. Fortunately, Williams was on his game and kept Kootenay off the board as the two teams went to overtime still tied at 2. In OT, neither team scored as the two clubs put up 11 shots, 6 by the Ice, and the teams headed to shootout. The goalies took over from there. Williams and Makenzie Skapski of the Ice denied the shooters in the first 4 rounds, with Skapski stopping the Chiefs Mike Aviani and Adam Helewka in the third and fourth rounds that could have won it for Spokane. Vadiev would break the deadlock with a shot through the pads of Williams in round 5, and when Skapski stoned Jason Fram, the Ice had won for the third time in 4 games against the Chiefs this season.
It was an uninspired effort, with the exceptions of the Messier line and Williams play in net. Spokane was veryyy fortunate to get the one point, as Kootenay put up 42 shots on the night and played keep away with the puck almost the entire contest. One thing I do know is this...Spokane better play with a lot more effort and passion when they head home to play the Ice tomorrow night or the home fans will not be kind. The Chiefs are back to open another 4 game homestand, and with just 12 games left and Spokane 5 points back of Seattle for 4th in the Western Conference, the Chiefs will need to get on a roll at home if they have anyyy chance of seeing home ice in the first round.
Sunday, February 9th
The road is never easy in the Western Hockey League. It has been especially tough the last two weeks for the Chiefs, as they have played 7 of 8 away from home and in brutal stretches. Four games in 5 nights last week, followed by 3 games in as many nights this past weekend. When the weather is severe, it makes the travel even more difficult. Last night was one of those nights, as the team left Tri Cities to head to Everett. It's a trip that will take 3 to 3.5 hours normally, but on this night, Mother Nature would extend that to about 5 hours, as snow and ice were a constant companion. The bus had to chain up just past Yakima as I-82 was a mess, and there wasn't a snow plow to be seen.
The team arrived in the middle of tne night about 3:45am, which made Sunday's 4:05pm start with the Silvertips feel almost instantaneous with the arrival. Fatigue certainly had to be a concern, it usually is on the 3rd game in a row, but with the lack of rest, it especially became a key point. The Chiefs started back-up Garret Hughson in goal as Spokane hoped to avenge an overtime loss to the Silvertips the last time the two teams played 8 days earlier in Everett.
The first period was an adventure in let's just say, below average officiating. Missed off sides and blown icing calls were just the start. The penalties called were quite suspect..on both sides it turned out...and the Chiefs had to feel like they were battling more than the Silvertips in the first. Everett would get 4 power plays and would convert on a 5 on 3 chance late in the first when Matt Pufahl snapped home a shot from the high slot to the post on Hughson's blocker side to give Everett a 1-0 lead. Spokane certainly had a chance to tie, as the Chiefs had a 5 on 3 advantage the last 1:04 of the first, but failed to score. Mitch Holmberg was robbed on a great save by goalie Austin Lotz, and Holmberg had another chance net front drift off his stick.
While being outshot 13-5 in the first, Spokane was still very much in the game being down only one goal. The Chiefs would pull back even when Riley Whittingham would tip a Colton Bobyk shot in at 8:31 of the second and it was a 1-1 game. Markson Bechtold got the play started with a pass to Bobyk at the point and Bobyk's shot was headed to the net when Whittingham changed direction. The Chiefs were right back in it, but that would change late in the period. Spokane failed to clear the puck up the right wall, and the Silvertips would get the puck behind the Chiefs net. Jujhar Khaira would hit an open Josh Winquist in the left circle and he would snap home the goal at 17:15 to give the Silvertips a 2-1 lead after two.
The start of the third didn't go much better for Spokane as the Chiefs failed to convert a power play chance and then watched Winquist convert another pass from behind the Spokane goal just 2 minutes into the period to make it 3-1 Everett. Things were not looking good for the Chiefs at this point. The Chiefs would rally though, as Marcus Messier would tip in an Adam Helewka shot at 13:51 to bring Spokane within 3-2. Spokane would get a power play chance late in the third, but for the 6th straight time in the game, the Chiefs would fail to convert on the man advantage, and it would prove to be the team's undoing in a 3-2 loss.
Spokane managed just 18 shots on net, as Hughson turned away 27 of 30 Everett chances. The fact is the Chiefs didn't put enough pucks on net, and were not very efficient with the puck in their 3rd game in 3 nights. The performance was a far cry from their play in the second and third periods in Tri City the night before, and the result was a second straight loss to Everett in 8 days.
The good news for Spokane is they head home for 8 of the next 9 games. It will be nice to not see a bus, or an all night bus ride, or a hotel room, for most of the next 3 weeks. The team is banged up a bit, but hopefully the home cooking and the rest will get the club back on its' game and moving back up in the WHL standings. Now it's time for another fun filled snow adventure over Snoqualmie Pass and here's hoping it warms up in Spokane soon!!
Saturday, February 8th
When I usually picture a harsh winter, it takes place in the months of December and January. Not this year. February has been awfullll weather wise as snow, ice and sub zero temperatures have been the norm this first week of the month. The Chiefs departed Seattle after Friday's game and hit snow outside Ellensburg, but would find the conditions pretty tough road wise when the team got into Tri Cities about 2am. Fortunately, I got to spend the day in the hotel, while the snow held off until the team headed to the rink for the game against the Americans. Both teams were pretty hungry for a win, as Spokane had lost a season high 4 in a row, while Tri was coming off a 10-3 pasting at home to Portland the night before.
The Americans would take the early initiative in this one as Braden Purtill scored on a rebound of a Rodney Southam shot just 1:28 into the game. Chiefs goalie Eric Williams made a great toe save on Southam's shot, but no one picked up Purtill net front and the Chiefs were down 1-0 right off the hop. Spokane didn't panic though and would draw even when defenseman Colton Bobyk notched his 4th goal in 4 games with a shot from the left wing at 10:02 to even the game at one. Bobyk's shot hit off the stick of a Tri City defender and the puck knuckle balled past Ams goalie Eric Comrie's glove. Talk about needing a goal. Spokane had not scored in a week, since Mitch Holmberg's third period goal at Everett the previous Saturday.
Despite being outshot 15-5, Spokane was even on the scoreboard. The Chiefs would build on that in the second when Mike Aviani took a Riley Whittingham pass down the right wing, skated across the crease and deked a shot past Comrie at 8:57 of the second period to give Spokane a 2-1 lead. It was Aviani's 31st of the year, and his first goal in a month. It was also a lead the Chiefs wouldn't lose. Reid Gow would snap a shot on net and Marcus Messier would tip in his first goal as a Chief at 14:09 to give Spokane a 3-1 lead. Jason Fram assisted on both goals on his way to a 3 assist night. I felt great for Marcus, as he finally got a goal after doing so many little things right for Spokane in the near month he's been with the team. Scoring against his ex-team had to feel pretty good too. Tri City would get a generous power play on a penalty on Whittingham and would take advantage on a Beau McCue tip of a Mitch Topping shot at 16:20 to cut the lead to 3-2 heading into the third.
Eric Williams would come up huge in net early in the third when he swiped the puck off the stick of Tri's Lucas Nickles coming in on a breakaway chance. Nickles could have tied the game and changed the entire complexion of the game. Instead, the Chiefs would take control of the game. Keanu Yamamoto found Connor Chartier at center ice and then Chartier put a perfect pass on the tape of Dominic Zwerger. Zwerger skated in and put a backhander through the pads of Comrie at 6:14 to give Spokane a 4-2 lead. That change of events started a 4 goal explosion in just over 6 minutes for the Chiefs. Carter Proft then tipped home a Fram shot at 7:48 to make it 5-2 Spokane. Adam Helewka converted a Mitch Holmberg feed at 11:28 with a shot from the slot to put the Chiefs up 6-2 and Yamamoto capped a great individual effort with a rebound of his own shot at 12:16 to give the Chiefs a commanding 7-2 lead.
Not even giving up a power play goal late in the third was enough to deter Spokane on this night, as the Chiefs snapped their 4 game losing streak and picked up their 6th win in 8 tries with Tri City this season. Spokane is now 6 points back of Seattle for 4th in the conference and have a 6 point lead on Vancouver for the 6th spot. The Chiefs now have a chance to notch a winning road trip as it's back on the bus to battle the snow and ice as Spokane heads backkkkk over Snoqualmie Pass for a meeting with the Everett Silvertips Sunday. It would have been sooo much nicer to play in Everett tonight...then brave the pass only once, but some computer has us on this odyssey, so all we can do is travel it. Let's just hope we get in at a decent hour and the roads aren't too brutal.
Friday, February 7th
The Chiefs haven't enjoyed home ice very much over the last 3 weeks, so when Spokane got shutout by Seattle 4-0 on Wednesday, the team wasn't exactly heading out on a high note as it was back on the bus for 3 games in 3 nights through the U.S. Division over the weekend. The team practiced on Thursday out in Cheney trying to get the offensive kinks worked out as Spokane was starting the trip, ironically enough, with the very same Thunderbirds team who beat them in Spokane Wednesday. The Chiefs had dropped 6 in a row to Seattle, and had been shutout in the last two meetings, so goal number one was to get a puck in the net.
Spokane was making the trip without centers Liam Stewart, Blair Oneschuck and Hudson Elyniuk, who were all injured. The Chiefs also lost defenseman Cole Wedman to injury in Wednesday's game, so the team was going with the minimum 20 players that could suit up as they headed out for Seattle. One thing the Chiefs haven't done well in their series with both Seattle and Portland is get off to good starts scoring wise. Spokane has fallen behind in every game against the Thunderbirds and Winterhawks this year, and as I heard once from an old coach, 'Trailing hockey is losing hockey.' That has proven to be prophetic against Seattle this year.
After starting Garret Hughson in net Wednesday, the Chiefs went back to Eric Williams on Friday night, and he came out razor sharp, as did the Chiefs early in the first. Spokane would out shoot Seattle 11-1 to start the game, and got several good looks on Seattle Taran Kozun, but could never finish off a play. The puck laid in the crease on a couple of occassions for Spokane, but the Chiefs couldn't get a stick on the puck to put it in the net. The Chiefs would end the first period scoreless and would have a power play to start the second.
Unfortunately, Spokane couldn't capitalize on the man advantage and when Seattle got the power play early in the second, the Thunderbirds did. Matt Barzal took a pass up the right wing, skated around the Chiefs defense, and snapped a shot under the bar at 6:29 of the second to give Seattle a 1-0 lead. There was nothing Williams could do, as he had been stellar in stopping several point blank chances by Seattle up till that goal. The Chiefs penalty kill then went limp midway through the period as Seattle converted two more chance. Branden Troock drove from left to right across the slot and then fired a shot off Chiefs defenseman Matt Sozanski and in the net at 12:14 to make it 2-0. Sozanski took a penalty on the goal as well, and Ryan Gropp one-timed a Barzal pass in at 13:07 to open up a 3-0 T-Birds lead after two.
Seattle went 3 for 3 on the power play and had blown open the game. Gropp would cap the scoring when he skated unmolested across the slot and scored on an open backhander at 6:38 to make it 4-0 Thunderbirds. Kozun and the Seattle defense did the rest, as the Chiefs came up empty on 3 power play chances in the third, going 0 for 5 in the game. The Chiefs actually outshot Seattle 35-29 in the contest, but for the third straight game against the T-Birds, failed to score. Kozun has stopped all 92 shots he has faced against Spokane since being acquired by Seattle January 10th. The Chiefs are now 0-5-2 against Seattle this season as well, as the team is now 8 points back of Seattle for 4th in the Conference, the final home ice spot in the first round of the playoffs.
The loss is also the Chiefs 4th in a row, their longest of the season. The team is struggling offensively, as top scorers Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani are not getting a lot of support and teams are putting their full defensive efforts on them. Until the team can give them a little help, it's going to be a struggle to score goals. It doesn't get any easier either, as the Chiefs noware on the bus for the Tri Cities, where Spokane will face an Americans team smarting from a 10-3 pasting at home to Portland tonight. Let's just say the Ams will nottt be in good humor. Neither should Spokane, as tomorrow's game should prove to be another battle in this long standing rivalry.
Saturday, February 1st
After seeing their 4 game win streak come to a crashing halt the night before in Portland, the Chiefs woke up to a rare sight on the 1st day of February in the Rose City...sunshine. It had been so long since I had seen it that my eyes hurt from the glare, but I wasn't complaining. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come for the Chiefs, as they were going to still be without centers Blair Oneschuck, Liam Stewart, Hudson Elyniuk and Mike Aviani as they headed North to Everett to take on the Silvertips.
Spokane had gone 6-0 against the Silvertips this season, but every game was a tight affair decided in the third period or in overtime. With the Chiefs as shorthanded as they were and skating with just 11 forwards, I expected more of the same. All of the previous games in Everett were tight checking, defensive contests as well, and little did I know that tonight's game was going to be anything but.
The Chiefs jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Colton Bobyk took a Mitch Holmberg pass and shot the puck from the left goal line and somehow the shot snuck through the pads of Everett goalie Austin Lotz to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Everett would answer though, as Patrick Bajkov took advantage of some loose Chiefs coverage in their own zone and came into the slot and snapped a wide open shot past goalie Eric Williams at 14:26 of the first to tie the game at one. The goal would be the first of 3 in a 1:30 period, as Spokane would counter just 22 seconds after Bajkov's goal when Carter Proft's face-off win from the left circle was shot in by Markson Bechtold through the pads of Lotz to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead. Back would come Everett, as Brayden Low's shot was saved by Williams, but Ivan Nikolishin slammed home the rebound from the slot at 15:56 to tie the game at two heading into the second.
The previous three games had seen a total of 6 goals scored between the two teams with Spokane scoring 5 of them. The first period had seen 4 put in the net, and more were to follow. The Chiefs would re-gain the lead when Bobyk slapped home a laser from the left wing at 2:35 on the power play on assists from Proft and Cole Wedman to make it 3-2. Everett replaced goalie Austin Lotz with back-up Daniel Cotton at this point and the Silvertips would rally. Everett's leading scorer Josh Winquist, who was third in the league in goals, but had failed to score one against Spokane in the previous 6 games, would change that with an open shot from the left wing 4:44 into the period to re-tie the game at three. Everett would then take their first lead over Spokane on their home ice this year when Kole Bauml stuffed home a rebound net front on the power play at 8:40 of the second to make it 4-3 Silvertips.
The Chiefs would replace Eric Williams at this point with Garret Hughson; the third straight game that happened on the road trip. Spokane had rallied in the third Wednesday to beat Kelowna, and it looked like another rally was in progress on this night when Mitch Holmberg snapped home his league leading 47th goal from the right wing at 8:34 of the third to tie the game at 4. The Chiefs would then go on the power play with just 8 seconds left in regulation when Low took a tripping call. Spokane came within inches of ending the game in overtime when Bobyk's shot from the right side rang off the cross bar. The Chiefs Adam Helewka then took what turned out to be a costly high sticking penalty with 2:02 left in overtime, effectively giving Everett the power play for the rest of overtime.
The Silvertips would take advantage on the 4 on 3 as Winquist would hit an open Nikolishin in the right circle, and he would one time the game winner over Hughson at 4:24 of OT to give Everett their first win over Spokane in 7 games this season. It was the third overtime game between the two teams this year, and with 3 games left between the two, I would imagine there's another to follow at some point. The Chiefs finish the 4 games in 5 nights on the road at 2-1-1, garnering 5 out of a possible 8 points. A successful road trip, but 6 sure would have been nice. Now it's time to head home to face Seattle on Wednesday before getting back on the bus Thursday for a 3 games in 3 nights road trip through the U.S. Division. Looks like I won't get too comfortable in my own bed for long, does it?
Friday, January 31st
After knocking off the #1 team in Canadian Junior Hockey with a great 3rd period comeback in their last outing, the Chiefs made the all day drive on Thursday South to Portland to face the top team in the U.S. Division, Portland. The Winterhawks, the defending league champions, had won 6 in a row this season over Spokane and 14 in a row dating back to January of 2013. Let's just say the Chiefs have struggled against the Hawks for the past year. Thursday was a longgg 9 hour drive South as the team got through the snowy mountains of British Columbia to find the rain of the West Side. The team stopped briefly for lunch in Bellingham, but for the most part, it was watching movies, reading or sleeping on this day.
Spokane got some bad news from the win in Kelowna, as they lost centermen Liam Stewart and Hudson Elyniuk to injuries. The WHL also announced that Mike Aviani had got a 3 game suspension for his hit in Tuesday's game in Kamloops, so adding these 3 losses to that of center Blair Oneschuck who was already out injured; it left Spokane with just one true center, Marcus Messier, for Friday's game with Portland. The Hawks thrive on puck possession and if the Chiefs couldn't win face-offs, it was going to be a long night for the visitors. Spokane started fine in the game though, as they held their own through 20 minutes. The Chiefs outshot Portland 12-8 in the period, despite having to kill off 3 Portland power plays. Unfortunately, the Winterhawks scored with just 9 seconds left on the second one, as Keegan Iverson's backhander at 10:18 of the first gave Portland a 1-0 lead after one.
The Chiefs knew they could not repeat the results of Wednesday's second period, when they gave up 4 goals to Kelowna. Spokane didn't...but they did give up 3, as the Winterhawks took control of the game in the second. Paul Bittner's goal just 3:16 into the period set the stage for the Hawks. Their leading goal scorer Oliver Bjorkstrand took over from there, as he went far post on goalie Eric Williams on a great shot on the power play at 11:36 to make it 3-0. Bjorkstrand then finished off a nice give and go from Derrick Pouliot at 15:12 to cap the three goal period and make it 4-0 Hawks after two. Portland dominated the period, outshooting Spokane 14-7 to take a commanding lead to the third.
Spokane would bring in Garret Hughson in net for Williams to start the third for the second straight game, but the Chiefs just couldn't find the net on Burke in the third. Meantime, Brendan Leipsic scored at 8:47 of the period to make it 5-0, and Adam DeChamplain scored on the power play with just 13 seconds left to cap off a 6-0 win. It was the second straight game that Burke had blanked the Chiefs, as Spokane put up 32 shots, just one fewer than Portland. Special teams were the difference, as Spokane was just 0-2 on the power play, while Portland was 3-6. It was the 3rd game in 7 this year that Portland had scored 3 power play goals in a game on the Chiefs.
The Chiefs knew it would take a gritty and near perfect effort to win, and they fell short, particularly in the second period, to have a chance at a win. Now the team has to re-group and head North to Everett to take on the Silvertips. Spokane has met with far more success with the Tips this year, winning 6 in a row. All of the games have come down to the third period or overtime though, and with the losses at center still present for Saturday, the team will need to hunker down if they hope to make it 7 straight. At least the team gets to sleep and rest in Portland and get a brief respite from the bus before making one final journey on the road trip.
Wednesday, January 29th
With a win in Kamloops the night before, the Chiefs 4 game road trip was off to a positive start. In the glow of victory though, came the realization that Spokane was now heading off to play the #1 team in all of Canadian Junior Hockey as they prepared to face the Kelowna Rockets. Kelowna was an impressive 40-7-0-2 on the season, but one of those 7 losses in regulation came to the Chiefs in Spokane back in early October at the Spokane Arena. A lot had changed since then though, as the Rockets had moved to the top of the WHL, 18 points ahead of Spokane in the Western Conference standings. Kelowna had lost just twice in regulation in 22 home games and lost only 4 times overall, so the challenge ahead for Spokane was a formidable one.
The team woke up to snow the morning of game day, and all I could think about was how nice it was going to be to not have to drive after the game to Portland as the Chiefs were staying in Kelowna for the night. The snow wasn't real heavy, and didn't stick to the road, making travel pretty easy. The day went quick too, as the breakfast and pre-game meals were the standard fare of eggs and pancakes in the am, and chicken and pasta in afternoon. The lasagna though did stand out at lunch, but I digress. The Chiefs knew they had to be playing their best from the puck drop and in the first, they came out and played well enough to keep the Rockets off the board. The team that had scored first had won the last 5 meetings between these two teams, so things looked good when Reid Gow snapped home his 3rd goal of the year from the left wing 7:47 into the game to make it 1-0 Spokane. The Rockets came right back though as they converted their first power play chance on a Colton Heffley goal on a nice Damon Severson feed 10:50 into the period to tie the game at one. Kelowna would get a second power play opportunity less than 3 minutes later, but it was the Chiefs that would capitalize.
Adam Helewka, who had assisted on Gow's goal, picked up the puck in the neutral zone and took off down the right wing. He would find Mitch Holmberg on the left side, and Holmberg would snap home his league leading 46th goal of the year to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead after one. The short handed goal was Holmberg's 6th of the season, tying him for the top spot in the WHL. The one goal lead was short lived for the Chiefs in the second period though, as Kelowna would score 3:40 into the period after the Chiefs failed to clear the puck and the Rockets Ryan Olsen snapped home the one timer to tie the game at two. The goal would open the flood gates in the period for Kelowna. Kris Schmidle scored from the left wing at 7:14 to give the Rockets a 3-2 lead. Rourke's Chartier's one timer from the slot on the power play at 16:20 would extend the lead to 4-2 Kelowna, and when Damon Severson's blast from the point at 19:21 beat goalie Eric Williams, the Rockets took a commanding 5-2 lead into the third period.
The game looked to be lost at this point. Spokane brought in Garret Hughson to take over for Williams to start the third, and you just hoped the Chiefs would build up some momentum heading into Friday's game in Portland. Spokane had other ideas though. On the first shift of the third, Holmberg hit an open Liam Stewart net front and Stewart pushed home his 7th of the year just 25 seconds into the third to bring the Chiefs within 5-3. Jason Fram then picked off a puck at the Rockets blue line, snapped a shot on net and Carter Proft cleaned up the rebound at 4:53 and suddenly the Chiefs were right back in the game at 5-4. Spokane had several chances to even, as Fram hit a post, and then Dominic Zwerger fanned on an open net front opportunity. The Chiefs failed on two straight power plays as well, and it looked like the comeback would fall short. Spokane would get a 3rd chance though on the power play late in the third and they didn't miss.
Holmberg would get his third point of the game with a pin point pass to the tape of Gow on a back door play at 15:25 as the Chiefs tied the game atÂ 5. It was the largest deficit overcome by Spokane this year, and was the biggest lead coughed up by Kelowna on the season. The Chiefs roared into overtime with the momentum, but generated nothing offensively in the OT, while Hughson had to turn back 4 shots to force the game to a shootout. The shootout was battle of the goalies as Hughson and Rockets goalie Jordan Cooke took turns denying goals through 5 rounds. In the 6th, Hughson capped his perfect night by denying Schmidle. Fram would then finish the comeback by beating Cooke high on the glove to give the Chiefs a 6-5 win and their second straight win over Kelowna in as many meetings this season.
It was as great a comeback as I've witnessed, certainly rivaling the come from behind 7-6 shootout win over Seattle last year when the Chiefs rallied from a 6-2 third period deficit at home. This one might be greater though as they came back from 3 down, on the road, to the top team in the CHL. You just hope this win opens the team's eyes as to what they are capable of on a night in and night out basis. Adam Helewka, Liam Stewart, and Reid Gow led a team that put together a great teammm effort in the first and third periods. Spokane will need more of the same...and a muchh better second as they head to Portland Friday. The Chiefs are 0 for 6 vs. the Winterhawks this year, so it will be nice to get that mental obstacle over and done with in the Rose City. For now, it's time to glow in the comeback of the season...so far...and hope more are out there.
Tuesday, January 28th
The longest road trip of the season started Monday when the team rolled out of Spokane a little after 10am from the Spokane Arena. The Chiefs were embarking on a 4 games in 5 nights trip through Canada, Oregon and Washington as they faced a daunting task through the Western Hockey League's Western Conference. Monday's drive to Kamloops was pretty smooth, as was the weather as no snow or freezing rain was anywhere to be seen. No sense on getting a tough road trip off to a difficult start on the roads. Watching the HBO series on the Winter Classic with the Red Wings and Maple Leafs made the trip go pretty quick too. When the team got to Kamloops around 6pm, the team ate dinner and bedded down for the night as they got ready for their first opponent, the Blazers.
Spokane's first trip to Kamloops had not gone so well, as the Chiefs were flying high, #3 in the CHL, and 5-1 on the season. Spokane would fall behind 3-0 before losing 5-4, one of just 11 wins for Kamloops entering the game. The Chiefs had avenged that loss in a 6-3 win at home on January 10th, but the performance was far from one of the best by Spokane this season. The home team had won each game the last 8 meetings, and the team that had scored first had won all 8. So with that in mind, the Chiefs took to the ice in Kamloops Tuesday night.
The Chiefs played well in the first, keeping the puck in the Blazer end and outshooting Kamloops 11-6 in the period, including 5-1 to start the game. Kamloops would take a roughing penalty and then just 44 seconds later a tripping call to put the Chiefs on a 5 on 3 power play for 1:16. It didn't take the Chiefs long to convert the chance as Reid Gow's perfect pass to the tape of Mitch Holmberg was one-timed in the net for his 44th of the season at 15:55 to make it 1-0 Chiefs. Spokane came within a second of getting their second power play tally of the period, but Dominic Zwerger's shot from the left wing beat Blazer goalie Bolton Pouliot at 17:26 just as the 5 on 4 power play expired, to make it 2-0 Chiefs after one.
The second period became an offensive slugfest. Kamloops scored on a Matt Revel rebound just 3:31 into the period to bring the Blazers within 2-1. After matching minor penalties, Holmberg would skate with the puck in the Kamloops zone, loop from left to right and fire a shot/pass to Liam Stewart net front. I thought Stewart hit the puck in the net, but the official scorers said the puck hit off Pouliot, giving Holmberg his second goal of the night and Spokane a 3-1 lead. The Chiefs Mike Aviani then took a 5 minute major penalty for a check to the head on a hard hit behind the Kamloops goal at 9:40 and it looked like the Blazers would be able to work their way back into the game with a 5 minute power play.
It was the Chiefs that took advantage though, as Stewart stole the puck at the Chiefs blue line and was hauled down from behind by Blazer defenseman Josh Connolly. Stewart was awarded the penalty shot, and converted it for a shorthanded goal just 11 seconds into the Kamloops power play. Cole Ully would score on the power play less than a minute later for the Blazers though, as they cut the lead to 4-2. There was still over 3 minutes of power play left and another goal would have the Chiefs on their heels. Spokane had other ideas though, as Marcus Messier worked the puck out of the Chiefs zone, fed an open Adam Helewka up ice, and Helewka skated in and scored on the backhand for Spokane's 2nd shorthanded goal of the power play to make it a 5-2 game. This goal was the back breaker for Kamloops as the Chiefs scored twice off a 5 minute power play that the Blazers figured to even the game, but instead fell further behind after two.
In the third, Kamloops would score on their only power play of the period, as they finished 2 for 3 on the night. Despite having the lead cut to 5-3 though, the Chiefs bounced back, outshooting the Blazers 11-4 and scoring on Carter Proft's 6th goal of the season at 16:20 to cap a 6-3 win. It was a deserved outcome as Spokane outshot the Blazers in 2 of the 3 periods and 28-27 overall in the game. The Chief power play was 1-4, but the penalty kill was just 1-3. Spokane diddd get 2 shorthanded goals though, so in the end, the special teams were a win for the Chiefs.
It's a good start to the road trip, but as I sit on the bus to Kelowna, I know the team can nottt play like they did tonight and hope to knock off the CHL's #1 team on their home ice. The Rockets are an impressive 40-7-0-2 on the season, with one of those 7 regulation losses to the Chiefs in Spokane. That came way back in early October though, so the Chiefs can't draw upon that win as a reason to think they have a good shot Wednesday. You know Kelowna will be ready, especially after being off tonight. It will be a tough battle for Spokane, but there's no doubt they're facing in Kelowna tomorrow and Portland Friday, two of the best teams in junior hockey. Let's see how the Chiefs stack up!
Sunday, January 19th
For the first time since the Thursday, the Chiefs saw the sun in the sky as Spokane woke up in Portland to cap a 3 games in 3 nights trip through the U.S. Division. Having gone 1-1 thus far, a win over the first place Winterhawks would have been a great way to wrap up the road trip. It was a pretty tall task though, as Portland has had the Chiefs number the last two seasons, losing just 2 of the last 19 games against Spokane, including winning all 5 this year. After the less than ideal performance the night before in a 3-1 loss at Tri City, the Chiefs were hoping to get back on the winning track in Portland.
The morning went quick as the team got to the rink shortly before 1:30pm. The sun was shining on the ice, as the curtains were pulled back at the Veteran's Memorial Coliseum to let the light in. It is a great building to call a game during the day as it doesn't seem to be as old and weary as it looks at night. Sounds odd, but true. The Chiefs last win in Portland came in a day game last January, so Spokane was hoping to repeat the feat this time around.
It became apparent from the opening puck drop that wasn't going to happen though. Portland was all over the Chiefs from the get go, putting up 18 shots in the period as Spokane was hemmed back in their own zone most of the first. If it wasn't for the efforts of goalie Garret Hughson. the game could have been 4 or 5 to nothing after one. As it was, Hughson turned aside 17 of 18 shots in the period as Portland had a 1-0 lead after one. Brendan Leipsic scored on a rebound in the final minute of the first to give the Hawks the lead, but Spokane should have felt veryyy fortunate to still be in the game.
Portland took the momentum of that goal and built on it in the second. Chase DeLeo split right between two Chiefs defenders at the blue line and skated in and beat Hughson on a backhander at 7:06 of the period to give Portland a 2-0 lead. Portland then went on an odd man rush and Keegan Iverson scored at 10:49 to make it 3-0 Hawks. Leipsic would score his second while the two teams were on a 4 on 4 at 15:32 to cap a 3 goal period as Portland took a 4-0 lead after two.
The Winterhawks would get the only goal of the third as they scored on their first shot of the period on the power play. Oliver Bjorkstrand one timed a perfect pass from the slot at 4:24 of the third to put Portland up 5-0. The game would end that way, as Spokane managed just 25 shots on net, while Portland put up 40 on net. Hughson was the lone bright spot on the night, turning aside 35 shots, several of which could have easily been in the net. If Hughson had played an average game, the final would have been 8 or 9 to nothing.
It was not a pretty sight in any way, shape or form. The nice thing for Spokane is that they now get back to the practice ice to work out the kinks before they play Moose Jaw and Tri City over the weekend at home. At least I get to relax on the bus now with my Red Robin burger and knowing the Broncos are in the Super Bowl to play the Seahawks. So I got that going for me. Now back to watching "The Wolf of Wall Street." Looks like a good one....
Saturday, January 18th
With the road trip off to a good start with a tough win in Everett, the team headed to the Tri Cities hoping to make it 2 for 2 over the weekend. The Chiefs had won 4 of 5 over the Americans during the season, and while the Ams were coming off a shutout loss at Seattle the night before, one thing this series has taught me is that you can never assume is that a team has an advantage. Tri was in desperate need of a win, and they would show just how much on this night.
It was a foggy, miserable day out, and I think it was a precursor of what was to come. It certainly was from my end. About an hour before the game, I discovered the phone line didn't work in the visitor's radio booth. Needless to say, it's not the first time this has happened in my 12 years with the Chiefs, and I'm certain it won't be the last. The Ams radio voice, Craig West was very helpful in getting me a phone...and a line...that actually worked, and I was able to get on the air. In doing so though, I had to hold a phone to my ear for 3 hours, which is exhausting in its own rite, but trying doing it while keeping stats with the other hand. A fun time it is not.
It wasn't fun on the ice either. Tri City would score on their first power play midway through the first when Phillip Tot banged home a rebound just 7 seconds into the man advantage to give the Ams a 1-0 lead. Spokane would respond later in the first. Reid Gow got the puck to Dominic Zwerger net front, and Zwerger spun and put a no look pass on the stick of Keanu Yamamoto, who beat Tri goalie Eric Comrie at 15:55 of the period to tie the game at one. It was Yamamoto's 3rd goal of the year in a game that was one of his best of the season.Â
Spokane outshot Tri 13-9 in the first and was in a good spot with an even game after one. In the second, the Chiefs and Americans put up 10 shots apiece in a pretty even second 20 minutes. Unfortunately for Spokane, Tri City would score the only goal when Brian Williams scored on a rebound at 16:47 to break the deadlock and give the Ams a 2-1 lead heading into the third. It had been a physical 40 minutes as both teams delivered big hits, but it was Tri City that started to slowly take control of the game after Williams goal.
In the third, Tot would get his second goal of the game midway through the period after an offensive zone face-off win, and the Americans would take control on Tot's goal to lead 3-1. The Chiefs got the only power play of the period right after the goal, but were unable to get the puck past goalie Eric Comrie, and Spokane ended up 0-3 on the man advantage on the night. Spokane would pull Eric Williams from goal with 3.5 minutes remaining, and Tri would miss several chances to score in the empty net. The Chiefs though, failed to mount a serious offensive threat on Comrie in the waning minutes and would end up falling short 3-1.
Spokane outshot the Americans 32-23 on the night, but the lack of any sustained offense proved to be too much for the Chiefs as they fell for just the 2nd time in 6 games with Tri City this year. The loss also took a bit of the luster off the previous night's win at Everett as both the Silvertips and Seattle won tonight; leaving Spokane 3 points back of second place Seattle and just 1 point up on Everett for third. Now the Chiefs have a short turnaround as the boys get on the bus for an afternoon battle at first place Portland. The Winterhawks are 5 points up on Spokane have won 5 straight this season from the Chiefs. Needless to say, it's a daunting task, but hopefully the team will step up and show what they're capable of in the Rose City tomorrow.
Friday, January 17th
Coming off a tough 1-0 overtime loss at home Tuesday against Seattle, the Chiefs headed out on the road for a 3 games in 3 nights trip through the U.S. Division. Spokane would start Friday in Everett against the Silvertips, a team just one point back of Spokane for 3rd place in the U.S. Division. While the Chiefs were 0-5 each against Portland and Seattle, Spokane was 5-0 against Everett and 4-1 vs. Tri City. As the team headed over Thursday across the state, the Chiefs were hoping to continue the winning ways against the Silvertips. The team practiced at Eastern Washington on Thursday, and then found that the fog enveloping Spokane was limited to just the Lilac City. The drive across the state was beautiful, as even Snoqualmie Pass was clear and sunny.
Unfortunately, that weather ended in North Bend as a giant fog bank greeted the bus, and continued all the way to Everett. It was the last sunshine the team would see on the West Side, as fog was a constant come game day. The team went through a brief morning skate as they got ready for an Everett team coming off an overtime loss of their own in Tri Cities. Starts are always important in Everett, in order to keep their vocal crowd out of the game. The Chiefs managed to do just that, as they would score late in the first. Hudson Elyniuk picked up the puck in the Tips zone on the right wing and patiently snapped a pass to Dominic Zwerger on the left side. Zwerger beat Everett goalie Austin Lotz at 15:42 of the first to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after one.
Chiefs goalie Eric Williams was razor sharp in the first period, turning away 12 Everett shots, including one from Jujhar Khaira on a backhander netfront that kept the Silvertips off the board. It was a hugeee save in the game, as Spokane not only was able to take a lead after one, but kept the crowd muted. In the second, Williams would deny the Tips leading scorer Josh Winquist on another backhander in front of the Chiefs net and keep Spokane up by one. Everett would get 3 power plays in the period, and the Chiefs penalty kill would deny the Tips on all 3 attempts. At the end of the first power play, the puck slid to the Chiefs blue line and two Everett players collided going for it. The ice opened for Spokane's Adam Helewka and he went in and scored on a breakaway at 10:33 of the second to put the Chiefs up 2-0. The celebration of the lead was short lived though, as Everett's Logan Aasman put a puck of a Chiefs defender's skate and it slid past Williams 33 seconds later to cut the lead to 2-1.
It was the first goal given up by Williams and the Chiefs in 3 games in Everett this season. The crowd was alive again and the Silvertips nearly scored at the end of the period on a shot that somehow went wide left after being deflected past Williams. Spokane would get a 5 minute power play midway through the third on a major penalty for kneeing on Winquist on a hit on Helewka and the Chiefs had a chance to open up the game. Unfortunately, the power play netted just 2 shots, and no goals as it remained a 2-1 game. The power play only left about 6 minutes for the Silvertips to get something going offensively, and they got a break when the Chiefs committed a penalty with just 1:30 left. Everett would then pull Lotz in the final minute to get a 6 on 4 advantage. Spokane and Williams tightened up defensively though, and the Cheifs cleared the puck in the final seconds to preserve a well earned 2-1 win.
It was a huge win on the road, and a great start to the road trip. The Chiefs are now 3 points up on the Silvertips for 3rd in the division and just one point back of Seattle for second. Portland is still in striking distance, 5 points ahead and with the Chiefs having 2 games in hand. Now the team heads over the bumpy roads of the pass on their way to Tri Cities to take on an Americans team that lost 4-0 in Seattle. Hopefully the good defensive work for the Chiefs continue in another tough building in Kennewick tomorrow night.
Saturday, January 11th, 2014
The first road game of 2014 saw the Chiefs braving the winter weather over Snoqualmie Pass as they headed West to take on the Seattle Thunderbirds. Spokane had just completed a 3-0 homestand with a 6-3 win over Kamloops the night before as the Chiefs had won 4 straight to move into a second place tie with Everett in the U.S. Division. Seattle had won 2 straight on the road in Prince George and had been off since Wednesday's shootout win over the Cougars. The Chiefs didn't enjoy much success against Seattle in 2013 in the first half of the season, going 0-3 and getting outscored 16-6. Spokane had played a lot better against the T-Birds in the last meeting in Seattle December 7th, losing 4-2 after giving up 2 goals late in the third in a tie game.
The Chiefs had not started well in any of the three previous games, and didn't come out particularly sharp in this one. The team left about an hour earlier than normal, hoping to beat the snow that was expected on the Pass during the drive over. After another fabulous meal in Ellensburg, the team didn't hit much snow, just a lot of rain and snow mix, and made it to Seattle a good hour plus earlier than normal. Perhaps the sitting around had the Chiefs start sluggishly, but Spokane only managed 4 shots in the first period, while having to kill off 3 Seattle power plays in the first. The Chiefs power play would come through late in the first though, as Mitch Holmberg got the puck from Jason Fram, and hit Mike Aviani on the right wing. Aviani's shot beat Seattle goalie Danny Mumaugh with just 1:04 left in the period to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after one.
The Chiefs then found themselves on the penalty kill three more times in the second period and would see Seattle capitalize. Spokane had given up 7 power play goals in the 3 previous losses to the Thunderbirds and Seattle would score on their first man advantage of the second. Alexander Delnov banged home a rebound past goalie Eric Williams 2:57 into the second to tie the game at one. The Chiefs bounced right back though, as Connor Chartier tipped a Cole Wedman shot at 5:53 to give the lead back to Spokane at 2-1. Liam Stewart started the play with a steal of the puck and fed Wedman at the right point for his slap shot on goal. It looked like the Chiefs would take the lead to the third, but a double minor for spearing to Carter Proft at 15:09 would give Seattle a 4 minute power play. Roberts Lipsbergs scored just 57 seconds into the power play on a shot top shelf and the game was tied at two.
Fortunately the Chiefs killed off the rest of the power play to take the game to the third even at 2. Stewart would steal the puck from Seattle defenseman Jared Hauf in the T-birds zone and feed an open Chartier at 6:53 to put Spokane back on top at 3-2. The Chiefs played their best period in the third, outshooting Seattle for the only period of the game at 13-11. Unfortunately, the Chiefs couldn't hold the lead. Seattle pulled Mumaugh with about 2.5 minutes left with a face-off in the Spokane zone. Lipsbergs would have a shot blocked in the slot, but the rebound came right back to his stick and he scored at 17:46 of the third to tie the game at 3 and force overtime.
It was a tough break for Spokane, but the Chiefs had gone 5-0 in overtime this season, while going 1-2 in shootouts, so if the Chiefs avoided a shootout, chances were pretty good for a Spokane win. That, unfortunately again, would not prove to be the case. Seattle's Lipsbergs got the puck across the Chiefs blue line, dropped a pass for Delnov, and he slapped the puck past Williams for the game winner at 2:14 of OT to give Seattle their 4th straight win over Spokane this year. It was a goal I'm sure Eric would love to have back, but the game doesn't work that way, and the Chiefs saw their 4 game win streak come to an end with their first loss of 2014.
Spokane had to battle a lottt in this game, starting with the officiating. The officials didn't lose this game for Spokane, but they sure didn't help matters, not just with the some of the phantom calls they made, but the ones they missed. Don't take my word for it...just watch the video of the game. If you did happen to watch, you know what I mean. I'll leave it at that. The Chiefs now head home to host the Thunderbirds Tuesday at the Arena. If this game...and result, doesn't get them ready to play, then I don't know what will. For now though, it's slow going over Snoqualmie, as snow is building up on the roads and a freezing rain is falling. Time for a nap I think....
Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
The year 2013 would come to an end like it has the previous 12 years have for me...with a trip to the Tri Cities, as the Chiefs headed down Highway 395 for the annual meeting with the Americans. I really used to look forward to New Year's Eve, but somehow the trip on a bus while bringing in the New Year just isn't the same as being with friends and family. The journey's have usually ended in losses for the Chiefs too, which hasn't helped matters, as the Americans have dominated this game over the last decade, winning the last 5 in a row.
The Chiefs also made a trade today as they sent defenseman Tyler King to Kootenay for forward Hudson Elyniuk. King was a solid backliner, who wasn't known for his scoring, but steady play in the D zone. It now opens a new opportunities for rookies Colton Bobyk and Jeff Rayman. I'll be interested to see how they respond. Spokane was facing a Tri City team that looked more like a MASH unit, as they had their leading scorer Connor Rankin out, as well as forwards Parker Bowles, Jessey Astles and Ty Comrie, and defensemen Mitch Topping, Wil Tomchuk, Michael Plutnar, Parker Wotherspoon and Braden Purtill. Comrie, Plutnar, Wotherspoon and Purtill were all at tournaments, but the remaining players were all injured. It left the Ams scrambling to call up players to fill spots and the short handed team has lost 6 in a row entering Tuesday's game.
None of that matters in this game, as the Americans alwaysss come out ready in this contest. Tri came out outshooting the Chiefs 8-1 early in this one, as Chiefs goalie Eric Williams was sharp, keeping it a scoreless game. Spokane would get their first power play midway through the period, and would capitalize. Jason Fram hit Mike Aviani with a pass by the left post. Aviani would then put a no look back pass to an open Mitch Holmberg in the low right circle and Holmberg beat Ams goalie Eric Comrie at 12:02 to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Tri City would then commit a delay of game penalty and Riley Whittingham would beat Comrie from the same circle 57 seconds later to put Spokane ahead 2-0. The Chiefs would get another power play chance just a minute later with a chance to go up 3-0, but a face-off win by the Americans in their own zone would see Lucas Nickles go the other way and score from the left wing at 14:03 shorthanded to put the Ams right back in the game at 2-1.
The Chiefs would get a 5 on 3 chance just seconds later, but would fail to score as Comrie robbed Holmberg and Fram from point blank range. The period would end with the Chiefs up 2-1, but it felt like Tri City was on the upswing in the game. In the second though, Spokane controlled the play offensively in the first 15 minutes, continually keeping the puck in the Tri City end of the ice. Comrie would turn aside 15 Spokane shots in the period, keeping the Chiefs off the board and keeping it a 2-1 game after two. Knowing the Chiefs had just a one goal lead heading into the third was not exactly comforting, especially with the history between the two in this building.
Spokane would get the goal they needed in the third though on a great bit of teamwork between Holmberg and Adam Helewka. Holmberg kept the puck in at the Tri City blue line, feeding Helewka. Helewka would skate left to right across the slot, then slipped a back pass to Holmberg, who came in on the rush and slapped his second goal of the night past Comrie at 6:44 to give the Chiefs a 3-1 lead. It was a hugeee goal, and would turn out to be even bigger when Brian Williams scored on a rebound at 14:18 of the period to bring the Ams back within 3-2. Tri City would pull Comrie from net in the final 2 minutes, but Spokane and Williams would hold the Americans at bay. When Liam Stewart stole the puck at mid-ice and found Colton Bobyk for an empty netter the final 6 seconds, it gave the Chiefs their first win in Tri on New Year's Eve since 2007.
Williams was excellent, as he has most of the season. He made huge saves early in the first to keep Spokane in it, and then preserved the one goal lead in the third with a stop of a Phillip Tot breakaway and another save net front. Holmberg now has 3 multi goal games in 5 meetings with Tri, going for 8 goals and 10 points. His 39 goals not only lead the WHL, but matches his entireee season total from last year. It was also a hugeee win in the standings, as the three teams in front of Spokane, Portland, Everett and Seattle all lost. So the Chiefs will go into 2014 6 points behind 1st place Portland, 2 behind 2nd place Everett and just 1 back of 3rd place Seattle. Now the team heads home to open a 3 game homestand with Victoria and Everett coming to town this weekend.
That can wait though. A good steak dinner at Applebee's awaits, and bus ride home to Spokane. Nothing like celebrating New Year's on a win as we pass Ritzville. OK, I can think of a hundred better ways to ring in a New Year, but at least it's a happy bus this time around. Thattt sure beats the alternative! By the way, Happy New Year everyone!
Friday, December 27th
The second half of the Chiefs season began like the first half ended...on the road. After an 11 day break for the holidays, Spokane got back on the bus, this time North of the Border as they headed to Cranbrook, B.C. for the second time this season and a meeting with the Kootenay Ice. The first matchup had not gone so well, as the Chiefs dropped a 3-2 decision in early November in Cranbrook. Kootenay's power play was especially effective, scoring 2 goals in the win. The good news for Spokane was they would welcome back defenseman Reid Gow after being gone nearly a month with an injury, and forward Liam Stewart, who was back from the U-20 world championships in Britain.
Coming off a shutout win over Everett, the Chiefs hoped to get off to a quick start on the Ice. The team that had scored first in the previous 6 meetings over the last two years had gone on to win the game. Spokane got that goal accomplished on their second power play of the night, when Mike Aviani jammed home a rebound midway through the period to make it 1-0. Gow got the puck to Mitch Holmberg, whose shot was rebounded by Aviani net front. It was Aviani's 16th power play goal of the year, tops in the WHL, and 27th goal overall, second only to Holmberg, who got his league leading 75th point. The assist was Gow's 34th, and 18th on the power play, third in the league. The lead would hold until Jaedon Descheneau scored from the slot with just 14 seconds left in the first to tie the game at 1 after the first period.
The goal spoiled an otherwise very good period for the Chiefs as they outshot the Ice 16-8 in the first. The momentum didn't carry over into the second for Kootenay though, as Dominic Zwerger stripped the puck and Jackson Playfair fired the loose puck past Ice goalie Makenzie Skapski just 21 seconds into the second to give Spokane a 2-1 lead. Kootenay then went on the power play for the only time in the second, but Blair Oneschuck stole the puck at the Ice blue line and scored on a breakaway at 5:40 of the period to give the Chiefs a 3-1 edge. It was Oneschuck's 2nd shorthanded goal of the year. Riley Whittingham then scored on a rebound of a Liam Stewart shot at 14:18 to put the Chiefs up 4-1. It looked like Spokane would seize control of the game at this point, but Descheneau and Zach McPhee scored goals less than a minute and a half apart to cut the lead to 4-3. Just when it looked like the Ice would trail by just one heading to the third, Playfair would score on a rebound of a Cole Wedman shot with just 2 seconds to go in the period to make it 5-3 Spokane after two.
Talk about a huge goal in the game. The Chiefs regained the edge in the game, and would go back and forth early in the third as the wide open offensive game of the second period made way for a tighter defensive game in the third. Spokane would get a huge break midway through the period when Whittingham's shot somehow eluded Ice backup goalie Wyatt Hoflin and the Chiefs had a 6-3 lead. Kootenay's Tim Bozon would score on a tip with just under 4 minutes left to cut the lead to 6-4, but the Ice would get no closer as the Chiefs got a power play in the final 2 minutes and played keep away with the puck to wrap up their 4th straight win.
You always wonder how the team is going to look after an extended holiday break. There was certainly some rust, but some good performances as well, led by Playfair, who had a breakout game offensively. Hopefully this will jump start him to a big second half. It's also always good to get off to a winning start and the boys hope to keep it going tomorrow night when they host this very same Ice team at the Arena. For now, it's getting some rest on the bus, and hopefully the border crossing doesn't take tooo long.
Sunday, December 15th
Hard to believe the first half of the season is over, but today's game in Everett will signal the beginning of the holiday break and cap what has been a pretty successful first half for Spokane. The Chiefs were hoping to finish strong as they had won 2 straight games at home during the week against the Silvertips and Prince George to move within 4 points of second place Everett in the U.S. Division. The team headed out from Spokane first thing in the morning to make the 4.5 hour drive to Everett.
The Silvertips had dropped 3 straight coming in, so Spokane knew they would be in for a tough defensive battle, much like the last time the two teams met in Everett, with Spokane getting a 1-0 win in overtime. This game started out with limited offensive chances early, as the two teams were scoreless heading to the midway point of the first. The Chiefs got an offensive zone face-off in the Everett zone and would convert and Riley Whittingham found Tyler King at the blue line. King wristed a shot from the right point and beat Everett goalie Daniel Cotton at 9:22 to give Spokane a 1-0 lead after one.
Each team put up 10 shots as the Chiefs killed the only power play from the Tips in the period. In the second, neither team would score, but Chiefs goalie Eric Williams had the save of the game when he somehow blocked a net front chance from Everett's leading scorer Josh Winquist to keep Spokane up 1-0. The Chiefs killed off two more Silvertips power plays in the period to go a perfect 3-3 in the game. The two teams combined for just 15 shots in the second, with Everett getting 8 of them.
In the third, Spokane was back on its' heels early as Everett kept the puck in the Chiefs zone for the first 5 minutes of the period. Spokane didn't get a shot on goal until the 6:17 mark when Dominic Zwerger stole the puck in the Silvertips end and found Mike Aviani in the left circle. Aviani snapped the shot past Cotton's glove for his 26th of the year to give the Chiefs a 2-0 lead. It was all Williams would need. He would rob Winquist again with a great glove save and the netminder would pick up his second shutout of the Silvertips in Everett this season.
It wasn't a great game, but it was good enough for the win, and Williams was excellent as the best player on the ice. Spokane is now tied with Seattle for 3rd in the division, just 2 points back of second place Everett and 6 behind first place Portland. It's been a good first half for the Chiefs and now the hard work begins. The West is going to be a war the second half of the season, so let's hope the team enjoys the holidays and comes back ready to go. Hope everyone has a great Christmas and we'll see you after the break from Cranbrook, B.C. when the Chiefs open the second half against the Kootenay Ice.
Saturday, December 7th
Pearl Harbor Day was a bright and sunny...and freeeeezinggg in Spokane as the temperatures barely made the teens when the Chiefs headed West to face Seattle for the third time in 7 days. The first two meetings with the Thunderbirds had been in a word..a disaster, as Seattle outscored the Chiefs 5-1 in the first matchup Sunday and 7-3 the night before; with both games at home at the Spokane Arena. Seattle had now tied the Chiefs for 3rd in the division as Spokane now found themselves just one point out of last place in the rugged U.S. Division.
It was the Chiefs first visit to the ShoWare Center in Kent, and the drive went as smooth as you could hope for, as the team stopped in Ellensburg for a nice pre-game meal and arrived in Kent right on time for the pre-game preps. Spokane started Eric Williams in net, who had started the night before but was replaced after a 3 goal second gave Seattle a 4-1 after two. Williams had played pretty well in the game, but got very little help in front of him, so the deficit gave backup Garret Hughson some work and allowed Williams to rest up for tonight's game.
Spokane started a bit slow, getting outshot 8-2 off the beginning of the game, and Alexander Delnov converted a one timer midway through the period after the Chiefs had killed off Seattle's third power play of the first as the Thunderbirds took a 1-0 lead. Spokane built some momentum later in the period though, as Spokane would end up tying Seattle in shots 10-10 at the end of the first. Spokane would generate 5 power play chances in the second and would pull even when Mitch Holmberg came to the top of the slot and fired a rocket past Seattle goalie Danny Mumaugh at 17:36 to tie the game at one after two periods.
The Chiefs controlled the second, outshooting Seattle 15-4 in the period, yet converting just 1 of 6 power plays through two periods left Spokane tied heading to the third. Seattle would take advantage of a careless turnover by Chiefs defenseman Jason Fram early in the third, and score on an Ethan Bear shot from the right point just 2:10 in to take a 2-1 lead. Seattle would get a chance to extend the lead on the power play, but Adam Helewka forced the puck loose from Bear in front of the Seattle net, and Connor Chartier pounced on the puck and fired home his 6th goal of the year at 5:05 to tie the game at two. Chartier's shorthanded marker gave the momentum back to Spokane but it would be lost as the Chiefs took a penalty midway through the third.
Seattle's Ryan Gropp took the puck across the slot and shot a blind backhander on net. The puck slid under defenseman Jeremy McIntosh and somehow slid through the pads of Williams at 10:20 to give Seattle the lead again at 3-2. Spokane would get a power play late in the third, but generated little off of it as the lead held for Seattle. The Chiefs would pull Williams in the last 2 minutes and while trying to get the puck through the neutral zone in the final minute, Seattle tried to change. The Thunderbirds had too many men on the ice, and the puck hit Scott Ensor, who had just jumped on. Seattle got a hold of the puck and Jaimen Yakubowski the empty netter with 30 seconds left instead of a penalty being called on the Thunderbirds. It capped a frustrating night...and week for the Chiefs, as Seattle took a 4-2 win.
It was a game in which the Chiefs deserved a better fate, but critical mistakes with the puck and penalties doomed Spokane in this one. The Chiefs team game was much better than the previous two games against Seattle, but is still a ways from the level the team showed in October. Now Spokane heads into the final week of the first half of the regular season as the Chiefs will host Everett in the Spokane Arena Wednesday night. The Chiefs will realllyyy have to get their game back on track by then, or it could be a longgg night against the Silvertips.
Saturday, November 30th
Hard to believe it's the end of November and even harder still to believe that the Chiefs are just two weeks from completing the first half of the regular season. Where did the time go? Tonight the team headed to Tri Cities, where they would play game 2 of a 3 games in 3 nights weekend as they took on the Americans for the second time in a week. In the two teams last meeting in Spokane the week previous, the Chiefs had to rally from a 3-1 first period deficit to pull out a 4-3 overtime win on Jason Fram's goal with 24 seconds left. Spokane was coming off a tough 6-3 loss at home to Portland the night before, so the Chiefs were hoping to get back on the winning track against an Americans team they had gone 3-0 against this season.
The drive down was greattt as I finally got 2 hours of peaceful sleep. With a 3 year old who's been battling a chest cold and cough all week, and with it, little sleep, it was a welcome respite. Slow starts in the first period have been an issue for the Chiefs most of the season, especially lately, but Spokane would get out to a quick lead on this night. Blair Oneschuck got the puck free in the Tri City zone and Markson Bechtold picked up the loose puck and fired a perfect pass to the tape of an open Riley Whittingham net front. Whittingham beat Tri City goalie Eric Comrie at 7:41 of the first period and the Chiefs had themselves a 1-0 lead. It looked like that lead would hold up for Spokane, but Tri City would score on the power play with just 40 seconds left in the period when Justin Gutierrez hit a wide open Jessey Astles in front of the Chiefs net and Astles pushed the puck into the open cage with 2 seconds left on the power play to tie the game at one.
Little did I know those would be the only goals of the game. The two teams went back and forth through the second and third periods, with neither team able to take advantage of power play chances. Comrie and Chiefs goalie Eric Williams played very well and kept the teams at bay. Spokane's Mike Aviani would take a penalty with just 11 seconds left in regulation to give the Americans a 4 on 3 power play in the first 1:49 of overtime. Williams and the penalty kill unit knocked off that Tri scoring chance though, and the two teams would finish overtime still even at 1 apiece. The Chiefs were coming off a shootout loss to Regina in their last go round in the shootout, while Tri City was 1-2 on the year in shootouts.
Spokane would take a 1-0 lead in round one when Mitch Holmberg scored, but Tri City came right back and tied it up on Connor Rankin's shot that crept through Williams pads. Tri City shot first in the shootouts and failed to score in rounds 3 through 5. Spokane had a chance in those 3 rounds to end the the game, but Comrie denied every Spokane shot that tried to beat him on this glove side. In round 6, Phillip Tot made a nice backhand move to score on Williams to give the Ams a 2-1 lead. The Chiefs Connor Chartier was then denied by Comrie to seal a 2-1 victory for the Americans as Spokane was dealt a second straight loss over the weekend and a 2nd consecutive shootout defeat.
Now the team is heading back to Spokane through the fog and rain hoping to salvage the 3 game weekend against Seattle tomorrow night at the Arena. The Chiefs big guns offensively looked tired, and the youngsters, who accounted for the team's only goal, came up with wayyy too few opportunities to win. Seattle looked impressive in a big win at home over Victoria, so it's going to be an imposing challenge tomorrow night. Let's hope the team gets back to simple, workman like hockey in the remaining 2 weeks of the first half or the big start by the Chiefs in October could be a distant memory come Christmas time.
Friday, November 22nd
Looking at the date, it reminds me of the assasination of President Kennedy. The fact that today is the 50th anniversary of that event seems hard to believe, as I still feel like the crime has never been solved. I spent most of the day watching historical recollections of that event as the Chiefs were in Portland on this day getting ready to face the Winterhawks. Talk about something not being solved. How about the Chiefs beating the Winterhawks? It's been 11 straight games going back to last season, including the first three meetings this year. The theme seems to be the same too..fall behind early, usually by 3-4 goals, rally late and get within 1, and just fall short. Hopefully Spokane would learn to come out in the first and keep the game close.
It looked like the Chiefs would do just that early as the two teams were scoreless midway through the period. But Spokane failed to score on an odd man chance midway through and Nick Petan hit Brendan Leipsic in transition on the left wing. Leipsic snapped a shot over Chiefs goalie Garret Hughson at 10:27 and it was 1-0 Portland. Instead of leading by one, the Chiefs were down one. Portland then got a goal from Garrett Haar when his soft shot into the crease slipped through Hughson's pads at 14:32 to make it 2-0 Hawks. The Chiefs then took back to back penalties for a delay of game and tripping, putting Portland on a 5 on 3 power play. Derrick Pouliot snapped home a shot from the slot at 16:42 and the Chiefs were down 3-0 after one. It felt like deja vu as the last time the Chiefs were in Portland, they were behind 3 goals after one at 4-1.
Spokane came out playing well in the second, as Jackson Playfair put a puck towards the net, and Connor Chartier dove and deflected the puck past Portland goalie Brenden Burke at 5:24 to bring the Chiefs within 3-1. Spokane then had the puck on the attack, but two Chiefs failed to gather the puck at the blue line, and to make matters worse, then pushed the puck to Portland's Paul Bittner, who fed an open Leipsic for a breakaway at 6:15 to put the Hawks back up at 4-1. Talk about a momentum killer. Spokane got back off the mat though at 11:26, when Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani led a rush up ice, and hit Riley Whittingham with a pass in between the circles. Whittingham snapped the shot top shelf for his 4th of the year and the lead was cut in half at 4-2. Holmberg then put a perfect pass on the tape of Adam Helewka net front at 14:14 of the period and the Chiefs were right back in the game at 4-3. Portland would once again burst the Chiefs momentum bubble when Taylor Leier fed Nick Petan on a beautiful back pass net front at 19:24 to put the Hawks up 5-3 after two.
What a huge goal it turned out to be as Portland seized back a two goal lead. Mike Aviani would get the Chiefs back within one with a short handed partial breakaway at 8:24 of the third to get the Chiefs within 5-4. It would be Aviani's 22nd of the year, 2nd in the WHL behind Holmberg's 26 and his 3rd shorthanded goal, tied for tops in the league. Spokane couldn't get the equalizer though, as Liam Stewart had a golden chance in the third with a net front chance, but Burke's pad save kept Portland up one. Cole Wedman would draw a 4 minute double minor with 3 minutes left to put Portland on the power play to end the game, and Taylor Leier would score with the Chiefs net empty in the final seconds to wrap up a 6-4 Portland win.
The two teams got a little testy at the end of the game, drawing a slew of penalties, but it was Portland getting 9 power plays to Spokane's 3 that proved to be the difference. Portland got two power play goals...Spokane none...and that was the difference in a two goal loss. The streak is now 12 and counting for Portland over Spokane, and the frustrating part about tonight was this was a game Spokane could have won if not for the 1) poor start, and 2) frequent penalties. Granted, some of the penalties given to Spokane were not very good calls, but at the same time, the Chiefs certainly didn't generate chances either. Now the team is 7 points back of first place Everett as they head home to face Tri City tomorrow night after an all night bus ride. Let's hope the boys figure out a much better start to tomorrow night's game....
Saturday, November 9th
It isn't often you get a chance to sweep a three games in four nights road trip, but the Chiefs were in that very position with last night's win in Lethbridge. The last game is usually the toughest to take and tonight's game in Cranbrook, B.C. against the rival Kootenay Ice was going to be no exception. Kootenay was coming off a 3-0 shutout loss at home the night before to Red Deer, so I knew they would be a pretty determined bunch to not repeat the same mistakes the following night at home. The Chiefs got a chance to avoid a late night drive as they stayed the night in Lethbridge and enjoyed the 3 hour plus ride to Cranbrook on game day.
After Garret Hughson got the win in net the night before, Eric Williams would get the start on this night against a Kootenay team that was without starting goalie Makenzie Skapski, who was out with an injury. Spokane was hoping to get off to a better start than they had shown in the previous two games of the road trip when they had fallen behind early in both contests in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. Unfortunately, that wasn't going to be the case, as the Ice scored just 10 seconds into their first power play of the game as Luke Philp's one timer beat Williams on the near post 5:45 into the first as Kootenay would take a 1-0 lead after one.
The Chiefs Mitch Holmberg would get Spokane back even just 41 seconds into the second period as he ripped a shot under the cross bar for his league leading 23rd goal of the year and it was a 1-1 game. Colton Bobyk got the puck to Mike Aviani in the neutral zone and Aviani hit Holmberg on the right wing. Holmberg did the rest as he has now scored in 20 of 21 games this year and has 51 points on the season. Unfortunately, the tie didn't last long, as Kootenay's Levi Cable tipped in a shot net front past Williams at 5:16 to put the Ice back on top 2-1. The turning point of the game for me came late in the second. Spokane was on the penalty kill when Holmberg got a pass outside the Ice blue line. Holmberg got a partial breakaway but his shot was stopped by the glove of Ice goalie Wyatt Hoflin. The goal would have tied the game, but instead, Kootenay's Austin Vetterl took the rebound and went up ice into the Chiefs zone and snapped a shot past Williams with just 1 second left on the power play to give the Ice a 3-1 lead. The goal came with just 1:11 left in the period and was a real backbreaker momentum wise for Spokane as the Chiefs were now down 2 heading into the final period.
The Chiefs hunker down defensively in the third, keeping the Ice off the scoreboard and turning away 3 Kootenay power plays after going just 1-3 on the penalty kill through two periods. Spokane would get the offense going too, as Mike Aviani would tip a Holmberg shot from the left wing for his 18th goal of the season with 8:30 remaining to cut the lead to 3-2. It was also Aviani's 10th power play goal of the year, tops in the WHL. Spokane would get a power play with 10 seconds left on a delay of game penalty from Kootenay, and with Williams off for the extra attacker, the Chiefs had a 6 on 4 advantage. Holmberg would get a shot from the left side, but his shot went wide right, and Spokane would see the road trip end with a disappointing 3-2 loss.
It was the greatest game from a Chiefs perspective. The team once again started slow, and there was certainly a lack of crisp passing on breakouts through the neutral zone and into the offensive end. It just wasn't a sharp effort, but on their 3rd game in 4 nights, that can be expected. It would be nice though to see the team get more consistent scoring from other forwards other Mike Aviani and Mitch Holmberg though. The Chiefs will certainly need that moving forward into the season. Now the team heads home for 3 games and hopefully will get some momentum going heading to the Thanksgiving holidays. For now though, the bus rolls home through yet moreee rain in Idaho...and I just hope it dries out while I'm home. The weather was nice in Alberta...it would sure be good to get the same in Spokane.
Friday, November 8th
Anytime a team scores a tough, and emotional win on the road over a quality opponent, like the Chiefs did in Medicine Hat Wednesday, the fear of a letdown the next game is always present. It's especially the case when the next team you play has the worst record in the league. That was the case for the Chiefs as they headed to Lethbridge Friday to take on a Hurricanes squad that had won just 2 of their first 19 games. History had shown Spokane though they couldn't take anything for granted, having lost at Kamloops to the last place in the West. The Chiefs would give Eric Williams a rest as Garret Hughson got the start for the 5th time this year.
This game started chippy from the get go as Lethbridge's Brady Ramsey and the Chiefs Dominic Zwerger dropped the gloves just 9 seconds into the contest. It was the first of 5 fights in the game, with 3 of them in the first 8 minutes. Spokane took 7 penalties in the first period, giving the Hurricanes 4 power play chances. Hughson was big in the first period, turning away a couple of one on one chances to keep the Chiefs in the game. Lethbridge would capitalize on a Chiefs turnover in front of their net late in the first, and the Hurricanes would score a power play goal to take a 1-0 lead after one.
Spokane would come back at the start of the second as Jacob Cardiff would steal the puck behind the Lethbridge net. Cardiff would get the puck to Tyler King, who's shot was stopped by goalie Corbin Boes, but Carter Proft would get the rebound in the slot and snap a shot under the cross bar for his 3rd goal of the year 2:03 into the period to tie the game at one. The Hurricanes came right back though as Russ Maxwell took a pass net front and re-directed the puck past Hughson at 5:58 to give Lethbridge a 2-1 lead. It was the only power play for Lethbridge in the period, but Spokane would take advantage of their only opportunity less than 6 minutes later. Mitch Holmberg would take a Reid Gow pass at the point and slap home his league leading 20th goal of the year with just 1 second left on the power play to get the Chiefs even at 2 after two periods.
Being tied after two periods with a team that had lost 7 in a row was not exactly enviable, as the Hurricanes were gaining confidence as the game went along. The Chiefs needed a good start in the third, and they would get it when Lethbridge put Spokane on the power play just 2:10 into the period. Once again it was Holmberg who would get the Chiefs on the board as his shot from the left side found the far post at 3:27 to give Spokane a lead they would not lose at 3-2. Gow and Jason Fram each got their second power play assists of the night, as Gow now has 24 assists, 3rd in the WHL. The goal jump started the Chiefs to a 4 goal third as Spokane scored the 4 in just 8:22. Adam Helewka continued his torrid pace, notching his 10th of the year, and 8th in his last 5 games, at 5:58 to make it 4-2. Holmberg' shot was turned away by Boes, but Mike Aviani pushed the rebound to an open Helewka, who buried the shot in the open net.
Holmberg then capped a 4 point night with his 2nd hat trick of the year, as Helewka found Holmberg on a 2 on 1 rush at 9:29 to put Spokane up 5-2. Jackson Playfair would finish the night with a shot from the right wing that slipped through the pads of Boes at 11:49 to wrap up a 6-2 win. Liam Stewart and Cole Wedman got the assists, as Spokane would outshoot Lethbridge 37-23 while going 2-5 on the power play. The power play would jump start the Chiefs comeback and the team got the momentum rolling in the third to pull away for their 4th win in 5 road games through the Central Division.
Now the Chiefs finish up the Central road swing tomorrow night in Cranbrook, B.C. against the Kootenay Ice. It will be the first of 5 meetings with the Ice, with 3 of them in Cranbrook. Hopefully the team plays more like the third period than the first against the Ice. They'll have to in order to finish the trip on a winning note before coming home for 3 straight at the Spokane Arena. The team will get a chance to relax in Lethbridge tonight, then it's back on the road tomorrow for the 3 plus hour trek into British Columbia. Here's to hoping 3 is the lucky number on this Central trip!
Wednesday, November 6th
As much as the Chiefs have been on the road this year, it's probably a good thing they are away from home so much. After all, Spokane has won 7 of 10 on the road, while going just 5-3 at home. As the first snow of the season hit Spokane on Tuesday morning, the team boarded the bus North for their second trip through the Central Division this year. The snow wasn't a factor on the roads heading to Canada as the team got a chance to stop in Fernie, B.C. for lunch. The journey to Medicine Hat, the first stop on the trip, got the team in about dinner time, so it made for a leisurely night in the hotel.
Leisurely was the lasttt thing the game against the Tigers was going to be, as Med Hat was the top team in the Central, and in the Eastern Conference with 24 points, the same as Spokane. The Tigers were also an impressive 7-1-1 at home, the best home mark in the East. Medicine Hat would show why early in this one, as Markus Eisenschmide snapped a shot from the slot just 2:02 into the game to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. Medicine Hat then went on the power play midway through the period with a chance to take a 2 goal lead. Mitch Holmberg would pick up the puck and skate up ice. Mike Aviani would join the rush and take Holmberg's pass and score short handed at 9:31 to tie the game at one.
It was Aviani's 2nd short handed goal of the year and got the Chiefs back in the game at 1-1. Medicine Hat would come back on the power play though as Cole Sanford put a shot past goalie Eric Williams at 15:38 to give the Tigers a 2-1 edge. It looked like the lead would hold up, but Spokane had other ideas. Reid Gow's shot from the point was stopped, but Carter Proft kept the puck alive in the crease, and Riley Whittingham slid the rebound past Tiger goalie Marek Langhamer at 18:31 to even the game at 2 heading to the second period. After the goal though, Proft took 2 minor penalties, putting Medicine Hat on the power play for 4 minutes to end the first and begin the second.
The Chiefs penalty kill came up huge, keeping the Tigers off the board for those 4 minutes, and then for 2 more minutes after a boarding call on Jeremy McIntosh early in the second. Those 6 minutes of penalty kill turned out to be pretty big in the game; especially when the Chiefs converted their first power play of the second period. Adam Helewka hit Mitch Holmberg along the left goal line and then Holmberg found Aviani open net front to give the Chiefs a 3-2 lead. Aviani's second tally of the night was his 17th of the year, 2nd in the WHL, and his 9th power play goal, tops in the league.
Spokane didn't keep the momentum of the 3-2 lead going in the third period though. Medicine Hat came out skating and would score two goals just 16 seconds apart within the first 3:39 of the third to take a 4-3 lead. Miles Koules got the first on a nice shot from the right circle off a drop pass, and then Trevor Cox tipped a Tommy Vanelli shot flashing through the crease to give the Tigers the one goal advantage. The Chiefs were on their heels a bit, but would get a couple of power play chances to settle themselves down. On the second try, Spokane would tie the game as Helewka took a Reid Gow pass and backhanded a shot from the slot at 13:57 of the third to bring the Chiefs even at 4-4.
The game would head to overtime as the two teams each committed a penalty in the final minute of regulation. Spokane took the first penalty at 19:02, then the Tigers followed suit with a minor at 19:45. It led to the two teams skating 3 on 3 to start overtime. The Chiefs then got a 43 second power play and looked to score the game winner at the end of the power play. Reid Gow's shot from the slot found the net towards the end of the man advantage, but the referee ruled Aviani interfered with the goalie Langhamer and the goal was ruled off. It was a tough blow for Spokane to see victory snatched away, but it didn't faze the team at all. Off the ensuing face-off, Holmberg stole the puck in neutral ice, and skated into the slot and snapped home his league leading 19th goal of the year 1:58 into overtime to give the Chiefs a come from behind 5-4 win.
The victory was Spokane's 3rd straight in overtime this year and put Spokane's road record at 8-3. It was one of the most entertaining games to watch this season, and having two of the top teams in the WHL go toe to toe was a pleasure to attend. Hopefully the win will springboard the team to a big weekend as the Chiefs head to Lethbridge Friday and Kootenay on Saturday. Spokane is tied for second in the division with Everett, and are 3 points back of first place Portland going into the weekend. The nicest thing though is the team is staying here in the Hat tonight, so I get to relax in the hotel instead of a bus ride through the night. A win, andd a bed to sleep in rather than a bus seat. It doesn't get much better than that!
Friday, November 1st
After a pretty disappointing loss in Kamloops to start the road trip, the Chiefs looked to re-gather at practice the next afternoon in Kamloops. There was plenty to address after a lackluster start, great rally, and ultimately poor execution that led to the 5-4 loss to the Blazers the night before. Thursday was a travel day as the team headed over the mountains to the coast and to Vancouver, where a red hot Giants team awaited. After starting the season with the worst record in the conference, the Giants had suddenly ripped off 3 straight wins this week, including a 2 game sweep in Prince George, which is always tough to do.
Spokane would go with Eric Williams in net, after he had come in relief in the Kamloops game and had played extremely well once again. His play was a big part of the comeback, and the team was hoping to get off to a much better start than they had shown against the Blazers, when they fell behind 3-0 by the second period. On this night, the Chiefs had a golden chance to go up when they got a 5 on 3 power play just 1:46 into the game when Vancouver took 2 minor penalties. Unfortunately, despite getting off 5 shots, the Chiefs failed to score and the hope was the failed chance wouldn't come back and bite the Chiefs in the backside later. Spokane did salvage things though when Mitch Holmberg would find Dominic Zwerger on a scramble in the slot, and Zwerger slapped home his 4th goal of the season at 12:54 to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead. The assist by Holmberg would extend his league best points streak to 17 straight and would start off a huge night for the WHL's leading scorer.
Vancouver would come back and tie the game though late in the first when Jackson Houck would deflect a shot past Williams for a goal in his 4th straight contest, and despite outshooting the Giants 17-6 in the period, Spokane found themselves tied at one after the first. The disappointment didn't affect the Chiefs in the second though. On the team's first power play of the period, Holmberg picked up his second assist when his pinpoint pass found an open Mike Aviani net front, and Aviani deposited the puck for his 15th goal of the year at 7:13 to make it a 2-1 lead. It was also Aviani's 8th power play goal of the year, tops in the WHL. Adam Helewka would extend the lead with a shot from the slot that trickled through the pads of Vancouver goalie Jared Rathjen at 13:48 and Spokane would take a 3-1 lead to the third period.
The night was just beginning for Helewka, as he would notch his 2nd of the night just 1:07 into the third on a wrister from the slot and suddenly Spokane looked to be in control 4-1. The Giants had other ideas, as Brett Kulak would find Travis McEvoy on a rush at 8:30 to cut the lead in half at 4-2. Kulak would then find the net on a blast from the point at 13:11 on the power play and just like that it was game on as the Chiefs advantage was down to 1 at 4-3. Vancover would then take two penalties late in the third that would end up costing them the game. Liam Stewart would draw a hold from Giants defenseman Blake Orban, and Helewka would score his first career hat trick at 16:43 to up the lead to 5-3. It would turn out to be the game winner as Helewka took advantage of the Giants standing around after they thought the puck had gone into the netting behind their goal. The puck had just hit the glass though, and Helewka alertly stuck with the play and snapped home the deciding goal.
On the goal, Van's Dalton Thrower had crushed Holmberg into the boards, drawing a charging penalty. Helewka would make the Giants pay just 30 seconds after his 3rd goal with his career best 4th of the game on another power play tally at 17:13 and Spokane was finally in control at 6-3. Holmberg would notch his 4th assist of the night as he now has 42 points to lead the WHL, and this on a night he was named the league's player of the month for October. Helewka would finish with 5 points and with Aviani's goal and helper, the Chiefs top line put up 11 points in a marquee night for themselves. Not even a late Vancouver power play goal with a minute left could spoil the Chiefs getting back in the win column with a 6-4 road victory.
Spokane is now 7-3 on the road and the win pulled them even with Seattle for second in the U.S. Division, 3 points back of Portland. The Winterhawks took out Seattle on this night for their 10th straight win, one of which was a 4-3 victory last Saturday over the Chiefs. Spokane hopes to get the deer out of the headlights mentality they seem to have early in the games with the Winterhawks tomorrow, and I'm sure they will, because the all night bus ride that is sure to have us home around 6am will prevent our eyes from fully opening. It's still pouring rain out and it's time for a nap. Here's hoping the Chiefs keep it going before we get back on this bus next Tuesday for yet another roadie to Alberta.
Wednesday, October 30th
It had been over two weeks since the Chiefs had been on the road, which seemed quite unusual when you consider the team played 8 of their first 10 contests away from the Spokane Arena. After a 5 game homestand, in which the team went 3-2, the Chiefs were back on the bus as they headed North to British Columbia to face Kamloops and Vancouver. First up were the Blazers, who were on a 4 game losing streak, including losing a heartbreaking 7-6 overtime game to Everett the previous Saturday. Then they fell to Vancouver at home 4-1 on Sunday, so Spokane was getting a club hungry to get back into the win column. The Chiefs meantime were coming off a 4-3 loss to Portland Saturday, and were hoping to get off to a better start than they had against the Winterhawks, when Spokane had to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the second period.
Spokane started Garret Hughson in goal for the 5th time this season. The Chiefs looked to take the early lead on a power play chance late in the first, but the Blazers took advantage of the puck popping free into neutral ice and Matt Needham beat the Chiefs back for a breakaway. Needham's shot beat Hughson through the pads at 14:34 to give the Blazers a 1-0 lead after one. It was the first shorthanded goal given up by Spokane, leaving Regina as the only team in the WHL to not surrender a shortie. The second period started as a disaster for Spokane as the Blazers would quickly extend the lead. Aspen Sterzer would beat Hughson on the shortside at 2:01 of the second to make it a 2-0 game. Just 35 seconds later, Tyson Ness took a puck off the right wall and roofed it over Hughson under the crossbar to put Kamloops up 3-0 2:36 into the second.
Hughson would be replaced by Eric Williams as the Chiefs tried to rally the troops at that point of the game. Liam Stewart was denied on a breakaway that would have cut the lead, but Spokane would get on the board at 8:53 when Adam Helewka picked up a loose puck and snapped a shot from the slot for this 3rd goal of the year to make it a 3-1 game. Williams meantime would make a couple big saves in goal, one on Cole Ully in the crease that robbed the Blazers of taking a 4-1 lead. Spokane's Riley Whittingham picked up a puck on the left wall and fed Carter Proft cross ice and Proft would one time the puck at 17:15 of the second to cut the lead to 3-2. The goal really ignited the Chiefs as the offensive pressure continued. Jason Fram would win the battle for a puck in the right corner in the waning seconds of the period, and hit Mike Aviani with a pass. Aviani's shot was turned aside by goalie Bolton Pouliot, but Mitch Holmberg backhanded the rebound home net front with just .6 seconds remaining to tie the game at three after two periods.
Spokane would come out controlling the third, forcing Kamloops to ice the puck a handful of times in the opening minutes of the period. Unfortunately, the Chiefs couldn't put the puck in the net, and Ully would score on a great pass from Sterzer at 7:07 of the third to put Kamloops up 4-3. Back would come the Chiefs as the top line of Holmberg, Aviani and Helewka put on a clinic of offensive pressure midway through the third. Defenseman Reid Gow and Jason Fram would keep the puck in the Kamloops zone and the Chiefs forwards were relentless in maintaining possession of the puck. Helewka would get a pass from Gow in the right circle and snap home his second goal of the night at 9:52 to bring the Chiefs back even at 4-4.
It reallyyy looked like the Chiefs were about to seize control of the game, but on the very next shift, Spokane got caught up ice and Sterzer would finish off a rush from Collin Shirley at 10:21 to give the Blazers the eventual game winner. Sterzer slid into the side of the net and the goal came off the post, but after the puck crossed the goal line and after review, the goal was allowed. The Chiefs would buzz the net in the final minute as they lifted Williams for the extra skater, but were unable to get the equalizer as the team suffered back to back losses for the first time this season. Spokane ended putting 35 shots on net, 29 over the last two periods. The problem is, when you fall behind 3-0, it takes so much work to get back in the game, that you often find yourself short of the energy to put you over the top.
Coming off a game against Portland in which the team fell behind 3-1, the Chiefs need to start finding ways to lead games early and not having to come back. The old saying goes, trailing hockey is losing hockey, and Spokane has found that out the hard way the last two games. Now the team heads to Vancouver to face a Giants team that has won 3 straight this week, including back to back wins at Prince George. Here's to hoping the team discovers how to take a lead again rather than falling behind by multiple goals.
Sunday, October 13th
The day before Canadian Thanksgiving had the Chiefs heading down the road an hour and a half from Red Deer to Calgary to face the third place team in the Central Division, the Hitmen. The previous night's win left the Chiefs in pretty high spirits, but there was no doubt the team was starting to feel the physical effects of playing 3 games in 3 nights. The turnaround from a tough come from behind win the night before would especially be tough with a 4pm local start time for the game with Calgary. The Chiefs were still without forwards Adam Helewka and Liam Stewart, so the team's depth would also be challenged.
It was another sunny pleasant day in Alberta as the team had a brunch in Red Deer before heading South. Too bad I wasn't feeling up to stuffing myself as the brunch was outttstanding. It was a great way to start the day though as the ride to Calgary went pretty quickly. The Hitmen play in the same home as the NHL's Flames, the Saddledome. The walk to the press box is a journey in itself as you have to walk a catwalk over the ice to get there. I took some pictures which I will post to my Mike Boyle facebook page tomorrow. Just 'like' the page to see for yourself. It's always fun to see where the pros play.
There's no question the Chiefs got off to a better start in this game, as the Hitmen didn't score 30 seconds into the game like Red Deer had the previous night. In fact, neither team was able to score in the first as the two teams each put 8 shots on the net. Spokane failed to score on 3 power play chances and I was just hoping it wouldn't come back to bite the team later. In the second, Calgary would break through after Spokane killed off two Hitmen power plays. Greg Chase got a pass in the slot and backhanded a shot past Chiefs goalie Eric Williams midway through the period to make it 1-0 Calgary. The Hitmen would then get a fortuitous bounce to extend the lead to two. A pass came off the low wall in the Chiefs zone and went off Spokane defenseman Tyler King's skate and through Williams pads at 17:45 of the period to give the Hitmen a 2-0 lead after two periods.
Spokane would come out quickly in the third. Mitch Holmberg's shot from the left wing was stopped by Calgary goalie Chris Driedger, but the rebound came out to an open Cole Wedman on the right wing. Wedman banged the shot through Driedger's pads at 1:02 of the period for his first goal of the season to cut the lead to 2-1. The goal got the Chiefs going and they would bring themselves even at 8:55 when Holmberg would fire a shot from the left wall through Driedger's pads for his league leading 12th goal of the year and the game was tied 2-2. The game stayed tied through the third and again through overtime. Williams made a couple of huge saves from point blank range to keep Spokane even as the two teams headed to the best of 3 shootout round.
It was the first shootout of the year for both teams and it showed. Neither team scored in the first 5 rounds with Calgary just missing a win with a shot ringing off the post in round 5. In the 6th round, Calgary's Ben Thomas hit the post as well, keeping the shootout scoreless. The Chiefs Jason Fram then ended things in round 6 with a shot off the glove of Driedger and into the net as Spokane notched a second straight third period comeback win. The Chiefs are now tied for first in the division with Seattle as the team heads home for 5 straight at the Spokane Arena.Â The bus ride home is festive to say the least and hopefully the good times with roll at home as well!
Saturday, October 12th
Fortunately for the Chiefs they didn't have a lot of time to dwell on their loss to Edmonton as they made the hour and a half trek South to Red Deer for a matchup with the second place Rebels from the Central Division. Already without Adam Helewka, who has sat out since the Victoria series the end of September, Spokane was without Liam Stewart who was dinged up the night before against the Oil Kings. The Chiefs went with Garret Hughson in net, as he made his third start of the year. Red Deer was coming off a dramatic overtime win over East Division leading Prince Albert the night before and they would ride that momentum into the first shift of the game.
The Rebels scored just 30 seconds into the game when Wyatt Johnson put home a rebound off his own shot netfront as Red Deer took a quick 1-0 lead. That lead would hold up through the period as the Chiefs failed to score on 4 power play chances. Spokane outshot Red Deer 12-9 in the period, but found themselves down 1-0 after 20 minutes. The Chiefs upped their game offensively in the second as Spokane put up 16 shots in period, but yet still failed to find the net against Red Deer goalie Patrik Bartosek. The 16 shots were just one fewer than the team put up the entireee game in Edmonton the night before. The Chiefs still were down on the scoreboard though but would finally break through in the third.
Colton Bobyk, playing in his hometown put a shot on net that Bartosek turned back. The rebound went to Connor Chartier, who shot a pass to a wide open Mike Aviani on the right post, and Aviani scored his 4th goal in 3 games at 8:15 of the third to tie the game at one. Just 55 seconds later, Mitch Holmberg would snipe a shot from the right wing on a power play to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead. Holmberg's league leading 11th goal of the season enabled him to keep his point scoring streak alive at 9 games in a row. Red Deer would come back to even the game on a power play goal after a highhhly questionable goalie interference call against Aviani. Haydn Fleury's shot from the point got past a screened Hughson at 12:21 to even the game at two.
Red Deer would go back on the power play just over 2 minutes later on an even worseee call on Adam Hasic for roughing at 14:48. Hughson would save the day with a spectacular save in the crease with about 3 minutes to go to keep the game tied at two. It turned out to be a game saving save, as Spokane would get the winner less than a minute later. Markson Bechtold stole the puck at the Rebels blue line. He'd find Riley Whittingham on the right wing, whose shot would be stopped by Bartosek, but Jackson Playfair pounced on the rebound and scored his first goal of the year over Bartosek with 2:20 left to give the Chiefs the game winner at 3-2.
Spokane would dodge a bullet when a point blank shot by the Rebels missed the net in the final seconds, but the Chiefs controlled most of the game and got a just result with the 3-2 victory. The Chiefs outshot Red Deer 37-22 and generated 7 power play chances in picking up their 5th road win in 7 tries this year. It was a great bounce back after the previous night's effort in Edmonton and now the team has a chance to finish with a winning mark on the road trip as the team heads to Calgary tomorrow afternoon. It will be another test for this young team and I'll be as curious as anyone to see how the club responds.
Friday, October 11th
Spokane notched perhaps their most impressive win of the season at the Arena Tuesday, as they handed Kelowna their first loss in regulation this year with a 6-3 win. There was no time to rest on their laurels though as the team headed back on the road for three games in three nights through the Central Division beginning in Edmonton on Friday. The team left Spokane Wednesday morning bright and early to take the 11 hour trip North. Movies are always a good way to pass the time and we got to watch a couple of oldies but goodies with 'Top Gun' and 'The Bad News Bears'...the Walter Matthau version where Tanner Boyle steals the show. We stopped in Fernie and Red Deer for meals and finally rolled into Edmonton about 10pm.
Thursday was practice day with a full practice to get the legs loose after an all day travel. After a quick dinner, the team headed to the old Northlands Coliseum, now known as Rexall Place, the home of the NHL's Oilers and the WHL's Oil Kings. The Oilers were hosting the Montreal Canadiens on this night, but the home team was farrr from impressive and ended up dropping a 4-1 decision to Montreal. Needless to say, I enjoyed the game, although the two teams will nottt be heard from to much come May.
Game Day Friday saw the same weather we had seen the previous two days, bright and sunny with temps in the upper 50's to low 60's. Edmonton was coming off a home loss to Everett on Wednesday 4-2 and were pretty anxious to knock off the #3 team in the latest CHL top 10 poll. The Chiefs would start the game OK, as Mike Aviani took a Keanu Yamamoto pass off his right leg and the puck went past Oil King goalie Tristan Jarry just 1:56 into the game to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead. Mitch Holmberg also got an assist, extending his point streak to 8 straight games. The goal probably shouldn't have counted as it appeared Aviani kicked the puck into the goal, but the video replay apparently proved inconclusive and the goal call stood, giving the Chiefs the first break of the game.
The first period was not a great one for the Chiefs as they failed to score on 3 straight power play chances, including a 5 on 3 for 1:39. Spokane failed to muster a shot on the 2 man advantage, a preview of the offensive performance to follow. Still, despite being outshot 10-6 in the first, Spokane took a 1-0 lead to the intermission. The second period saw the Oil Kings control the play again, but goalie Eric Williams turned aside 10 more shots in the second to keep the Chiefs up 1-0 after two. Spokane put up just 11 shots in the first 40 minutes and I was hoping the team would get things going in the third.
One team got in going and it wasn't the Chiefs. Edgars Kulda scored on a rebound net front just 1:40 into the period to tie the game at one. After matching minor penalties put the two teams on a 4 on 4, Edmonton's Curtis Lazar broke behind the Chiefs defense and scored on a breakaway at 4:36 to give the Oil Kings a 2-1 lead. Mitch Holmberg had a chance to pull the Chiefs even on a breakaway midway through the third, but Jarry turned away his forehand attempt to keep Edmonton up by one. It turned out to be the save of the game for Edmonton.
Lazar would strike again as he flat out beat the Chiefs to their net and stuffed a backhand past Williams at 12:03 to make it a 3-1 game. Mitch Moroz would add an empty netter to cap off a 4 goal third and give the Oil Kings a come from behind 4-1 win. Spokane was held to a season low 17 shots, going 6-5-6 by period. Edmonton played well, outhitting and outskating the Chiefs, while Spokane was poor in their puck management.
Now the Chiefs hit the bus for the hour and a half bus ride South to Red Deer. The Rebels got a overtime win over Prince Albert tonight, so they will be high on themselves. Spokane musttt get back on their team game to have a chance at the division leaders. Let's hope we see the team that played against Kelowna and nottt the one tonight.
Saturday, October 5th
Coming off their first loss of the season Wednesday in Portland, the Chiefs set back out on the road as they headed West to face the Everett Silvertips for the first time. Playing in Everett is always a battle, and with the Tips welcoming back coach Kevin Constantine back behind the bench, you could count on Everett being an even tougher club at home. Constantine was the first coach in team history leading them to one WHL finals and one Scotty Munro Trophy in his 4 seasons. Spokane was hoping for a muchh better start than they showed in Portland as the Chiefs hoped to remain on top of the U.S. Division.
The Chiefs went with Eric Williams in goal and would turn out to be the move of the game. The two teams went scoreless in the first as Everett outshot Spokane 7-5 in the period. Williams would shine in the second, robbing Everett on a handfull of greatt scoring chances, with none bigger than his sprawling glove save of a Dawson Leedahl backhand midway through the period. Spokane would turn away 3 straight Everett power play chances; no small feat as the Tips came in as the #1 power play in the WHL at 40% coming into the game.
Spokane saw Everett control the third, as they outshot the Chiefs 11-3 in the period, but Williams and the defense didn't break as Spokane was able to send the game into overtime. In the OT, Mitch Holmberg stole the puck at center ice, fed an open Liam Stewart down the left wing, and Stewart snapped his 2nd goal of the year past Everett goalie Austin Lotz at 2:54 of overtime to give the Chiefs a huge 1-0 win. The two points enabled Spokane to remain tied with Seattle for first in the division and give Williams his 5th career shutout with the Chiefs.
The team now heads home for only its' second home game in the first 10 of the regular season as Spokane hosts Kelowna Tuesday. Kelowna is coming off a 2 game sweep at home over Portland and leads the B.C. Division, so the Chiefs are in for a formidable test on home ice. Hopefully the team gets the same goaltending it got tonight, and a little more offense wouldn't hurt either!
Wednesday, October 2nd
Coming off a 2-1 home win over Tri City on Saturday, the Chiefs were right back on the road as they headed Southwest to Portland to face the defending league champion Portland Winterhawks. With their win over the Americans, Spokane was off to a 4-0 start for only the second time in franchise history, matching the 1992-93 team. Getting record setting win number 5 against the team many picked to win the West again was going to be a formidable task for a young Chiefs team that would see a new level in skill in Portland. The team left on Tuesday to get a head start on preparations while I left game day from Spokane after working at KREM-TV on Tuesday. The drive was pretty quick and the weather held up with the exception of the rain that always seems to fall in the Columbia Gorge around Cascade Locks.
Spokane had started slowly in the first period in their previous two contests but nothing like what was to occur in the first in Portland. Chiefs defenseman took a shot on the end wall that could have easily been called a check from behind penalty, but the puck slid out net front to a waiting Nic Petan who had his first shot stopped by the skate of goalie Garret Hughson, but the rebound went right back to Petan, who shot the puck through Hughson's pads to make it 1-0 Portland just 3:10 into the game. Spokane would respond quickly though as Mitch Holmberg poke checked the puck away in the Hawks zone. Holmberg turned and fired the puck from the left circle, where Hawks goalie Brenden Burke made the pad save. The rebound came right out to Riley Whittingham on the right wing and he banged the rebound through Burke's pads to tie the game at one at 4:17 of the first. It looked like the Chiefs had weathered the early start by Portland, but the Winterhawks came right back with 3 goals in just 2:09 to grab control of the game.
The barrage started with Alex Schoenborn backhanded a rebound at the 6 minute mark to give Portland a 2-1 lead. Just 1:55 later Petan made a perfect drop pass to Oliver Bjorkstrand, who snapped a shot over Hughson to make it 3-1 Hawks. Schoenborn then took a pass on the bump up shift and snapped a shot from the slot 14 seconds after Bjorkstrand's goal to give Portland a 4-1 lead after one. The Chiefs were back on their heels most of the period as they were outshot 19-7 in the period. Spokane's comeback attempt in the second was partially thwarted by the Chiefs giving Portland 4 power play chances in the stanza. Fortunately, the penalty kill was perfect and even broke through with a shorthanded goal. Holmberg broke up ice and put a pass on the stick of Blair Oneschuk who came in to the Portland goal and shot the puck through Burke's pads at 10:19 to cut the lead to 4-2 after two. Spokane started getting back on their game as they outshot Portland 11-9 despite the Hawks 4 power play chances.
Portland would get yet another power play chance midway through the third period and would cash in on their 7th and final power play of the game when Bjorkstrand wristed a shot from the slot at 10:59 of the period to give the Hawks a commanding 5-2 lead. The Chiefs could have easily laid back at this point, but instead generated two power play chances late in the third. On the first, Connor Chartier tipped a Tyler King shot from the left point at 16:17 to bring Spokane within 5-3. Just 1:04 later, Jason Fram scored his first of the year with a rebound net front to make it a 5-4 game. The Chiefs then pulled Hughson in the final 1:15 and got two greattt chances to score. Forward Keanu Yamamoto was open in the slot, but fired a shot over the net, and Holmberg, who had hit a goal post and cross bar earlier in the game, was robbed by Burke on glove save from the left side in the final minute. Portland would clear the puck to Petan at center ice in the final seconds, and Petan scored in the empty net with just 18 seconds left to wrap up a 6-4 win.
The loss was Spokane's first in 5 games and denied the Chiefs a chance at getting the best start in franchise history. Despite the horrible start to the game, the team battled their way back in the third, and will hopefully draw upon that experience the next time the two teams meet in Spokane towards the end of the month. Spokane will now get back on the bus Saturday when they head to Everett to take on the Silvertips for the first time. Everett is alwayss a tough place to play, and hopefully the team will get back to the starts of their first two games rather than their last 3.
Wednesday, September 25th
The Chiefs third day in Victoria was the best yet weather wise, sunny with a light breeze and an ideal early fall day in the British Columbia capital. It was nice to enjoy the sun and feel one last nice day before heading back to the cooler temps and cloudy skies of Spokane. Can you tell I'm not realll anxious to come home yet? The Chiefs play has helped quite a bit too, as the team was looking for their third straight road win to start the season. Quick starts in the first two games had lifted Spokane to 6-2 wins in Tri Cities and Victoria, and the Chiefs were hoping for more of the same as they sent out goalie Garret Hughson for his first start of the season.
Spokane got out to anything but a fast start, as the Royals buzzed all over and around them in the first period. Fortunately, Hughson brought his 'A' game to the table as he turned away all 10 Victoria shots in the first period, and Spokane shut down 2 Royals power plays. The Chiefs offense meantime was almost non-existent, generating just 5 shots in 20 minutes. Victoria gave Spokane a huge break late in the first when the Royals took back to back minor penalties, giving the Chiefs a 5 on 3 power play for 1:36. Spokane took advantage as Jason Fram rifled a shot off the end wall and the puck came out net front to the stick of Mike Aviani, who lifted the rebound in at 16:20 of the period to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after one. To say the Chiefs were fortunate to have the lead after 20 minutes was the understatement of the year.
Spokane was veryyy fortunate in fact. The Chiefs seemed to sense that too as they started to build some momentum in the second period. Once again it would be the power play that got things going. Gow would get it started with a pass to Holmberg whose shot was stopped by Victoria goalie Patrik Polivka, but the rebound came out net front to Aviani again and he made sure with his second of the night at 11:56 of the period to make it 2-0 Spokane. The Chiefs would then take advantage of their 2nd power play of the period when Holmberg batted the puck in with another net front rebound at 15:15 from Gow and Aviani to give the Chiefs a 3-0 lead through two. Spokane put up 17 shots in the period and got back on their game midway through the second.
The Chiefs didn't rest on their laurels in the third, playing their best period of the game. Liam Stewart poked the puck free in the defensive zone, feeding Markson Bechtold on the breakout. Bechtold took the puck down the left wing and found an open Connor Chartier on the right side. Chartier skated to the slot and snapped a shot past the glove of Polivka at 7:39 to put the Chiefs up 4-0. Victoria went on the power play midway through the period, but Holmberg would steal the puck in the Royals end of the ice. His shot was stopped, but Aviani was there to poke home the rebound at 11:59 to score the Chiefs first shorthanded of the year as the Chiefs put a stranglehold on the game at 5-0.
Victoria would spoil Hughson's shutout bid on that same power play at 13:17 on Luke Harrison's shot from the left circle. Aviani would respond with his career high 4th goal at his rebound of a Bechtold shot at 16:42 would wrap up a 6-1 Chiefs win. Aviani would finish with a career high 5 points, Holmberg had 4 with a goal and an assist, Gow had 3 helpers, while Bechtold had his first multi-point game with 2 assists. Hughson finished with 28 saves for his first win of the season, as the Chiefs power play was 3-5 while the penalty kill was 3-4.
Spokane has now outscored their opponents 18-5 in three road wins, and now the team can finally enjoy home ice as they come home Saturday to face the team they beat in the season opener, the Tri City Americans. Tri handled the defending league champion Portland Winterhawks 6-2 the night before, so the Ams will be more than ready to spoil the Chiefs opening night festivities. Hopefully the boys will play more like they did in the third than they did in the first tonight, but one thing I am sure of going into the home opener--the fans deserveeee to turn out and support this team after a 3-0 start. Now it's time for bed...it's midnight, and there's a 7:15am bus waiting to catch the ferry back to the mainland.
Tuesday, September 24
After an impressive road win in Tri City to start the season, the Chiefs hit the road once again as they headed North to British Columbia to visit the Capital of Victoria. The team had an early morning practice on Monday before taking the bus across Washington and into Canada for the drive to the ferry terminal in Vancouver. The weather was good for the most part, with some rain in Snoqualmie Pass, but otherwise pretty ideal. The border crossing went smoothly and the bus arrived in time for the 5pm ferry to Victoria.
The sun was out by the time the ride began and it was a quick hour and a half to Vancouver Island. I love the trip to Victoria and it has quickly become my favorite journey in the WHL. I will personally petition the league to stay here for the next century. If you haven't made the journey to Victoria, you owe it to yourself to do so. It's a city with an Old World Colonial feel, but with a lot of modern cosmopolitan amenities. Not to mention it's situated on an island surrounded by water. It also becomes easy to forget that there's hockey games to be played and it's not a family vacation.
Game day was pleasant weather wise, with the sun out most of the day. The Royals were coming off a 2-1 loss in their home opener 3 days previously to Vancouver, so they were anxious to give the home fans a win. The Chiefs were hoping to get off to the same start they had in Tri City, and they would do just that on their first power play of the game. Mitch Holmberg would take a Reid Gow pass in the left circle and one time a shot past Royals goalie Patrik Polivka at 9:22 of the first to make it 1-0 Spokane. Rookie Blair Oneschuk scored on a rebound for his first WHL goal at 15:06 to put the Chiefs up 2-0. Defenseman Jason Fram assisted on both goals as the Chiefs seemed to rolling to another big first period. Victoria struck back with just 45 seconds left in the period on a power play goal on a 4 on 3 advantage. Spokane answered just 34 seconds later when Mike Aviani found an open Jeremy McIntosh net front to give the Chiefs a 3-1 lead after one.
It was a huge play by Aviani as he took the puck down the right wing and backhanded a pass to the trailing McIntosh on the weakside. The goal killed any momentum Victoria had and put the Chiefs back in control. Spokane added to their lead midway through the 2nd period when Carter Proft picked up a loose puck at the Royals blue line and snapped a shot past Polivka at 11:49 to put the Chiefs up 4-1. It also spelled the end of the night for Polivka. The Royals did respond just 45 seconds after Proft's goal on a snap shot by Brandon Fushimi to cut the lead to 4-2 after two periods.
Spokane left their best period for the third as the Chiefs would outshoot the Royals 17-7 and put the game away on the scoreboard. Aviani would execute a perfect give and go with Holmberg at 8:38 as Holmberg notched his 5th goal of the year and second of the night. Spokane would cap the scoring when Adam Helewka took a Holmberg feed and snapped a shot past backup Coleman Vollrath at 13:02 on a Chiefs 4 on 3 power play. It capped another impressive performance by the Chiefs as they secured their second straight 6-2 road win.
Holmberg picked up his second straight 4 point night with two goals and two assists. Aviani and Fram got 2 assists apiece as the Chiefs ended up outshooting the Royals 42-28, going 2-4 on the power play and 5-6 on the penalty kill. Eric Williams turned aside a penalty shot in a 26 save performance as Spokane got contributions from a number of players on their way to the win. The team has played good systems hockey for two games now and the results speak for themselves. Now the question is whether the team can maintain this level in their two remaining games this week, starting with another encounter with the Royals tomorrow night. Let's hope the boys finish off the 3 game roadie with something to smile about.
Saturday, September 21st, 2013
I know I say this every year, but it seems the hockey season starts earlier every year. I know on the calendar it doesn't, but it just seems the break between my summer job with the Indians and the winter one with the Chiefs gets shorter and shorterrr every year. Fortunately I got a chance to catch the Chiefs for some of their exhibition season against Everett, Seattle and Tri City, so I came in with some clue as to who I would be seeing this year. Every season brings familiar faces back to the ice, while it also feels like a new learning curve with the the new guys that make the roster.
Fortunately, for me at least, the Chiefs started the season in Tri Cities against the Americans, a team I had watched the week before in Cheney during the Chiefs only home pre-season game. Like Spokane, Tri brought a number of new faces to the roster, but they also had a lot of returners, making my prep work just a tad easier...which I wasn't complaining about after an 11 hour day at KREM-TV the day before doing high school football. But that's another story...
The bus ride to Tri was pretty uneventful, as I got some last minute homework done and actually got about a 45 minute nap. Our bus driver KJ gave his usual pep talk, which is pretty unique in its' own right. You'd have to hear for yourself, because my words could not possibly capture how good it is. Anyway, the team hit the ice hoping for a quick start and that's exactly what they got when Eric Williams made a key stop during a Tri City power play to keep the game scoreless early. Connor Chartier then put home a rebound of a Colton Bobyk shot, who was making his WHL debut, at 5:30 of the first to give Spokane a 1-0 lead.
That goal ignited the Chiefs, and specifically Mitch Holmberg. Holmberg scored on the Chiefs first power play on a rebound at 6:57 to put Spokane ahead 2-0. Mike Aviani then hit a trailing Holmberg at 9:55 for Holmberg's second goal of the night, and suddenly the Chiefs were out to a 3-0 edge. Chartier then fed a puck from behind the net to an open Liam Stewart in the slot, who slapped past Tri goalie Eric Comrie midway through the first to put the Chiefs up 4-0. Spokane then hit a cross bar and post while continuing the pressure into the latter part of the first. Tri City would break through with a power play goal that actually hit off the Chiefs Carter Proft's stick late in the first to cut the lead to 4-1 after one.
Taylor Vickerman would score on a rebound midway through the second to bring Tri City within 4-2. The Chiefs then got back on their game as Aviani would put home a rebound on a Reid Gow shot on the power play with 1:59 left in the second to put Spokane back up 5-2. Holmberg would then cap a hat trick night with a backhander on a rebound of a Jason Fram shot with just 4 seconds left in the period to cap the scoring at 6-2. Williams and the defense did the rest in the third, and the Chiefs picked up a road win in Tri Cities to open the season for the second straight year.
No question the first period was the difference in this one, as the Chiefs were dominant at times during the period. Spokane's ability to turn up their game late in the second and continue it in the third led to a nice opening win. Now the test comes with two games at Victoria coming up on Tuesday and Wednesday against a Royals team that should contend for the B.C. Division title this year. For now though, the bus rolls along Highway 395 towards Spokane and a last couple nights in my own bed before hitting the hotel circuit again....
Saturday, April 6th
I guess the one nice thing for the Chiefs after their 7-2 loss in game one to Portland in their Western Conference semi-final series was the team didn't have to dwell on the defeat too long as the two teams turned around the next night and would play game two. Maybe a change in venue would help the Chiefs as well, as the series moved from the Memorial Coliseum to the home of the NBA's Trailblazers, the Rose Garden.
It was another rainy day in Portland..in fact, it rained the entireeee time I was in the Rose City. A big surprise in April, right? The gloomy skies didn't deter the Chiefs early in game 2 though, as Spokane and Portland went toe to toe for the first half of the first period. After the midway period time out though, Portland started to take control offensively and broke through at 13:17. Oliver Bjorkstrand took the puck in the Chiefs zone and fed linemate Taylor Leier on the left wing. Leier then snapped a pass to the weak side cross ice to a wideee open Chase DeLeo, who had as open a net as you'll ever find as Chiefs goaltender Eric Williams and the Chiefs defense apparently didn't see DeLeo, and it was 1-0 Portland.
The Hawks outshot the Chiefs 20-11 in the first, including putting up 12 of the final 15 shots between the two teams over the last half of the period. Portland would come out flying in the second period as well, as Ty Rattie took a Brendan Leipsic pass behind the net, then wrapped around the goal to find an open Nick Petan on the left side. Petan dove full out and flung his stick and put the puck in the net just 1:05 into the period to make it 2-0 Winterhawks. It was a classic case of one team wanting the puck more than the other. For the second straight period Spokane was outshot, this time 13-7, and the Chiefs failed to muster a power play chance in the first 40 minutes.
Spokane would finally get a power play opportunity early in the third, but Dylan Walchuk's chance net front hit the post and despite several good chances early in the period, the Chiefs were still down two. Leipsic would build the lead to 3-0 when he took a Rattie pass on the right post and tapped it in at 9:02 of the third to effectively put the game away. The Chiefs would get off 9 shots in the third, but would fail to beat Portland goalie Mac Carruth, who shut out Spokane for the 3rd time in 11 meetings this season.
One one good thing for Spokane over the first two games has been the Chiefs penalty kill, as they have knocked off 10 of 12 Winterhawks chances against a power play that had been going at a 39% clip entering the series. The not so good news is that the Chiefs have had just 4 power plays, and only the one opportunity in game two was a full 2 minute power play. That has to change for the Chiefs going into the games 3 and 4 as the series shifts to the Spokane Arena. Spokane has also given up 82 in just 2 games, and if that trend continues, this series will be brief. Game 3 is now a must win for Spokane as an 0-3 deficit would be too much to overtake against the WHL's top team in the regular season. As I head back to Spokane, I was just hoping this wasn't the last road trip of the year.
Friday, April 5th
After knocking off Tri City in 5 games in their first round series, the Chiefs got the chance to relax and wait to see their next opponent in the West semi-finals. By Tuesday night, they knew they would draw either top seed Portland or third seed Kamloops. By late Wednesday night, after seeing Kelowna rally from a 3-0 deficit to beat Seattle in 7 games, the Chiefs knew Portland would be the opponent starting Friday night in the Rose City. The Winterhawks were the top team in the league this year, winning 57 games and piling up 117 points to take the top seed overall in the playoffs.
Spokane and Porttand had met 9 times in the regular season, with the Hawks winning 7 of the 9, including the last 4 games in a row. Portland had outscored the Chiefs 21-4 over that 4 game win streak, but Spokane was on a streak of their own entering the series, winning 14 of their last 17 games. Portland had been taken to 6 games by the 8th seeded Everett Silvertips, so the Chiefs had to hope that Portland was not on top of their game coming into the playoff matchup that would begin at the Memorial Coliseum on a rainy first Friday in April.
The Winterhawks would jump on the Chiefs just 5:46 into the game when Taylor Leier jumped on a loose puck in the slot and took the rebound and backhanded it in the net past Spokane goalie Eric Williams to make it 1-0 Portland. The Chiefs came right back with the two teams skating 4 on 4. Brenden Kichton hit a wide open Mike Aviani net front and Aviani backhanded a shot past Portland goalie Mac Carruth's glove at 9:04 of the first to even the game at one heading to the second. Portland would retake the lead when Oliver Bjorkstrand scored on a backhander on a rebound 4:05 into the second period to make it 2-1 Hawks. The Chiefs would respond while shorthanded as Todd Fiddler would come from behind the net on a wraparound and outwait Carruth to lift it over him at 7:23 of the period to tie the game at two.
The two teams would skate 4 on 4 again later in the period, but it was Portland that took advantage as Bjorkstrand scored his 2nd goal of the period, finishing off a rebound at 14:44 of the second to put Portland up 3-2. Defenseman Derrick Pouliot then rushed the puck up ice, split 2 Chiefs and put the puck off Williams into the net at 17:23 to make it a 4-2 game heading to the third. The Winterhawks would get a power play to start the third and took all of 47 seconds to take advantage when Ty Rattie scored from the left circle. It was the beginning of a big period for Rattie and the Hawks, as he would score on a pass in the crease at 5:28 to put Portland up 6-2. He would cap a natural hat trick on the power play again from the left wing at 16:23 and Portland wrapped up game 1 with a 7-2 win.
The game was a bit chippy towards the end, but the fact was, Portland got 8 power plays, converting 2, while Spokane was 0-3. After a promising start in the first, the Chiefs slipped in the second, and faded in the third. It was a performance that gave glimmers of hope for a prolonged series, but certainly showed it could be a short playoff for Spokane unless they keep Portland off the power play and play a tougher brand of hockey in the puck battles on the walls. The Hawks dominated puck possession in the contest, and if they continue to do that...Spokane will be in big trouble. Now the goal is to rebound quickly and get back even with a win in game two Saturday night at the Rose Garden. Let's hope the rain goes away by tomorrow...as well as the Chiefs woes with Portland.
Saturday, March 30th
There is nothing tougher than winning the 4th game of a 7 game playoff series. The opponent is desperate, and the team that's one win away can sometimes press a little too much trying to get the finishing victory. One thing I do know though. It's better to be going for that 4th win when you have a 3-1 series lead than it is to trail 3-1. The Chiefs were in the enviable position to go for their 4th win of their first round series against Tri City Saturday night. Playing their 3rd straight game on the road in Kennewick in 5 days, the Chiefs would be facing an Americans squad that was looking to win their last home game of the set.Â
I'm sure the Chiefs were happy to be heading home after spending 6 straight days in the Tri Cities. I was looking forward to not having to make the drive down again until baseball season. It was a beautiful spring day out though as the temperatures hit the mid 60's. I was also able to bring the family down as our babysitting options didn't pan out, so my little guy Patrick was able to catch his first Chiefs road game in 2 years. Being the weekend, a numberrr of Chiefs fans also made their trek to Kennewick and they were in full voice hoping to see their team wrap up the series.
Chiefs goalie Eric Williams, who had played in the previous 4 games, once again got the start and brought his 'A' game for game 5. A good thing too for Spokane, as the Americans as expected came out firing and looking to take an early lead like they had in game 4. The Chiefs and Williams withstood the storm though and Spokane would take the early lead for the third time in 5 games. For the second time in 3 games, it was Mike Aviani who put the Chiefs ahead as he tipped a Brenden Kichton pass for his third of the playoffs at 14:04 to make it 1-0 Spokane. Connor Chartier started the play, getting the puck to Kichton at the right point. Aviani, who had his back to the goal, directed the puck over the left shoulder of Tri City goalie Troy Trombley under the cross bar into the left corner to put the Chiefs up 1 after one.
Trombley got the start after Luke Lee-Knight hurt his shoulder in overtime of game 4. Trombley had started the first two games before Lee-Knight took over in games 3 and 4. He would play pretty well on this night, but Spokane would break through again in the second on the second of three power plays in the period for the Chiefs. Once again, it was Kichton who was catalyst. Kichton took the puck after passes from Reid Gow and Mitch Holmberg and snapped a shot from the point past a screened Trombley at 7:50 of the second to give the Chiefs a 2-0 edge heading to the third. Williams continued to be razor sharp, turning aside 17 Americans shots in the period.
The Chiefs had a shot at taking a 3-0 lead when Alessio Bertaggia was hauled down from behind on a partial breakaway in the third, but Trombley denied Bertaggia's penalty shot and as often happens, the save lifted the teammates of the goalie making it. The Americans got a lift for sure, and they got an even bigger one minutes later when Malte Stromwall converted a pass from the left circle to put the Ams on the board at 10:38 to cut the lead to 2-1. Once again that feeling of a Tri City comeback was in the air after the way the Americans had rallied in games 3 and 4. This time though, Spokane was able to withstand the storm as Bertaggia would get even on Trombley at 15:09 of the third. Todd Fiddler hit Bertaggia down the left wing and Bertaggia's shot beat Trombley through the pads to give Spokane a 3-1 lead and a huge insurance goal.
Tri City would pull their goalie in the final 4:01 of the game, but Spokane would get more chances to score on the Americans empty net than Tri City would on the Chiefs with the extra skater. Williams was rock solid again, turning aside 11 of 12 shots in the period and Spokane would hold off the Ams rally to secure a series clinching 3-1 win. Williams would finish with 36 saves in the contest and his best game of the five against Tri City. Spokane would also generate 7 power plays, just one less than they had in the previous four games combined. The Chiefs were also a perfect 3 for 3 on the penalty kill, going 19 for 22 in the series, a big reason why Spokane is moving on to the West semi's for the third straight year.
The Chiefs also become the first team to advance to the second round as they will now await their next opponent. Portland, Seattle and Kamloops all carried 3-2 leads in their series going into the week, and a numberrr of scenario's could occur, so there's no use wasting space speculating. One thing we do know is the team gets most of the week off before starting round 2 this weekend. If the Chiefs play as well as they did against Tri, they'll give any team they play a good fight. The team will be rested too, which is always huge this time of year and will suit Spokane well as they get ready for hockey in April!
Thursday, March 28th
After a tough to swallow overtime loss 2 nights earlier, the Chiefs looked to rebound against Tri City in game 4 of their series with the Americans. The team stayed in the Tri Cities as they were able to rest up and recuperate after a tough grinding game 3. It was a gorgeous day on Thursday as the temperatures hit into the mid 60's. The action in this game would heat up far hotter in the early stages though. The two teams squared off in two fights in the first 8:55 as no doubt the importance of the contest wasn't lost on both teams.
Tri City would break through at 9:25 of the first period when the Chiefs Reid Gow threw a pass that the Americans Jesse Mychan picked off. His pass for Malte Stromwall was poked off of Stromwall's stick, but the loose puck went right to Tri's Justin Feser. The WHL's 4th leading scorer snapped a shot from the slot over Chiefs goalie Eric Williams glove and Tri had a 1-0 lead. Spokane would respond just over 6 minutes later, but not without a bit of controversy. Tri City defenseman Justin Hamonic knocked Chiefs forward Blake Gal into Americans goalie Luke Lee-Knight in the crease. Hamonic was on top of the pile and soon got up. Gal and Lee-Knight remained entangled in the crease for close to 10 seconds before Gal was able to work free. Lee-Knight regained his feet as the Chiefs Adam Helewka got the puck from Jason Fram in the right circle. Helewka saw Lee-Knight was quite settled and found an opening to the far post and snapped home his first goal of the playoffs at 15:38 to tie the game at one. Needless to say, the Tri City fans went ballistic as they felt a penalty for interference should have been called on Gal, but the referee who was right at the goal ruled the play incidental contact as the result of the collision by Hamonic. However you saw it, the game was tied at one.
The Chiefs then seized the momentum of the period, getting off the last 6 shots of the stanza. Spokane would take the lead on the final shot of the period when Jackson Playfair forced the puck loose in neutral ice. Todd Fiddler would take a pass and hit Dylan Walchuk in stride into the Americans zone. Walchuk's shot was stopped by Lee-Knight but the rebound bounced loose in the crease and Fiddler followed the play and slammed home the rebound at 19:20 to give Spokane a 2-1 lead after one. Neither team would score in the second as the Chiefs outshot the Americans 12-11 in the period. The remarkable thing about that stat is Tri City got all three power play chances in the period as Spokane's penalty kill went perfect in the second.
Spokane secured what looked to be a huge insurance goal early in the third as Brenden Kichton scored his first goal of the playoffs, stuffing home a rebound of his own shot in the crease at 6:35 to put the Chiefs ahead 3-1. Spokane had seen the Americans rally from a 4-1 deficit the game before and had to know Tri would come at the Chiefs in waves as the third period ticked down. The Chiefs Riley Whittingham took a kneeing penalty at 13:58 to give the Ams the only power play of the period. Tri took advantage when Mitch Topping's shot from the point hit off of Dylan Walchuk and Tyler King past Eric Williams at 14:50 to cut the lead to 3-2 and get the crowd right back in the game. Tri City's Stromwall then won a puck battle in the left corner and snapped a pass through the slot to a wide open Drydn Dow on the far post. Dow snapped a shot in the open net at 17:17 to tie the game at 3 and send the two teams to overtime for the second straight game.
Both teams had a chance to score in the first minute of OT, but Lee-Knight and Williams kept the game tied. The Chiefs Helewka came in net front for a shot about 2 minutes in and was knocked into Lee-Knight in the crease. The Tri City goalie was shaken up and had to leave the game with what looked like a shoulder or collarbone injury. Backup Troy Trombley, who had started the first two games of the series, came into the game at that point. Spokane's Connor Chartier tested him almost immediately, coming in on a breakaway, but Trombley made the save to keep the contest going. The Chiefs would get another opportunity about 2 minutes later as Bertaggia got the puck up the left wing. His pass found Gal in stride down the middle of the ice and Gal broke in on goal and snapped a shot over Trombley's glove under the cross bar at 5:10 of overtime to give the Chiefs a 4-3 win and a 3-1 series lead.
After the way game 3 had finished, this win had to be a hugeee boost for Spokane as they now have a chance to end the series with a win in game 5 on Saturday. No doubt the team would love to do that, but the history of this rivalry and the close battles these two teams have had this year suggest this series is far from over. It will be another war on Saturday and I have no reason to think these two won't end up going to overtime for the third straight game. It should be another fun one and I would imagine there will be a good crowd on hand Saturday for what could be another classic in this long rivalry.
Tuesday, March 26th
The playoffs are here and once again, for the third straight year, the Chiefs are facing their old arch rivals, the Tri City Americans. The two teams have split their last two series, with Tri City knocking off the Spokane in last year's West semi's in 7 games. The Chiefs looked like a team ready to avenge that loss in the first two games of the series at the Spokane Arena as Spokane took game 1 Friday 4-1 and then followed that up with a 6-4 win in game 2 Saturday. Holding home ice was essential for the Chiefs as they knew the Arena was tied up all this week with the NCAA Women's basketball tournament, forcing the team to play games 3-5 on the road in Kennewick. So the team hit the road on Monday to get ready for a game three where the Chiefs could take command of the series, or Tri City could play their way right back into it.
The Americans made a change in goal as they replaced Troy Trombley, who had lost the previous 2 games, with former Chief back up Luke Lee-Knight. Tri City also welcomed back defenseman Mitch Topping and forward Tyson Dallman from injury, improving their special teams and depth from the previous two contests. The Chiefs as expected made no changes as Eric Williams once again got the start in net and the team kept the same lineup that had won the first two games of the series. Tri City got the first power play of the night, but it was Spokane that took advantage, as Mike Aviani got the puck away from Lee-Knight by the Ams net and poked the puck in the goal just 3:56 into the game to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead. Tri City's Parker Bowles then scored net front on a 4 on 4 when his shot went off Williams glove into the goal at 7:11 to tie the game up at one.
Spokane then scored the go ahead goal on the power play at 12:55 to re-take the lead at 2-1. After failing to score on a 5 on 3 advantage over 1:17, the Chiefs Alessio Bertaggia threaded a pass through the slot to an open Mitch Holmberg, who one timed it past Knight for his 3rd goal of the series. Tri City had a chance to even the game on their 3rd power play of the period. but Topping would fall down with the puck at the Chiefs blue line, allowing Spokane's Todd Fiddler to go on a breakaway. Lee-Knight made the save, but Blake Gal took the rebound and backhanded in the Chiefs second shorthanded goal of the period to stake Spokane to a 3-1 lead. Tri City had a chance to cut the lead as they had a 5 on 3 power play for 58 seconds towards the end of the first, but Williams and the defense kept the Americans at bay as the Chiefs took a 3-1 lead into the second period.
Spokane played sharp to start the second and were rewarded when Liam Stewart wristed a shot from the top of the circles on a great feed from the right corner by Aviani at 6:34 of the period to put the Chiefs up 4-1. There was never a feeling that the Chiefs were in control of the game though, and the hope from my end was the team maintain that 3 goal edge heading into the third. That wasn't to be though, as the Americans rallied, as you knew they would on home ice in a must win game for them. The comeback would start with the Chiefs losing the puck behind their own net and the Americans Marcus Messier would shoot the loose puck through the blocker pad of Williams at 10:38 to cut the lead to 4-2. Now the crowd was back in the game and they would have more to cheer about when the Chiefs defense whiffed on another loose puck in their zone and the Ams Justin Feser fired a shot from the left circle to beat Williams to the far post at the 12 minute mark to make it a 4-3 game. Now it was game on for Spokane as they hoped to take a one goal lead to the third. Instead, a holding penalty led to a Tri City power play and Drydn Dow's shot from the left point found the net at 18:06 to tie the game at 4 heading to the third.
It was a deflating 8 minutes of hockey for the Chiefs as a commanding 3 goal lead was gone and the game would become a war of attrition and missed opportunities in the third. Spokane would outshoot Tri City 12-5 in the period, but neither team was able to score. Tri City did get a power play chance at the end of regulation that extended into overtime, but the Chiefs were able to turn the Americans away to keep the game 4-4. Spokane would get their best chance of the OT about 7 minutes in when Alessio Bertaggia went on a break away. His shot was deflected by Lee-Knight and with it went the Chiefs best chance to take a 3-0 series lead. Instead, Tri City's Brian Williams would get the puck net front midway through overtime and Parker Bowles or Connor Rankin, depending on who you talked to after the game, scored the game winner through the pads of Williams. I called Bowles on the broadcast and the official scorer was also told Bowles, but Rankin told reporters he had put a stick on it. It didn't matter to the Chiefs who scored, it was the Americans who put it in the net and a huge opportunity was squandered by Spokane in the series.
Instead of a commanding 3-0 lead, the series is now 2-1 and the Americans regained belief they can come back and win the series as well. Spokane must now rebound mentally from a crushing loss and try to regain the momentum in game 4 on Thursday in Kennewick. It will be very interesting to see how the two teams come out in game 4 as the winner will without question have the upper hand in the series. Only one thing is for sure though...it's playoff time and as game 3 proved, anything can happen.
Sunday, March 17th
It's a relatively short trip to Portland from the Tri Cities, going about 3 hours drive time, so the overnight journey after the Chiefs big overtime win over the Americans was a pretty nice jaunt. Unlike a lot of trips I take with the team, I was driving on my own, as several late season call ups were starting to fill the team bus up. It also gave me a chance to get warmed up for my playoff drives, as I rarely travel with the boys during the playoffs. The drive went quick as there was rain in and out on the journey, getting particularly heavy around Cascade Locks, Oregon, but nothing that got in the way of delaying the arrival into the Rose City.
The Chiefs carried a 5 game winning streak into their game with Portland, who had also won 5 in a row, having swept a weekend series with their arch rivals Seattle, the previous two nights. Both teams were locked into their playoff spots, with Portland the top seed meeting Everett in the first round, and Spokane at #4, taking on Tri City in round one. So with nothing to really play for, the two teams sat many of their regulars. Spokane rested defensemen Brenden Kichton and Reid gow, as well as forwards Mitch Holmberg, Alessio Bertaggia, Dylan Walchuk and Mike Aviani. In other words, the Chiefs sat 6 of their top 7 scorers. Portland would sit their top two scorers Nick Petan and Brenden Leipsic as they would finish the year as the top scorers in the league with 120 points each.
For the second straight night, Garret Hughson got the start in net, having won his previous 6 starts. As it would turn out, it was a good thing Hughson was on his game in the first period as the Winterhawks dominated the period offensively. There were times I felt sorry for Hughson as the puck was continually in the Chiefs zone and he was getting little help from his teammates clearing the puck. Portland would score just 4:54 into the game when Ty Rattie, the second leading goal scorer in the WHL, was left wideee open by the right post and he scored easily on a pass to the tape. Portland would make it 2-0 when Taylor Peters easily won a battle on the wall and found an open Paul Bittner on the same post and he roofed it home. Peters would then cap a 3 goal first for the Hawks with a wide open shot from the slot on the power play and Portland took a commanding 3-0 lead after one.
The Chiefs got on the board in the second when Markson Bechtold ripped a shot from the left circle off a face-off win by fellow rookie Jacob Cardiff 8:07 into the stanza to make it 3-1 Portland. Bechtold and Cardiff have been pleasant surprises since being called up in the last two weeks of the season. It was Bechtold's 2nd goal in just 5 games and Cardiff's first career point. The Chiefs then had a hugeeee opportunity to get back in the game when Portland's Joe Mahon gave Spokane a 6 minute power play with some goonish play late in the second. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they failed to score one goal with 6 minutes of power play time. To make matters worse,Portland's Keegan Iverson then scored off a face-off with just 10 seconds left in the period to give the Hawks a 4-1 lead after two.
I knew at this point it was game over. Portland would then score on two of their 3 power play chances in the third to put the Chiefs away. Chase DeLeo scored on an easy rush up the left wing just 1:36 into the period to make it 5-1. Oliver Bjorkstrand then capped the scoring with an open shot from the slot at 18:03 to wrap up the easy 6-1 win. The Chiefs were outshot 39-25 and saw Portland go 3-6 on the power play, while going 0-5, including 0-4 in the decisive second period. It was a disappointing end to the season as many of the guys that got opportunity to step up into roles on special teams and increased playing time failed to do anything with it.
On the whole though, the final three weeks of the regular season went well for Spokane as the team won 9 of 11 and sewed up 4th place in the conference and with it home ice advantage for their first round series against Tri City. The Chiefs were able to sweep a home and home with the Americans this week and will hopefully use that momentum into the playoffs this week at the Arena. It should be a fun and veryyy competitive series between the two teams, and I have nooo doubt this series will be the best first round of the West by farrrr. Now it's time to head home for the 5 hour journey to Spokane, where no doubt my little man Patrick will be pounding on daddy at 7am to get up!
Saturday, March 16th
The final weekend of the regular season saw the Chiefs head out on the road for their final two games of the season with back to back games at Tri City and Portland. A month ago, Spokane had done the same trip and it was..how shall we put it...less than pleasant. The Chiefs were outscored 14-3 in consecutive losses to the Americans and Winterhawks. What a difference a month makes. Spokane was heading into this journey with a 4 game winning streak, winners of 9 of their last 10, and had just clinched 4th place in the Western Conference with a decisive 6-0 win over Tri the night before at the Spokane Arena. The victory wrapped up a 4-1 homestand for the Chiefs, as they went 25-10-1 at home this season.
Now the task was to take their second straight win over an Americans squad that was more than anxious for a little payback as the Ams played their final home game of the regular season. After winning the first two games in Tri Cities this season, Spokane had dropped three straight, including that disasterous 6-0 shelling in February. With two 6-0 games in a row between the two, the lasttt thing I expected was a blowout in this regular season finale between the two. The two teams were going to begin their 7 game opening round playoff series next Friday in Spokane, so I was seeing this game as one of those statement games between the two. And it didn't disappoint.
The first period saw the Chiefs outshoot Tri City 11-7, but the better quality chances were definitely Tri's in the first 20 minutes. Garret Hughson got the start in net for Spokane and was beaten just once, as Connor Rankin gathered the puck up the left wing and snapped a wrister over Hughson's blocker shoulder just 16 seconds into the Ams second power play of the game at 14:16 of the first to give Tri a 1-0 lead after one. It sure beat being down 4-0 after one, which was the case in the last visit. The Chiefs would respond in the second, as despite being outshot 13-9 in the period, Spokane would tie the game on defenseman Jeremy McIntosh's first WHL goal. Dylan Walchuk dug the puck off the wall, hit Mikulas Rimmel on the left wing, and Rimmel put a perfect pass to McIntosh in the slot. McIntosh's wrister beat Tri City goalie Troy Trombley over the glove at 12:34 and the game was even at one after two periods.
Spokane would take their first lead at 5:55 of the third as the Chiefs would score on their only power play of the period. Hughson cleared the puck to Brenden Kichton, who found Dylan Walchuk down the left wing. Walchuk skated to the top of the circle and blasted a slap shot for his 19th goal of the season to make it 2-1 Chiefs. The lead didn't hold long though, as Tri City's Justin Feser took a Jesse Mychan pass on the right post and backhanded in the tying goal just 1:59 later to even the game at two. Spokane would outshoot Tri 14-6 in the third, but found themselves heading to overtime for the third time in this 12 game series with the Americans.
The first two encounters had ended in the first minute of OT, as Malte' Stromwall had scored both times to had Tri Cities wins in Kennewick in November and in Spokane in January. I was a bit surprised he wasn't on the ice to start overtime this time around considering his past track record, but I wasn't complaining. The Chiefs also took advantage, as Todd Fiddler swung a pass out of his own zone and hit Kichton on the right wing in the neutral zone. Kichton broke in with Blake Gal on a two on one as the Ams got caught up ice. Kichton fired a shot from the right circle off the pad of Trombley and the rebound went right to Gal net front, who banged it in for the game winner just 34 seconds into OT. It was Spokane's 3rd win in overtime this year, having won in Regina and Victoria earlier in the season. It also gave the Chiefs the weekend sweep of Tri City and enabled Spokane to reach the 90 point plateau on the season with the last game of the campaign in Portland on Sunday.
There were a number of fans who made the trip to Tri from Spokane, and they certainly enjoyed the ending. It was a fun game for the fans to watch, and I'm sure is going to be prelude of what will be the best first round series in the Western Conference. But that isnt' until Friday. Now the boys head West to Portland for a 5pm meeting with the best team in the league. I'm sure some of the regulars will get a well deserved rest..and they should. It will also give some of the rookies a chance to get valuable ice time before the playoffs. I'm just hoping for a quick game so my deteriorating voice from my horrific chest cold will be able to heal up in time for the games that count the end of the week. It's raining out...biggg surprise there...and it's time for sleep. You can neverr get enough of that this time of year.
Saturday, March 2nd
It's tough enough to beat a team twice in as many nights, but to do on the other team's home ice makes it doubly difficult. That was task facing the Chiefs though on Saturday as the boys hoped for their second straight win over the Victoria Royals. Spokane had pulled out a 4-3 overtime win the night previous, so there was some hope that the late defeat had deflated the Royals as they now trailed the Chiefs by 8 points in the standings with just 8 games left.
Spokane gave goalie Garret Hughson the night off after winning 4 straight, and sent Eric Williams back out between the pipes. Williams had played well most of the season, but had struggled in his last two starts against Tri City and Portland as the Chiefs lost both games by a combined 14-3. Saturday's game also marked the debut of forward Jacob Cardiff, who had joined the team earlier in the week. It was a sunny day in Victoria by the time the team headed to the rink, so I was hoping that was a good sign of things to come.
Much like last night's game, the Chiefs jumped out to an early lead on their first power play chance of the night. Alessio Bertaggia, who had notched the game winner in overtime the night before, scored on a rebound at 10:11 of the first period to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Little did we know thisss would be the lone power play opportunity for the Chiefs in the game. Victoria would come right back, just like they did the game before, as Jack Walker's shot from the point found the net at 17:52 of the period to tie the game at one after the first.
The game would be decided in the second when Dylan Walchuk won a face-off in the left circle. The puck went to the Todd Fiddler and he ripped home his 41st goal of the year by the near post and past Victoria goalie Patrik Polivka to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead. A mere 26 seconds later, Blake Gal scored the most bizarre game winning goal I've ever seen. Gal ripped a shot over the Royals net off the glass behind the goal. The puck bounced straight back, over the net and hit Polivka square between the two 3's on the back of his jersey. The puck then fell in the net to put Spokane up 3-1 at the 5:09 mark of the second. Victoria's Ben Walker then scored a power play goal from the right wing midway through the period to narrow the lead to 3-2.
That was as close as Victoria would get, as Williams would shut down the Royals on all 16 shots they put up in the third period, including a stellar save on a point blank shot net front from Victoria's leading goal scorer Jaime Crooks. Even after the Royals pulled Polivka for an extra skater, the Chiefs and Williams didn't bend, as despite being outshot 39-29, including 16-9 in the third, Spokane held on for a 3-2 win.
The victory marked the 5th straight overall for the Chiefs and gave Spokane a 3-1 series win with the Royals this year. Spokane also maintained their one point lead over Tri City for 4th place in the West standings and pretty much put the Royals in the rear view mirror with a 10 point lead with just 7 games to play. Now Spokane heads home for 5 straight games at the Arena. The ferry ride back to the Canadian mainland awaits in the morning, followed by an all day ride home. I can assure you though, it will a lot more fun of a ride after a perfect 3-0 road trip.
Friday, March 1st
The Chiefs were hoping to roar into March as they carried a 3 game winning streak in a key 2 game series with the Victoria Royals. After travelling on Thursday from Everett through a pouring rain all day, the team awoke to sunshine peeking through the clouds on Friday. Spokane was 7 points up on Victoria for 5th place in the Western Conference, while trailing 4th place Tri City by just one point entering play. The Chiefs had lost for the first time in the Royals two year history to Victoria in the two teams last meeting, a 5-3 defeat at the Spokane Arena 5-3 on February 10th. Victoria took over 4th place in the West at that point, but a 6 game losing streak by the Royals had set them behind both Spokane and Tri City in the standings.
It was a crucial series for the Royals, while the Chiefs were looking to keep up their momentum and keep the pressure on Tri City for the 4th place spot, the final home ice berth in the first round of the playoffs. Spokane went with the red hot Garret Hughson in net, having won his last 3, giving up just 1 goal in his last two starts. Spokane started the game well too, as the Chiefs used alll of 8 seconds on their first power play to take a 1-0 lead. Mitch Holmberg took the rebound off a Brenden Kichton shot and tucked it past Royals goalie Patrik Polivka at 3:30 of the first for his 36th goal of the season. The Chiefs then took 4 straight penalties and it would cost them the lead.
Victoria's Logan Nelson scored from the left circle on a 5 on 3 advantage at 6:31 to bring the Royals even at 1. Brandon Magee then scored on a rebound at 12:15 on another power play to make it 2-1 Victoria after one. Despite outshooting the Royals 16-10 in the period, the Chiefs were outplayed on special teams to find themselves down one going into the second. Spokane would play better in the second, outshooting Victoria 12-7 and generating the only 3 power play chances of the period. The Chiefs would capitalize on a 5 on 3 power play of their own midway through the second. Kichton's shot from the point was tipped by Carter Proft for his 9th goal of the year and second in as many games on the road trip, to tie the game at two after two periods.
Going in tied into the third is a lottt better than being down one. Just check a team's stats sometime on how they do trailing as compared to being tied or leading into the third. In the Chiefs case, they were 29-4 when leading, 6-3 when tied....2-19 when trailing. Big difference, right? Spokane would seize the initiative in the third when Blake Gal came around off the goal line and swiped the puck off Polivka and into the net at 6:12 to put the Chiefs up 3-2. The lead would hold until 13:24, when Nelson tallied his 2nd of the night on a net front scramble to tie the game at three. Neither team seriously threatened the rest of regulation as the teams headed to overtime.
In the OT, Hughson made the save of the game to deny the Royals a game winning chance and the Chiefs took advantage. Mike Aviani made a great effort to win the puck in the Victoria end and get to Reid Gow at the left point. Gow passed to Kichton, whose pass was tipped by Alessio Bertaggia past Polivka at 3:38 of overtime for the game winner. Aviani was also in front of the net, and looked to be the person who tipped it and he was given credit for the winner. Upon review though, it was Bertaggia, who had been frustrated in numberousss chances in the game, that put it away for Spokane.
It wasn't the prettiest of games for the Chiefs, as they squandered a numberrr of offensive opportunites on odd man rushes in the game, yet they still found a way to beat a team that desperately needed a win. Hughson made 29 saves, and made the big saves when he needed to late to get his 4th straight victory. Kichton finished with 3 assists, coming off his 2 goal game in Everett. Spokane got even better news when they found out Seattle had won in Tri Cities, giving the Chiefs a 1 point lead over Tri for 4th in the West. Now the goal will be to maintain that lead as the team finishes the road trip tomorrow night in Victoria. The rain is falling...again...but hopefully things will clear up again tomorrow and the Spokane can finish the trip with a 3 for 3 in the win column.
Wednesday, February 27th
The Chiefs ended the month of February on the road, as they embarked on a 3 game road trip through Everett and Victoria. Spokane was coming off 2 impressive wins at home over two of the top teams in the league in Edmonton and Kamloops, and were hoping to not suffer a letdown as they took on the last place team in the U.S. Division in Everett. Spokane had won 4 of 6 from the Silvertips this season, but both losses had been in Everett, where the Chiefs were just 1-2. The team had won their last game in Everett though, taking a 6-3 decision 2 weeks ago. Spokane also got some good news coming in as defenseman Jason Fram returned to the lineup after missing nearly a month to a leg injury.
The team headed to Everett on Tuesday after a practice at Eastern Washington University. It was a perfect day to travel, with lots of sunshine..what's that?...and dry road conditions. We got to watch the latest James Bond film, 'Skyfall' on the bus, and I was pretty happy to do so, having not seen the movie yet. Daniel Craig is pretty good as Bond, but he's no Sean Connery....but who is? The rain appeared after crossing over Snoqualmie Pass, but the temperatures are definitely warmer than Spokane, so I can handle that. Dinner was at the Olive Garden, and I never have a complaint with that...give me salad and breadsticks anyyy day there!
Game day started with bright sunshine, but quickly became another overcast day here on the West side. The Chiefs once again went with rookie Garret Hughson in goal, who had just come off his second shutout of the season in the win over Kamloops Saturday. Hughson showed he was still sharp as he denied a breakaway chance from the Silvertips Manraj Hayer in opening 2 minutes of the game. Hughson would come up with several saves in the first period to keep Everett from seizing the early lead as the two teams were scoreless through 15 minutes. Spokane would break through at 15:20 when Carter Proft picked up the puck behind the Everett came to his forehand side net front and snapped a shot far side past Silvertips goalie Austin Lotz to put the Chiefs up 1-0. The lead didn't last long though as Ryan Harrison took a Reid Petryk pass in the left circle and fired one far post past Hughson 59 seconds after Proft's goal to tie the game at one.
The biggest play of the game would happen at the end of the period. Spokane would get their first power play of the night with 1:02 left in the first and would use about every second to convert. Blake Gal took a Mitch Holmberg pass and backhanded a shot on net in the final seconds. Lotz kicked the rebound in the slot and Brenden Kichton punched the puck in the net with just .5 seconds left to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead after one. You could feel the air go out of the building in Everett on that goal and the hope for the Chiefs was they would use that momentum to expand the lead in the second. Spokane would outshoot the Tips 12-7 in the period, but wouldn't break through until the final 2 minutes. Gal put up a shot netfront and once again the rebound came out in the low slot. Todd Fiddler came in and banged the rebound home for his 40th goal of the season to put the Chiefs up 3-1 after two.
Fiddler joined Drayson Bowman, Kyle Beach and Tyler Johnson as 40 goal scorers since the 2007-08 season. The goal also gave the Chiefs a big insurance goal heading into the third. Hughson would again make some point blank saves in the third, including back to back shots off the stick of the Silvertips Dawson Leedahl to keep it a 2 goal game. Kichton would take the air out of Everett again with a blast from the right point at 7:28 from Reid Gow and Jackson Playfair to cap a 4-1 victory. It was the Chiefs third straight win and 2nd in a row in Everett, as Spokane has now beaten the Tips 5 of 7 this season. The win also pulled the Chiefs within 1 point of Tri City in the race for 4th place in the Western Conference, and extended Spokane's lead to 7 points over Victoria for 5th, as the Royals lost at home to Lethbridge tonight.
All in all a good night for the Chiefs and a great start to the three game road trip. Spokane started their last 3 game roadie with a win at Everett, only to suffer crushing losses at Tri City and Portland. Hopefully history will nottt repeat itself as the team heads North to Victoria to play back to back games with the Royals Friday and Saturday. With just 9 games in the regular season left, Spokane can either put Victoria away in the race for 4th, or let the Royals right back in with a pair of defeats. It's a huge weekend, and let's hope the boys keep up the winning ways for the next 2.
Monday, February 18th
President's Day had the Chiefs in Portland as the team finished up a three games in 4 nights trip through the U.S. Division as the team took on the #1 team in Canadian Junior Hockey in the Winterhawks. Coming off the dreadful performance two night's earlier in Tri Cities, I expected the team to come out with a muchhh better effort in Portland. The team got a chance to practice and get some rest as well on Sunday in the Rose City, and the team needed both. Monday's game was the second day game the Chiefs would play in Portland, as Spokane faced the Hawks on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January. That game was won by the Chiefs 5-2 in one of their best games of the season, if not their best, so there was reason to hope a repeat performance was possible.
The Winterhawks had blanked the Chiefs in the two teams last two meetings, shutting out Spokane 3-0 in Spokane January 25th, and then 4-0 in Portland on February 2nd. Coming off a 6-0 shutout in Tri on Saturday, scoring a goal was the immediate challenge for the Chiefs. Scoring goals is not a problem for Portland, the highest scoring team in the league. The Winterhawks would show why early in this one too. Taylor Leier scored just 2:57 into the game when Chase DeLeo found him wideee open in front of the Chiefs net and it was 1-0 Portland. Leier would strike again as he just muscled the puck away from defenseman Cole Wedman in front of the net and backhanded the puck past goalie Eric Williams to make it 2-0 Portland just 5 minutes into the game. Nottt a good start. At all. Spokane had their chances. Two partial breakaways and a 2 on 1 rush netted nothing on Portland goalie Mac Carruth, much of it due to the Chiefs failure to execute a pass or shot. When Shaun McPherson slapped a one timer past Williams late in the first, the Hawks went to the intermission up 3-0.
The second period began like a Herman's Hermits song...second verse..just like the first. Portland would score on an Oliver Bjorkstrand power play goal justÂ 2:02 into the period to go up 4-0. Bjorkstrand would go 2 for 2 on the power play when he tipped a DeLeo shot at 7:04 to put the Winterhawks firmly in control 5-0. To the Chiefs credit, they battled back. Back to back penalties on Portland led to a Chiefs 5 on 3 power play, and Alessio Bertaggia would cash in for Spokane with a shot from the right circle over Carruth's shoulder to bring the Chiefs within 5-1. It was Bertaggia's 5th goal in 5 games for Spokane. The Chiefs would strike again 3:59 later when Adam Helewka scored his 9th of the year from the right wing and suddenly Spokane had life in trailing 5-2. Bjorkstrand and his linemates DeLeo and Leier would kill that momentum as they came on an odd man rush and DeLeo's drop pass found Bjorkstrand's stick. Bjorkstrand put the puck over goalie Garret Hughson, who had relieved Williams after Bjorkstrand's first goal of the second. That goal gave Bjorkstrand the hat trick and Portland a 6-2 lead after two.
Bjorkstrand wasn't done. He would score his 4th of the night on an open shot in the slot at 7:57 of the third period to cap a 5 point night and put the game on ice at 7-2. The Chiefs got a Mike Aviani power play goal on a great feed from Mitch Holmberg midway through the third to get Spokane within 7-3. Portland would cap the scoring though on a Paul Bitner power play goal in the final 4 minutes to wrap up a decisive 8-3 win. On one bright note, the Chiefs did go 2-5 on the power play and were only outshot 33-31. The bad news though, was the penalty kill was just 5-8 and the team dug themselves anotherrrr early deficit that was way too much to overcome. The Chiefs team game was a bit better tonight..but it has milesss to go before the playoffs, which is just 12 games away.
The Chiefs have a lotttt of work to do to get to a level of contending in the post season. Spokane is going to have to do a lottt of self-evaluation if it has anyyy hopes of moving out of the first round. There was good news though...with Prince George's loss in Edmonton, the Chiefs clinched a playoff spot. Now it's up to the team to step it up and try to get the 4th place spot and home ice in the first round. If this kind of play that I've seen over the past two games continues though...the playoffs will be veryyy brief indeed for Spokane.
Saturday, February 16th
The Chiefs made the 3 1/2 hour trek from Everett to the Tri Cities for game 2 of their 3 game trip as they faced off with the Americans for the second time in a week. Spokane had won 5-2 the Ams the previous Saturday at the Spokane Arena and were hoping to expand their 3 point lead over Tri in the Western Conference standings. Tri City had beaten Portland decisively 6-2 the night before in Portland as the Chiefs had closed out Everett 6-3.
Game day flew by quickly as the sunshine was in and out during the day with the cloud cover. I was looking forward to the matchup as the two teams knew they were separated by just 3 points in the standings. The crowd was full of energy too as a number of Chiefs fans made their way down to the Tri Cities for the game. As the game unfolded, I'm sure many of them wondered why they made the trip. Tri scored just over 3 1/2 minutes into the game when Connor Rankin's face off shot somehow eluded not only the Chiefs defense, but goalie Eric Williams, and it was suddenly 1-0. A less than ideal start to say the least for Spokane.
It didn't get any better for the Chiefs as Lucas Nickles and the Ams beat the Chiefs down the ice and Nickles finished off the rush at 7:29 to put Tri City up 2-0. I knew it was going to be a long night after that, as the Americans were outskating, outhitting and outplaying the Chiefs in every facet of the game. Tri City woulld score on the power play when Malte Stromwall skated past Mitch Holmberg and fed an open Rankin who beat Brenden Kichton to the net on the left wing to make it 3-0 Americans. Spokane had a power play chance late in the first period to cut the lead to 3-1, but instead saw the Americans Justin Feser lead an odd man rush to Marcus Messier, who scored shorthanded in the final 14 seconds of the period to put Tri City up 4-0 after one.
That goal was the nail in the coffin so to speak. Tri would add to the lead when Brian Williams was left open in front of the net and he beat backup goalie Garret Hughson 6 minutes into the period to leave Tri City up 5. Hughson came on for Eric Williams, who departed after the 4 goal first. Tri City would cap the scoring on a play that personified the night for Spokane, when Parker Bowles skated right past 2 Chiefs defenders and beat Hughson on the forehand side late in the second to make it 6-0 Tri City and effectively end the competitive phase of this contest.
The two teams skated through the third, as Tri City gave their end of the rotation guys plenty of ice time, and the Chiefs managed nothing offensively against Tri goalie Troy Trombley, who shutout the Chiefs on 34 non-challenging shots. It was a game that was hard to watch if you're a Chiefs fan, and you just hope that the same kind of effort is not repeated any time in the near future. Now the boys head out on a longgg 3 hour bus ride to Portland, where the top team in the league awaits Monday. Let's just hope it's the Chiefs team I saw in Everett Friday, and not the outfit I witnessed tonight.
Friday, February 15th
The Chiefs embarked on a 3 games in 4 nights trip through the U.S. Division as they headed for Everett Thursday afternoon. After a practice at Eastern Washington University, the team hit the road for the 4 hour trip West. We hit rush hour traffic going into Everett, but fortunately it moved along better than most rush hours in the North Sound. Dinner was a bit of an ordeal as we showed up earlier than expected, throwing the cook off at the restaurant. This resulted in a bit of a wait for our meals..in fact, I was ready to start eating other tables food...but once the meal arrived, the steak tasted just fine.
Game day is the usual, team breakfast, head to the rink for a workout and skate, then the pre-game meal. The day was beautiful in Everett as it was sunny and warm. I got a chance to enjoy the day and just wished it would stay this way for the entire road trip. The team got some good news too as Alessio Bertaggia, who had been out injured since mid-January was ready to get back in the lineup. His scoring punch will be a nice addition heading into the final month of the regular season.
The Chiefs got off to a good start too, as Cole Wedman scored from the right point just over 7 minutes into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Adam Power's shot hit the cross bar, and as Connor Chartier got the rebound, a penalty was going to be called on the Silvertips. Chartier kept possession, hit Wedman and the defenseman's slap shot beat Everett goalie Dan Cotton for Wedman's third goal of the year. Spokane then struck on their first power play of the game just over 3 minutes later when Bertaggia poked the puck in the net during a net front scrum to make it 2-0. Everett argued the play should have been whistled dead, but the referee saw the puck loose the entire time and the Chiefs had a 2 goal lead.
Everett would counter on a Kole Bauml goal on a play that Spokane was caught flat footed when it appeared the puck had been iced. No whistle was blown and the Chiefs left the puck to be played from the corner to an open Bauml, who made no mistake to make it 2-1. Lesson here? Play the puck till you hear a whistle. The Chiefs would bounce back though as Mike Aviani stole the puck at center ice in the final half minute, hit Mitch Holmberg behind the Tips defense, and Holmberg would score on the breakaway with 25 seconds left to give the Chiefs a 3-1 lead after one.
Everett would get a power play chance midway through the second to cut the lead to one, but Spokane would strike as Brenden Kichton took the puck in the Everett zone and put a perfect pss to the tape of Dylan Walchuk streaking to the net. Walchuk's second shorthanded goal this week put the Chiefs up 4-1. Spokane would take another penalty though, and the Silvertips scored on the 5 on 3 on a Manraj Hayer shot from the right circle on a rebound to cut the lead to 4-2 after two.
The first goal of the third would be a huge one, and fortunately for the Chiefs, they got it. Jackson Playfair stole the puck in the Everett zone and put a perfect pass to the stick of Mikulas Rimmel. Rimmel snapped a wrister from the slot and beat Cotton on the glove side to give the Chiefs a 5-2 lead. Bauml would score on a 4 on 4 midway through the period to cut the lead to 5-3, but Spokane would wrap it up in the final minute. With Everett's net empty, Reid Gow stole the puck in the Chiefs end, put a pass up the left wing, and Bertaggia would track it down and score from the left circle to wrap up a 6-3 win.
Bertaggia has played 3 games for Spokane, scoring 4 goals and 2 assists. I would say he has been missed up front. Holmberg would have a goal and an assist, and Kichton 2 assists as the Chiefs became the first road team to win in the 6 games played between Spokane and Everett. It was a great start to the road trip too and a necessary one. Victoria lost in a shootout in Red Deer, so the Chiefs now lead by a point for 4th in the Conference. Tri City, who is up next tomorrow night, also won in Portland, so they're just 3 points back of Spokane. It should be a dandy tomorrow night in Kennewick and as the bus heads Southeast to the Tri Cities, I just hope the boys are rested and ready to go in a biggg game coming up.
Friday, February 8th
Coming off one of their most impressive wins of the season, a 5-0 win over Kelowna at home, the Chiefs embarked back on the road for their next to last journey to Canada this regular season as they traveled to Cranbrook, B.C. to face the Kootenay Ice. The trip began the first 3 games in 3 nights stretch for the team this season, and it's a crucial weekend, as Spokane will host Tri City and Victoria over the weekend, the two teams they're battling for playoff position in the Western Conference.
The trip to Cranbrook takes about 3.5 hours, the second shortest roadie for the team behind the 2 hour trek to Tri City. Today the weather could not have been more ideal as sunshine and blue skies were out the entire journey. The team stopped for lunch in Bonners Ferry, as it usually does on this trip. I don't know how many more chicken and pasta meals my system can take this year, although the apple pie dessert is a fan favorite for me.
The team also welcomed back forwards Connor Chartier and Jackson Playfair from the injured list, so it was nice to have a full compliment of forwards. The team is still short defensemen Tyler King and Jason Fram, so Blake Gal is still seeing duty on the blue line to help out in the meantime. The Chiefs knocked off Kootenay 4-2 on January 12th in the two teams last meeting in Spokane, snapping the Ice 7 game winning streak, so you could bet Kootenay was a little anxious to get some revenge on their home ice Friday.
The Ice broke through with just over 6 minutes left in the first period when the Chiefs turned the puck over in their own zone. Kootenay won a puck battle in the right corner, and Jon Martin got open for a netfront shot that goalie Eric Williams stopped. The rebound popped right back to Martin and he backhanded the puck past Williams to the far post for a 1-0 Ice lead. Just under 3 minutes later, the Chiefs made a mental mistake in coverage, leaving Levi Cable wind open for a rush down the right wing. Cable's shot was saved by Williams, but the rebound came right back to Cable who stick handled past a prone Williams to tuck it in the open net to give the Ice a 2-0 lead after one.
The Chiefs had played OK hockey in the first, but two mistakes left them down 2 heading to the second. Spokane came out in the second period and dominated from the start. The Chiefs outshot the Ice 18-8 in the period and controlled the puck for over 3/4 of the period. Spokane would break through on the first power play of the game. After a tripping call on the Ice 8 minutes into the period, Mike Aviani took a Adam Helewka pass in the slot, threw a perfect blind backhanded pass to Mitch Holmberg, and Holmberg roofed it 21 seconds into the power play. Holmberg's 32nd goal of the year cut the lead to 2-1, but unfortunately that was the only goal the Chiefs could muster in their 18 shot second period.
Still, the team was back in the game heading to the third, and if the Chiefs played the third like the second, the chances of winning were above average. Instead, a poor decision off an offensive rush led to Kootenay taking the puck in the Chiefs end. After a face-off win, the Ice got a Luke Philip goal just 54 seconds into the third to go up 3-1. So much for momentum for Spokane. The Ice controlled the game from there, and when Austin Vetterl scored on another face-off win just over the 8 minute mark of the period, the competitive phase of this game was over. Williams was relieved by back up Garret Hughson, and the Chiefs managed a whopping 2 shots on net in the period as Kootenay closed out a 4-1 win.
Not a good way to start a huge weekend..at all. Victoria won at Tri City 5-3, so now Victoria is in 4th with 66 points, Tri is 5th with 65 and Spokane has dropped to 6th with 64. Now the Chiefs return home to host Tri City Saturday and Victoria Sunday. Spokane needs a split..minimum. A sweep would put the Chiefs back in 4th with a month left in the season. It's a quiet trip home, but hopefully the Arena will be rockin this weekend. The team can use the lift folks.
After the loss in Kamloops, the Chiefs drove allll night to Portland, arriving at the hotel around 6am Saturday morning. Let's just say the quality of rest was not going to be great going into tonight's game with the Winterhawks, who had won 5 straight since losing to the Chiefs in a shootout last week. Spokane was also going to be further shorthanded as defenseman Jason Fram was lost to a leg injury in last night's game with the Blazers, forcing the Chiefs to use forward Blake Gal on the blue line.
Fortunately, the day was beautiful in Portland as it was sunny and mild temperature wise. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of time to enjoy it, as the turnaround for the game flewww by. Next thing I knew, we were on the bus and headed to the old Memorial Coliseum for the game. I'll be frank. It's my least favorite building in the league. Nothinggg works in that building on a consistent basis, and the lighting is poor at best. I love the history of the place, but as far as I'm concerned, the old girl needs to be put to bed on a permanent basis. Tonight, I couldn't get an internet connection to work, so I had nooo scores for my pre-game, intermissions, or post game. I wasn't alone with the problem either. To top it off, the Coliseum changed the phone number to the line I was using, so I had no way to get a call from my radio station. I called into another number, but had nooo communication with the station. They had to text me as to when to talk. As I said, I'll be glad to see the building imploded.
As for the game, the Chiefs were totallyyy outplayed in the first period. Portland threw everything but the kitchen sink at goalie Eric Williams and he more than held his own, turning aside 19 of 21 shots to keep the Chiefs in the game. Portland broke through on their 16th shot when Taylor Leier took a rebound in the left circle and rifled a shot from the low left circle over Williams glove at 14:22 to make it 1-0. Portland got all 3 power play chances in the first and capitalized on the 3rd one, when Brendan Leipsic tipped a Troy Rutkowski shot from the point with just 17 seconds left to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead after one. It could have been a lott worse for Spokane as Williams single handedly kept the Chiefs in the game.
Leipsic would strike again for his 2nd of the game just 1:05 into the second period to put Portland up 3-0. Leipsic took the puck from right to left to the circle and snapped one inside the near post over Williams shoulder. It would be the only goal of the period, as the Chiefs were outshot 17-12, but showed signs of offense, having 2 shorthanded chances denied while on the penalty kill. Spokane would get some offense going in the third, outshooting Portland 13-9, but the Chiefs failed on 2 power play attempts to end up being shutout by Portland for the second straight meeting. Oliver Bjorkstrand's rebound of his own shot late in the third capped the scoring as the Chiefs matched their season high losing streak at four.
Now Spokane is 3 points back of Tri City for 2nd in the division and 4th in the Conference, while Victoria is just 2 points back of the Chiefs for 5th. With now 6 players on the injury list, the season maybe starting to slip away from this team unless the veterans come to play every night and the youngsters step up in their roles. If those two things don't happen, and soon, Spokane could be staring on losing home ice in the first round and facing a Kamloops in the first round...which does not bode well. Let's hope the team starts to heal up and get back on their game that they showed in the first half of the season...before it's too late.
Friday, February 1st
After nearly two weeks at home, the Chiefs hit the road for perhaps their most challenging and exhausting road trip of the year to Kamloops and Portland. The Blazers and the Winterhawks are the 3rd and top ranked teams in the Western Conference and the travel distance between the two is about 7-8 hours depending on weather. It's a long overnight trip, not to mention two good teams. First up were the Blazers on Friday night, as the Chiefs left Thursday from the Spokane Arena after a morning practice. The weather was good, with the usual fog in the Grand Coulee area, but the roads were clear and the team arrived at dinner time Thursday night.
The hotel in Kamloops is ideally situated, within walking distance of the rink. It was balmy enough out to enjoy the trek as well, and I was hoping the team would battle through against a team that gone 19-4-1-1 at home. The Chiefs were still without Alessio Bertaggia, Connor Chartier, Jackson Playfair, and Tyler King due to injuries. The good news was the team was getting back forward Adam Smith and had call up Markson Bechtold to at least fill out a full lineup up front. The team was going to need all hands on deck for this one, as the game was being televised throughout Western Canada and the Northwest U.S. You never like to look bad with a big TV audience.
The Chiefs held tough in the first period playing a pretty even first 20 minutes. Tim Bozon would get free in the low left circle and bang one through the pads of Chiefs goalie Eric Williams at 13:25 of the first to give Kamloops a 1-0 lead. Spokane picked up a power play chance late in the first though, and would capitalize in the second when Mitch Holmberg took a Mike Aviani pass in the goal crease and put it past Blazer goalie Cole Cheveldave just 35 seconds into the period to tie the game at one. Kamloops though would take advantage of some loose Spokane defense to score two goals just over 5 minutes apart to go up 3-1. J.C. Lipon and Kale Kessy both got easy looks from the slot to give Kamloops a 2 goal lead.
Holmberg would come back though as he took an Aviani pass on a breakaway and roofed a backhander at 13:45 of the period to draw the Chiefs back within 3-2. Spokane lost defenseman Jason Fram to a leg injury in the period, and the lack of depth defensively started to catch up. The problem too was some of the forwards made mental mistakes in their own zone and the Chiefs started taking penalties, putting the Blazers third ranked power play on the ice far too often. Kessy would tip a Jordan Thomson shot late in the second on the power play to give Kamloops a 4-2 lead after two.
The Chiefs would kill off 1:24 of a Blazer two man advantage, but just as the 5 on 4 power play was set to expire, Thomson scored from the blue line to give Kamloops a commanding 5-2 lead. Colin Smith, who had a goal and 4 assists, would score on backup Garret Hughson on the glove side midway through the third to put the game on ice at 6-2. Holmberg would notch his 3rd had trick of the year with his 30th of the season from Blake Gal and Aviani, who secured his 3rd assist of the game, at 10:19 to get Spokane within 6-3. Bozon would cap a 4 point night with his second goal of the evening on Kamloops 3rd power play goal of the game to put the Blazers back up 7-3. Gal would cap the scoring with a nice individual effort and score his 10th of the year on a backhander late in the game, but it was too little, tooooo late, as Kamloops handed the Chiefs their 3rd straight loss with a 7-4 defeat.
Once again, the Chiefs got some good efforts from some, some below average efforts from others. With the team as shorthanded as it is, everyoneee must be on board for this team to win. Unfortunately, that's not the case right now. It's not going to get any easier either, as the team is now on the all night ride to Portland to face a Portland team that shut out Spokane in the two teams last meeting. The good news I guess is the Chiefs won their last game in the Rose City on January 21st. Let's hope the team plays more like that game than tonight, or the month of February will nottt be off to a good start.
Monday, January 21st
For the second time in 10 days, the Chiefs made their way to the Rose City of Portland to face the first place Winterhawks. Spokane and Portland both came into the game on losing streaks, Spokane on a season high 3 in a row, while Portland had dropped 2 straight after winning a league high 14 in a row in December and January. The Chiefs made the trip over the day before on Sunday, as perfect weather conditions helped the team over for the 5 hour drive.
Monday's game was a day contest, as the Winterhawks opened the curtains of the Memorial Coliseum for a daylight classic game with a 3pm start. The game actually was delayed 10 minutes to allow the sun to get off of the ice. It was a beautiful day in Portland as sunshine and blue skies were out all day. My eyes needed a biggg adjustment after the gloomy clouds and fog that have plagued Spokane over the winter. The Coliseum has had a bit of a makeover as well, as the rink has been lengthened to the regulation 200 feet after being just 185 for years. A good crowd of close to 6,000 also was on hand for the 4th meeting between the two teams.
Spokane had gone 0-3 and had lost the last game 5-2 in Portland, giving up 4 goals in the third after leading 2-1 after two. It was just one of 4 losses the Chiefs had suffered when leading after two periods this year. Portland jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead when Ty Rattie batted home a rebound net front just 3:12 into the game. The Chiefs didn't blink though and got a break to even the game at one. Dylan Walchuk stole the puck in the Portland zone, and fed Mitch Holmberg on the left wing. Holmberg's shot from the left circle hit a Portland skate and went right to Todd Fiddler's stick on the right wing. Fiddler roofed the shot over Portland goalie Mac Carruth for his 31st of the year and it was a 1-1 game. Spokane would then pull ahead when Adam Helewka went on a rush up the right wing and put the puck to Mike Aviani on the left side. Aviani dove and flung the puck past Carruth at 15:45 to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead after one.
Spokane put up 18 shots in the first and most importantly, were back to playing the structure needed to win over the WHL's top team. Portland would get 3 power plays in the second, but Spokane's penalty kill would keep the Winterhawks off the board. More importantly, the Chiefs took advantage on Portland's second attempt when Fiddler came down the left wing and snapped a shot past Carruth on the short side at 6:57 of the second to put Spokane up 3-1. Portland would answer with a shorthanded goal of the their own from Preston Kopeck late in the period as the Chiefs led 3-2 after two.
The Chiefs penalty kill would turn away Portland midway through the third, and then Mitch Holmberg would steal the puck at center ice. Holmberg would feed Mike Aviani streaking in a breakaway and Aviani would snap a wrister over Carruth's glove at 11:05 to give Spokane a huge insurance goal and a 4-2 lead. Portland would turn up the pressure late in the third and would pull Carruth in the final 2 minutes. Spokane would hold firm though as Blake Gal would skate the puck out to Fiddler in the neutral zone and Fiddler would cap his second hat trick of his career with an empty netter with 47 seconds left.
It was far and away the best game the Chiefs have played in the last month, and came at a muchhh needed time for the team, that was floundering in a 3 game losing streak. Now the big question is, can the Chiefs sustain it as they return home to host Portland twice and Medicine Hat in a three game homestand. The team is still without forward Alessio Bertaggia, but hope to get him back in another week. Hopefully the team will get its team game back on a consistent basis to roll into February. For now, the bus ride is a windy one in the Gorge, and Batman's 'The Dark Knight rises' entertains on the DVD. There's nothing like a good road win.
Wednesday, January 16th
After the loss in Portland, the Chiefs rebounded nicely with a win over a Kootenay Ice team that had won 7 straight entering the game. The nice thing was the team showed signs of getting back to the team game that had carried them for most of the season. It was a good sign too, as the Chiefs were now looking at playing 5 of their next 6 games against two of the top 4 teams in the entire Canadian Hockey League. First up was the 4th ranked Kelowna Rockets, who had just seen their 8 game winning streak snapped in their previous game.
The team headed north into British Columbia on Tuesday after a practice in the late morning. The day was bleak...when hasn'tttt it been of late? At least the roads were dry and there was no snow to worry about, so the drive up went real smooth. Before checking in the team hotel, the Chiefs stopped at the Kelowna airport to pick up the newest Chief, Alessio Bertaggia, who was acquired from Brandon the week before at the trade deadline. Spokane had made the trek without defenseman Reid Gow and forward Adam Smith, who both stayed in Spokane nursing minor injuries.
This was the second trip to Kelowna for the Chiefs, as Spokane had won their previous journey on October 10th 6-4. It was also the last time the Rockets had lost at home, having ripped off 17 straight wins on their home ice since then to move within one of their longest streak in Kelowna franchise history. A good start was going to be imperative for the Chiefs to set the tone in the game. Unfortunately for Spokane, it was the Rockets who set the tone in this contest, as Kelowna would convert their first power play chance just over 3 minutes into the game when Ryan Olsen backhanded a rebound past Chiefs goalie Eric Williams to make it 1-0 Kelowna. The Rockets totally controlled the first period, holding the Chiefs to just 3 shots on net and winning practically every face off and battle for a loose puck.
The Chiefs had to feel great to be down by just a goal heading into the second period. That one goal deficit would soon balloon into a 4-0 Kelowna lead in the first 11:05 of the period. Colton Sissons blast from the right wing beat Williams just 3:52 in made it 2-0 Rockets. Spokane would then kill off a Kelowna power play, but would turn the puck over in front of their net just 4 seconds after the penalty kill and Rourke Chartier would bat the loose puck in the net at 8:11 to put Kelowna up 3-0. It was deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say, as the Chiefs stopped another Rocket power play, then turned the puck over in front of their own net 4 seconds after the successful kill. This time it was Tyrell Goulbourne who sniped it in and that was the night for Williams as Kelowna took a 4 goal lead to the third.
Fortunately for the Chiefs, they finally started to compete with the Rockets in the third. Todd Fiddler would steal the puck in the Kelowna end and put the puck through the pads of Kelowna goalie Jordan Cooke at 10:16 to make it a 4-1 game. Kelowna went on the power play with a chance to put the game away, but instead the Chiefs roared back into the contest as Bertaggia flew down the left wing and beat Cooke shorthanded at 16:36 to bring Spokane within 4-2. The Chiefs then went on the power play less than a minute later and once again, it was Bertaggia coming through, as Brenden Kichton snapped a pass from in front of his net to a streaking Bertaggia, who walked in for a breakaway goal at 17:53 to suddenly make it a game at 4-3.
Spokane would pull backup goalie Garret Hughson, who had come on midway through the second period, in final 2 minutes in an attempt to get the game tying tally. The Chiefs got a couple good looks but failed to score and when Zach Franko wove his way through the Chiefs and put home the empty net goal with 1:02 remaining, Spokane fell short in their comeback attempt 5-3. Kelowna outshot the Chiefs 33-20, and controlled 45 of the 60 minutes of the contest. It was a classic case of too little, too late for Spokane as they just didn't bring the physical commitment over the duration to win the game.
It was a great debut for Bertaggia as he flashed the skill level that should improve the Chiefs offensively over the last half of the season. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the team will have to up the level of their performances for Spokane to have a chance in the rematch on Friday at the Spokane Arena. Hopefully that will be the case, as the Chiefs lead is now down to 2 points over Tri City for second in the division. With the Americans coming to town the following night on Saturday, it looms as a big weekend for the team as they head towards the final 25 games of the season.
Friday, January 11th
The Chiefs headed right back out on the road for the 4th time in 5 games to start the New Year as they trekked for the first time to the Rose City of Portland for their 3rd meeting of the season with the Winterhawks. Spokane had dropped their first two games to Portland in Spokane and were hoping to hand the Hawks just their 4th home loss of the season in 24 games. The team headed out on Thursday after a practice at Eastern Washington University and had a smooth 5 hour ride into Portland in time for a nice Olive Garden dinner. I went with the Tour of Italy, but engorged myself on the salad and breadsticks so much that I only got about 3/4 through the main course.
Game day saw an unusual occurrence in Portland in January...sunshine. I know, hard to believe, but true. It was a nice change from the drab clouds and rain/snow I've seen in Spokane the last month. The Chiefs went with backup goalie Garret Hughson in net as the game marked the debut of new defenseman Stewart Coyle, who was acquired in a trade with Vancouver on Wednesday.Â Hughson was sharp in the first period, turning away a couple of point blank Portland chances early in the game. The Winterhawks would break through as Nick Petan hit a bouncing puck in mid-air and pushed it past Hughson at 14:59 of the first to give Portland a 1-0 lead.
The Chiefs would see the Hawks take 2 minor penalties late in the first, setting up Spokane with a 5 on 3 power play in the final two minutes of the period. Todd Fiddler would find an open Brenden Kichton going down the right wing, and Kichton's shot went top left corner for his 13th goal of the year with 59 seconds left to tie the game at one after the first. It was a big, big goal for the team, as despite being outshot and Portland controlling puck possession, the game was even headed to the second. After Portland put on some major pressure in the Chiefs zone, Spokane broke out and Dylan Walchuk tried a shot from the right side. Portland goalie Mac Carruth made the save, but Fiddler scooped up the loose puck and buried the rebound home top shelf for his team leading 28th goal of the year at 5:14 to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead after two.
Hughson was terrific in goal, stopping 27 shots in the first two periods. Fiddler took a double minor penalties for tripping and hooking to end the second, forcing Spokane to kill off a 4 minute Portland power play. The Chiefs did so, and I thought at this point, it was Spokane's game for the taking, as the penalty kill had to give the team momentum. Uncle Mo lasted for only a couple minutes though, as a turnover by the Chiefs behind their net led to Portland's Chase DeLeo to bank a shot off defenseman Cole Wedman's leg and into the net to tie the game at two at 6:44 of the third.Â The two teams battled back and forth until the Chiefs took a penalty after failing to dump the puck in twice from center ice, and having to hold up a Portland advance into the Chiefs zone.
You could feel the dam starting to burst, and it did when Brendan Leipsic took a perfect pass net front and buried the go ahead goal at 15:06 of the third. The Winterhawks fed off the crowd after taking the 3-2 lead, asÂ just 17 seconds later, Preston Kopeck tipped a Troy Rutkowski shot in to make it 4-2. Rutkowski would walk in point blank and snap home Portland's third goal in 1:39 to wrap up a 5-2 win in a game much closer than the score indicated. The loss spoiled a great effort by Hughson, and by Kichton, who played a fantastic game on the back end. Unfortunately, critical mistakes with the puck in the defensive and neutral zones killed any chance for a Chiefs win on this night.
Now it's back on the bus for the journey home, as next up is the Kootenay Ice, who come in having won 7 straight. Portland won their 13th in a row tonight, so it seems the Chiefs are playing clubs on top of their games right now. Hopefully Spokane will start to get back on top of their game soon, as after the Ice, Spokane faces Kelowna in back to back games and they've won 8 in a row. It's certainly not a good time to not play well, so let's hope for a turnaround tomorrow night.
Tuesday, January 8th
I made my way back over Snoqualmie Pass 3 days after the Chiefs had last played Seattle, as the two teams prepared to square off again at the ShoWare Center. I was amazeddd at the amount of rain on Snoqualmie on the drive over, as it seemed more like Louisiana than Washington. As my Granddad described it to me, and I haven't heard it better said since, it was like a cow pissin on a flat rock. Honestly, I couldn't see the road sometimes! I was just glad it was rain and not snow, as the snow equivalent would have equaled blizzard.
So just being glad to make it over the pass, I settled back into the ShoWare Center, where I got to welcome back Coach Don Nachbaur, who returned from Russia and the World Junior Tournament. While it had to be disappointing to not medal, I'm sure he was happy to be back in the States and getting a chance not to be living out of a suitcase, which he had been doing since the Chiefs left on the Eastern road trip on Novemeber 28th.
The team seemed a bit energized to start the game as well, as Brenden Kichton took a Todd Fiddler pass on the right wing and snapped a shot past Seattle goalie Branden Glover just 19 seconds into the game on a Spokane power play to make it 1-0 Chiefs before most people had settled into their seats. Glover hadn't helped his cause when he lifted the puck into the netting trying to clear out of his zone and was given a two minute delay of game penalty just 9 seconds into the game. The Chiefs played well in the first, outshooting the T-Birds 16-7, but the team got caught up ice in the final seconds of the period, and Seattle's Shea Theodore snapped home a shot from the slot with just 5.6 seconds left in the period to tie the game at one.
Talk about getting some Uncle Mo on your side. The Thunderbirds took that energy and seized the lead just 3:26 into the second when the Chiefs left a puck sitting at their blue line. Mitch Elliott said thank you very much and snapped a wrister past Eric Williams for his 2nd goal of the year and Seattle had a 2-1 lead. Seattle then got a power play chance just over 2 minutes later, but it was the Chiefs that took advantage. More specifically, Collin Valcourt. Valcourt took the puck while the team was shorthanded, pushed it netfront and then banged away at the puck while it was in Glover's pads until it found it's way in the net to tie the game at two. It was a game changing play, as the team got even rather than fall behind 2 scores.
Seattle would come right back though, as Branden Troock scored on a rush from the right wing and put one through Williams pads at 17:20 of the second to make it 3-2 Seattle. Troock, who's battled injuries and illness his whole career, impressed me with his speed and skill over these two games. He has all the tools to be a great player in this league. Spokane would come right back though and score another huge goal in this game, as Mike Aviani scored for the 3rd straight game, as his shot from the right circle beat Glover to the far post at 19:07 of the second to tie the game at 3 heading into the third period. Todd Fiddler set it up with a nice pass from the low wall, and the goal gave the Chiefs a big jolt going into the third.
Seattle's Theodore, who is a very good puck handling defenseman, would make the mistake of the game early in the third. His pass net front was picked off by Liam Stewart, who then rifled a shot over Glover at 6:12 of the third to give the Chiefs a 4-3 lead. Goalie Eric Williams, who had been up and down in the first two periods, was a game saver in the third. Seattle would get two power play chances late in the period. The Thunderbirds would pull Glover on their second one in the final two minutes, giving them a 6 on 4 advantage. Williams made one save on a shot from the left point through heavy traffic in the final minute that I'm still not sure how he got it. The Chiefs held on, and secured their second straight win in Seattle and 6th in a row overall in the season series, with a 4-3 victory.
It wasn't the prettiest of wins, but sometimes good teams find ways to win games they necessarily don't deserve to. Williams made the huge saves when the team needed them, and the team got just enough offense to hold off a desperate Seattle team that has now dropped 11 in a row. It's going to be a tough go for them tomorrow night, as the two teams make their way back over Snoqualmie for the 3rd game in 5 days between the two, this time in Spokane. I know I'm not that anxious to hop back in the car and drive another 4 plus hours through rain, snow, ice and whatever else awaits, but it's always better to reflect on a win during the journey than a loss. You can trust me on that one.
Saturday, January 5th, 2013
The New Year didn't exactly start the way the team wanted, as it began like 2012 ended...with a loss on the road. Fortunately the road trip on this Saturday was a lottt shorter than most, as the Chiefs headed all of 35 minutes South from Everett to Seattle to take on the Thunderbirds in the first of 3 straight games between the two teams, and the first of two straight at the ShoWare Center in Kent. The day was the usual in Seattle, overcast with isolated showers, but at least it was fairly warm as the temperatures were a good 15 degrees warmer than over in Spokane, so I didn't mind the clouds at all!
The game marked the final game the team would play without Head Coach Don Nachbaur, as he would return the following Tuesday after serving as an assistant to Team Canada in the World Junior Tournament. I wasn't sure how the mood would be though after Canada failed to medal in the tourney after losing to Russia in the bronze medal matchup. I was a bit surprised the U.S. took the gold though, as I thought the team they beat, Sweden, would be the team to win it all. As it was...way to go USA!
As for the game itself, the game was the first meeting since the two played in mid-December in Spokane, when the Chiefs rallied from a 6-2 third period deficit to beat the Thunderbirds 7-6 in a shootout. It was the biggest third period comeback win I had ever called, and the T-Birds had never really recovered from it, as they had lost every game since then, carrying a 9 game losing streak into tonight's tilt. You alwaysss worry about playing teams with long losing streaks, because you always figure the odds are with that team to snap the streak at someee point soon. That was my great worry going in, as the Chiefs weren't exactly on fire themselves, having dropped a season high 3 straight contests coming in.
The Chiefs did come out well in the first period though, putting up 20 shots in the stanza and and getting some timely stops from goaltender Eric Williams, who was back in net after taking last night off. Williams made a specatucularrr save on a Brendan Rouse shot net front on a Seattle power play to keep the game scoreless. Dylan Walchuk, who had just come out of the penalty box, took the puck down in the T-Bird zone, came out from behind the Seattle net and zinged one top shelf past Thunderbirds goalie Branden Glover at 15:26 of the first to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after one.
The lead didn't last long though, as Jesse Forsberg picked up a stolen puck at mid-ice, skated his way into the Chiefs zone, and blasted a shot through Williams pads at 5:22 on a Seattle power play to tie the game at one. Just 1:59 later, Alexander Delnov tipped a Griffin Foulk shot from the left point over Williams under the crossbar to give the T-Birds a 2-1 lead, and the building was raucous to say the least. The Chiefs took a bit of the air out of the building though when Collin Valcourt took a Liam Stewart pass between the circles and beat Glover at 8:28 to tie the game at two. Spokane kept up the pressure from there, and Mike Aviani scored on a rebound net front, just the kind of goal the Chiefs have been lacking of late, as his 19th of the year at 11:40 of the second would give the team a 3-2 lead after two.
That goal seemed to jump start the team as far as getting back to playing the type of hockey we've seen from them in the first half of the season. Frustration took over the Thunderbirds in the third period as well, as the Chiefs went on the power play 5 times in the third, compared to once for Seattle. Spokane would get a two man advantage for 38 seconds midway through the period, and Blake Gal took advantage, rifling a shot from the low left circle on a perfect pass from Brenden Kichton, to put the Chiefs up 4-2 at 11:41 of the third. Kichton would then put the final nail in for Spokane as he took a Todd Fiddler pass coming in as the trailer on the rush, and Kich snapped home his 11th of the season at 13:32 to wrap up a 5-2 win.
Eric Williams was rock solid in goal, turning aside 34 of 36 Seattle shots, while the Chiefs put up 50 shots on goal, 39 of them in the first two periods. It was a nice win for the club and Assistant Coach Jon Klemm, who was coaching his final game as the acting head coach in Nachbaur's abscense. It was also very nice to snap the team's losing streak, and give the club something to feel good about going into the next game in Seattle in 3 days. The club is going to stay in Seattle over the next couple of days rather than drive over the pass home. I, on the other hand, am returning to Spokane to watch my son, and try to get some work done around the house, including taking down the Christmas tree and the decorations around and outside the house. Lucky me, huh?
January 4th, 2013
The first game of the New Year of 2013 saw the Chiefs make the trek over the Cascades to Everett to take on the Silvertips for the first time since Thanksgiving week. Spokane had began the 4 game road trip with a 6-3 loss in Tri Cities New Year's Eve, as the Chiefs coughed up a 3-2 lead by surrendering 4 Tri City goals in the third. Spokane was 3-1 against Everett in the first half of the season, winning all three games at the Spokane Arena, while losing the only contest in Everett in late October 6-5. After their East Division trip, in which they went 5-1, the Chiefs had lost 4 of 6, including 3 straight at home for the first time all season.
Spokane looked to turn things around as they headed over the mountains on game day to begin a 5 day stay in the Greater Seattle area. The Silvertips were coming off a 5-1 loss at Kelowna in their last game, but are always a tough opponent in their own building. They would prove so again as they jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a Josh Winquist goal late in the first period. Winquist broke open on the left wing after his teammate Landon Oslanski got open on the right wing. Oslanski's pass hit Winquist on the tape and he tapped it in the open net as Chiefs goalie Garret Hughson didn't stand a chance on the play. The Chiefs had a chance to tie on the power play late in the first, but failed to generate a serious chance on Everett goalie Austin Lotz.
The second period didn't start much better as Reid Petryk muscled his way open net front and converted a Kohl Bauml pass just 1:50 into the period to give Everett a 2-0 lead. After the teams' exchanged power play chances, the Chiefs Blake Gal forced a turnover in the neutral zone. Todd Fiddler took the loose puck and hit Mike Aviani in stride down the right wing. Aviani's backhander beat Lotz top shelf and Spokane had cut the lead in half at 2-1 after two. The Chiefs controlled the period, outshooting the Tips 13-5 in the second and hoped to take that momentum to the third.
Spokane had the only two power play chances in the third and looked to squander the opportunities when they failed to score on the first chance. On the second, Chiefs defenseman Brenden Kichton was called for a penalty on Manraj Hayer's partial breakaway chance, and Hayer was awarded a penalty shot. Somehow the officials let Winquist take the shot, but Hughson stopped Winquist's attempt to keep Spokane in the game. The Chiefs then converted the power play seconds later when Blake Gal put home a rebound of a Fiddler shot net front at 12:13 to tie the game at two.
Spokane's comeback would be squelched though when a Mitch Holmberg shot went wide of the net from the right wing on a Chiefs rush into the Everett zone. The rebound came all the way back out to the neutral zone, passing defenseman Reid Gow. Unfortunately, Everett's Petryk was sitting back behind Gow and he took the loose puck in on a breakaway. Gow hooked Petryk from behind, drawing a penalty and giving Petryk a penalty shot with just 2:44 left in the game. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, this time the Silvertips converted on Hughson, as Petryk's forehand shot beat Hughson to the glove side to give Everett a 3-2 victory.
The Chiefs ended up outshooting the Silvertips 35-26, including a 25-14 margin over the final 40 minutes. Spokane though continues to make mistakes at critical times handling the puck and taking care their own end defensively. Hughson was excellent in net, but two defensive mistakes and a penalty shot on an offensive zone error led to Spokane's third straight loss, their longest losing streak of the year. Now the team makes the 40 minute trip south to Seattle to face the Thunderbirds tomorrow night hoping to find their game and snap out of their losing ways. Spokane's lead over Tri City is down to 2 points for 4th in the Conference, so the team needs to get back to playing the game in the right way and soon, or the hopes for a championship season will fade.
December 31st, 2012
The final day of the year is alwayssss spent in the Tri Cities for the Chiefs as for the 23rd straight season the team made the trip down Highway 395 to face the Americans. As annual as the game is, it's also almost as regular that the Americans win the game, having gone 15-5 in regulation over that 23 year span, excluding ties and overtime games. Spokane hasn't won in this game since 2006, so the team knew it was going to be a challenge heading into the contest.
The Chiefs were coming off an awful 7-3 loss at home to the last place team in the Eastern Conference, the Kootenay Ice. Spokane saw a 3-2 lead in the second disappear as the Ice scored 5 unanswered goals in the rout. One thing for sure...the team had to perform a lott better in this New Year's Eve tilt or a similiar result would surely follow. The start of the contest didn't show a good sign, as Marcus Messier converted an odd man rush from the left wing, beating Chiefs goalie Eric Williams on the stick side to give the Americans a 1-0 lead.
Spokane would answer quickly though, as Brenden Kichton joined the rush as a trailer, took a Liam Stewart pass in the high slot and wristed one past Ams goalie Eric Comrie to bring the eChiefs even at 1-1 just 2:23 after Messier's goal. Spokane would take back to back minor penalties late in the first to give Tri a 2 man advantage for 20 seconds. The Chiefs would kill the 5 on 3, but Parker Bowles would walk off the wall unimpeded and snap a shot past goalie Eric Williams with just 2:01 left to give the Ams a 2-1 lead. It was below average defense by the Chiefs in their own end, and it cost them a power play goal by Tri, the first given up by Spokane to the Americans in 7 games this year.
The Chiefs came out in the second period a new team. Spokane dominated play offensively, outshooting the Ams 17-6, while keeping the puck in the Tri City end much of the period. Blake Gal would convert a Mike Aviani feed midway through the period to tie the game at two. Spokane would keep the pressure up in the latter part of the stanza and finally break through when Mitch Holmberg scored on a net front scramble on a rebound from the low left circle with just 52 seconds left to give the Chiefs a 3-2 lead heading to the third. Spokane had only lost one game all season in 18 contests when they led after two. That came in the Chiefs last visit to Tri, when they led 3-2 after 2 and lost in overtime 5-4.
I was just hoping history didn't repeat itself in the third tonight. I was wrong. It was muchh worse this time around. Bowles scored his second of the night on a tip just 2:06 in to tie the game at 3. The crowd was raucous at this point and the Ams seized on it. Drydn Dow scored on a shot from the left point at 7:41 to give Tri a 4-3 lead. A Chiefs turnover off the ensuing face-off led to a Connor Rankin goal just 14 seconds later made it 5-3. Spokane never recovered as Tri City would tack on a goal midway through the period to wrap up a 6-3 win.
It was a night of ups and downs for Spokane as the Chiefs have now dropped 5 out of their last 7 after winning 5 straight on their Eastern trip. Spokane has definitely drifted from their team game that led to their success early in the month. The Chiefs are now 16 points back of Portland for first in the division and just 4 up on Tri for second in the division and 4th in the conference. Now the team heads to Everett on Friday and Seattle Saturday and Tuesday. One thing I do know is this...this team better figure out how to get back to playing their team game..and soon...or January could be an ugly start to 2013.
Friday, December 28th
The Christmas break, as usual, went wayyy too quick, as the 9 days since the Chiefs closed the first half with a loss to Portland flewww by. The team returned to Spokane after the Holiday to get ready for their first meeting with the Kootenay Ice this season. Kootenay was in an unaccustomed place in the standings, last in the Central Division, as the Ice are a perennial contender in the WHL year in and year out. Throw the record osut the window though when the Ice take on the Chiefs though, as the old Cranbrook and Spokane rivalry that dates back over 70 years brings out the best in both teams.
Kootenay has always played well at home and I didn't expect anything different on this night. The Chiefs had a number of fans make the 3.5 hour trip North of the border to watch the team, but they had to wonder why they made the trip in the first period. Most of the period was spent in the Chiefs end of the rink, as the Ice outshot Spokane 12-8. Fortunately, Chiefs goalie Eric Williams was sharp in the first, keeping the game scoreless after the first 20 minutes.
The second period was definitely the Chiefs best of the night, as they carried the play offensively, outshooting Kootenay 14-7 in the second. Spokane broke through on the scoreboard, when Kootenay defenseman Joey Leach lost the puck off his stick. The puck went right to the Chiefs Todd Fiddler, who came in the right circle and snapped a wrister past Kootenay goalie Mackenzie Skapski at 18:17 of the period to give Spokane a 1-0 after two. A lead is always better than trailing, but a one goal lead is neverrr safe, especially on the road.
The Chiefs would take back to back minor penalties early in the third period, and it would give Kootenay a 5 on 3 power play for 1:11, which is an eternityyy for a penalty kill unit. Somehow, Williams and the PK unit came out of it unscathed, and the team killed the remaining Kootenay power play time to keep the 1-0 advantage. Williams made some key stops on Kootenay's brock Montgomery and had some luck as some of the Ice shooters had openings but missed the net. Kootenay would put up 29 shots in the game, 10 in the third period, but Williams would turn all of them aside to pick up his second shutout of the year.
The game was what you would expect after 9 days off, a lot of pucks bouncing off sticks, timing off offensively on passes and shots, and enough mental errors to last 4 games. Fortunately for Spokane, the Ice were just as guilty as the Chiefs. Now the two teams head back to the Spokane Arena to try and improve their play in 24 hours. All I know is, the bus ride home is a lot better with a win under your belt than not.
Saturday, December 8th
The road trip was finally coming to an end, as day 11 of the Eastern Division swing found the Chiefs in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to face the Warriors. Spokane was hoping to complete their first 6-0 trip through the East in franchise history. The Chiefs had already won a franchise high 5 games on the trip, surpassing the 4 wins of the '95-96 team. The last game is always the toughest and tonight would prove to be no exception as the Chiefs played their first game in the 2nd year Mosaic Centre, the new home of the Warriors.
It's a greattt arena, and such an upgrade from the old home, the Civic Centre, that was appropiately named the 'Crushed Can.' It was kind of stunning to see the old building already torn down as the team drove by the old site on the way to the new building downtown. The Chiefs seemed to like the new place quickly enough, as Carter Proft snapped a shot from the left wing just 3:41 into the game on assists from Riley Whittingham and Tyson Predinchuk to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Mitch Holmberg would take a Dylan Walchuk pass down the right side and snap a shot to the far post at 7:16 of the first to make it 2-0 Chiefs. Spokane put up 9 of the first 10 shots on their way to outshooting the Warriors 10-4 in the period. Spokane had another shot from Walchuk ring off the post or the lead could have been greater.
The second period was the exact opposite for the Chiefs as they coughed up 3 goals in the first 8:21 of the period to fall behind 3-2. A turnover from behind the net left the puck in the crease, where goalie Eric Williams couldn't secure the loose puck and Brayden Point poked the puck in at 5:42 to make it 2-1. Just 16 seconds later, another turnover in neutral ice left Miles Warkentine open in the slot and his first goal of his career tied the game at 2. The Warriors were definitely back in the game at this point and they completed the comeback when Jordan Messier's shot from the right wing beat Williams to the far post to give the Warriors a 3-2 lead.
Spokane bounced back though, as they killed off 2 power play chances and then drew even when Reid Gow scored from the left circle 9 seconds after the second kill at 18:19 to tie the game at three heading to the third. The Chiefs would come out and dominate the third period offensively, outshooting the Warriors 11-3 in the frame, but Morgan Reilly notched the game winner as he beat Williams on the glove side at 7:15 of the period for the eventual game winner. Spokane had shots from Mike Aviani and Todd Fiddler ring off posts, but Warrior goalie Justin Paulic turned away every chance Spokane had to snap the Chiefs 6 game winning streak.
It was a disappointing ending to a great road trip, the best in Chiefs history on the Eastern swing as Spokane's 5 wins in 6 outings surpassed the '95-96 teams four win trip. Getting 10 points out of a possible 12 is outstanding, so the boys have nothing to hang their heads about, even if the last game still sticks in the craw a bit. Now it's the longgg bus ride home as the team will play 3 straight at the Arena before Christmas. I think I can speak for the whole team...there really is no place like home.
Friday, December 7th
The Chiefs got their final off day of the Eastern swing on Thursday as they bussed their way from Saskatoon to Brandon for game 5 of the road trip. With 4 wins behind them, the team was hoping to pick up their first win in Brandon in 12 years the next night. The Wheat Kings were coming off a tough shootout loss in Medicine Hat, while the Chiefs had played just well enough to beat Saskatoon 4-1. Spokane went with backup goalie Garret Hughson, as he gave starter Eric Williams a well earned night off after Williams sterling performance against the Blades.
Spokane was hoping for a good start, and got it when Collin Valcourt scored just 6:54 into the game. to make it 1-0 Chiefs. Jason Fram shot the puck off the wall and the puck bounced out to an open Valcourt in the slot, who then lifted a shot over Brandon goalie Corbin Boes. The Wheat Kings would equalize on a shot from the slot by John Quenneville with 4:39 left in the first to tie the game at one. It was Brandon's teddy bear toss night, so rather than wait to pick up the bears, the team's hit the first intermission early and finished the first before playing the second period. I won't lie...the break helped Spokane, as the Chiefs came back and scored on a Mitch Holmberg backhander net front from Dylan Walchuk at 18:42 of the first to take a 2-1 lead to the second.
That lead would hold up through the second as the Chiefs outshot the Wheat Kings for the only period of the game 10-6. In the third, Walchuk would fool Boes by firing a no look shot from the right circle 4:41 into the period to stake the Chiefs to a 3-1 lead. Brandon came roaring back, as goalie Garret Hughson turned aside a couple of point blank shots to keep it a two goal lead. Brandon would break through with a rebound goal at 13:19 to cut the Chiefs lead to 3-2. Spokane answered right back though as Adam Helewka drove the puck down the left wing and put a perfect pass on Holmberg's stick just 1:06 later to put the Chiefs back up 4-2. Holmberg would then feed Mike Aviani with the Brandon net empty and Aviani would skate in for the empty net goal with 31 seconds left to cap off a 5-2 win.
Hughson was excellent in the third, turning aside 19 of 20 shots in the period on his way to making 33 saves in his 4th win of the year. The Chiefs have now won 6 in a row, including 5 straight on their Eastern swing for the first time. It was also the first win I have called for the Chiefs in Brandon in 12 years. Again, I won't lie. It felt good!! Now the team has a chance to do two firsts. Have me call a win in the new Moose Jaw building, and go 6-0 on an Eastern Division trip. Let's hope for some history tomorrow night and that the boys have one last great effort in them before heading home.
Wednesday, December 5th
Well, two nights of the computer working crashed biggg time tonight here in Saskatoon. I've lost the blog twice tonight in mid typing, so here's the brief recap before I lose it again...and my mind with it. Chiefs win their 4th straight on the East trip, as they plow through the snow in Saskatoon to get a 4-1 win. Todd Fiddler scored in his 5th straight game, and now leads the league with 23 goals. Mike Aviani got an assist in his 5th straight contest as well. Liam Stewart scored in his second straight game as the Chiefs led 2-0 after one.
Blake Gal scored on a backhander in the second to counter a Saskatoon goal to give the Chiefs a 3-1 lead after two. Mitch Holmberg would cap the scoring with a goal midway through the third to wrap up a 4-1 victory. Goalie Eric Williams was the story, turning aside 30 of 31 Saskatoon shots as the Chiefs penalty kill was a perfect 6-6 on the night. The Chiefs have now won 5 in a row overall and 7 of 8 to move within 4 points of Portland in the division.
With the horrible weather, the team is staying in Saskatoon one more night before heading out tomorrow for Brandon and game 5 of the trip. Let's just hope there's no snow and no icy roads to deal with, as the team heads out on its' 6 hour trek to Manitoba. All I know is, I just hope this finicky computer behaves itself soon, or it may be left behind..
Tuesday, December 4th
The Chiefs got a rare two days off on their road trip as they got ready for game three of the 6 game Eastern Division trip in Prince Albert. This is my 6th trip through the East with the team, and I don't ever recall getting back to back days off in the middle of the trip. The team probably could have used it though, as the previous game's comeback against Regina no doubt took some energy out of the team. On Sunday the team had a chance to watch Prince Albert as they faced Regina on the Pats home rink. The Raiders skated all over the Pats as P.A. shellacked Regina 8-2. It certainly gave the Chiefs more than enough incentive to be ready for a battle with the Eastern Division leaders.
Spokane practiced in Regina Monday before heading North to Saskatoon, where the team stays with facing Prince Albert and Saskatoon. Prince Albert is only about an hour and a half North of Sask, so it makes for an easy commute. A snowstorm hit the area Sunday night, so aboutÂ half a foot of the white stuff and temperatures around zero greeted the Chiefs as they made their way in Saskatchewan. It was a game that would see the Chiefs face former teammates Anthony Bardaro and Davis Vandane for the first time since they left Spokane. The contest would also mark the return of Chiefs goalie Eric Williams and winger Todd Fiddler, who were traded by the Raiders to the Chiefs in the Bardaro trade last season.
The Raiders jumped out to the lead, scoring on their second power play to take a 1-0 lead just over 16 minutes into the game. The Chiefs Blake Gal lost the puck off his stick and the Raiders Mike Winther put it to the stick of an open Reid Gardiner, who scored from the slot past Williams to give P.A. the early advantage. Gal would get even though, as he took a Brenden Kichton pass net front and hit an open Mike Aviani for the easy tap in power play goal to tie the game at one at 17:27 of the first. Little did I know at the time, but it was the start to a big evening for Mr. Aviani.
Aviani would jump start the Chiefs in the second, as he broke down the left wing, deked Raiders goalie Luke Siemens out of the crease and scored just 4:49 into the period to make it 2-1 Spokane. Todd Fiddler got the puck to Gal, who hit Aviani in stride as the goal seemed to get the Chiefs cranked up. Fiddler would score on his former club with his league leading 22nd goal of the year at 10:37 to put Spokane up 3-1. eid Gow got the puck to Kichton on the right wing, and the Captain hit an open Fiddler in the left circle. It was a great goal for Fidds, as he had just been denied on a breakaway a couple minutes earlier in the period. Aviani would keep it going, as he scored on a backhander from Liam Stewart and Fiddler at 12:56 to give the Chiefs a 4-1 lead. Aviani skated from left to right and scored on a beautiful shot to the far post as Spokane shocked the Raiders by outshooting them 12-1 to start the period. Prince Albert would re-group though as Austin Daae scored on a rebound on a puck Williams couldn't wrap up and it was 4-2 Spokane after two.
Prince Albert got a power play to start the third after Gow was called for a cross check to end the second, and the Raiders scored just 44 seconds into the period, when Aviani collided into Connor Chartier, knocking both out of the play and setting up a wide open Dakota Conroy on the left wing. Conroy's power play goal cut the Chiefs lead to 4-3 and certainly gave the Raiders the momentum. Conroy would complete the comeback with his second goal of the period on a rebound at 7:26 to even the game at 4-4. The Chiefs re-grouped though, and got the offense going later in the third. Gow would hit Aviani in the right circle and Aviani put a pass to the tape of Collin Valcourt, who scored the go ahead goal at 16:57 of the third. Liam Stewart would score on a Chartier pass just 38 seconds later to give Spokane a 6-4 lead. Fiddler started the play by keeping the puck deep in the Raider zone. Chartier dug the puck off the wall and hit an open Stewart for a huge insurance goal.
The Chiefs would cap the scoring while shorthanded and Siemens on the bench, giving Prince Albert a 6 on 4 advantage. Chartier knocked the puck down in the neutral zone, and spun and shot the puck into the empty net with just 11.4 seconds left to cap a 7-4 Spokane win. The Chiefs are now 3-0 on the Eastern swing, and have outscored their opponents 20-11. Now the Chiefs get ready to face a Saskatoon team that is playing as well as any team in the East. One thing I've seen from Spokane on this trip thus far though. If the team plays within its' systems and keeps the game simple, they're a tough outfit. When they don't, things don't go so well. Hopefully the team plays like it did in the second and late in the third tomorrow night. For now, it's a bus ride home through the snow drifts and sub zero temperatures to Saskatoon and a chance to catch some rest for game 4 of the journey tomorrow.
Saturday, December 1st
Against my better judgement, I'm going to try to type another blog with this persnickty computer at 1am, but I just have to recap the most exciting finish to a Chiefs game yet this season. After last night's impressive performance in Swift Current, the Chiefs were hoping to build on that win and start their Eastern swing 2-0 as they took on the Regina Pats. It is winterrr here, as snow is all over the ground and temperatures are in the teens to low 20's. Needless to say, we're 4 days into this trip and I'm ready for spring.
Regina had lost the night before in Prince Albert and gave up 53 shots in a 5-3 defeat. Spokane looked like it was going to run roughshod over the Pats early on, as Dylan Walchuk roofed a shot under the cross bar from the slot just 4:23 in on the Chiefs first power play to make it 1-0 Spokane. Three minutes and 18 seconds later, Mitch Holmberg scored with his back to the goal and whipped one in from the right circle on an assist by Walchuk to put the Chiefs up 2-0. Regina came right back though, scoring on a Colten Mayor power play goal as he cut back door behind the Chiefs defense to bring the Pats within 2-1. Morgan Klimchuk then put in a rebound off Chiefs goalie Garret Hughson's glove with just 45 seconds left in the first to tie the game at two after 20 minutes.
Regina took advantage of every mistake the Chiefs made in the first period, and would keep the momentum going in the second. Lane Scheidl scored back to back power play goals at 2:09 and 3:49 of the period to stake the Pats to a 4-2 lead. Todd Fiddler then snapped one home from the right circle off a face-off win by Mike Aviani to get the Chiefs within 4-3. Klimchuk though would score his second of the night, and cap a 5 point performance with a goal just 30 seconds after Fiddler's tally to give Regina a 5-3 lead. Things were a bit bleak at this point for Spokane as Hughson was pulled and Eric Williams came off the bench in relief.
The Chiefs would start to turn things late in the second, as the line of Carter Proft, Riley Whittingham and Tyson Predinchuk rallied Spokane. Whittingham and Predinchuk set up Reid Gow's shot from the point at 14:36 of the second to bring the Chiefs within 5-4 after two. That line would dominate every shift they played and it would pay off early in the third when Proft took a Predinchuk pass in the slot and rifled home his 3rd of the season at 6:59 to tie the game at 5. It had to be great for Preds to return to his hometown and help set up the two goals that got the Chiefs back into the game. It also marked the first multi point games for Predinchuk and Whittingham in their Chiefs careers.
Spokane was relentlessss offensively from the midway point of the second when they fell behind 5-3. The Chiefs would outshoot the Pats 32-6 over the last half of the game and it would pay off in overtime. Blake Gal did some greatt work keeping the puck in the Regina zone, getting it to Brenden Kichton, who fed an open Tyler King at the poing. King, also a Regina native, slapped one past Regina goalie Teagan Sacher on the Chiefs season high 60th shot of the night...you read right, 60 shots!...and the Chiefs flooded off the bench to celebrate their first overtime win of the season.
What a huggeee start to the Eastern swing! But as tonight proved, if you rest on your laurels from the night before, it can bite you. Fortunately for Spokane, the Chiefs didn't panic when they fell behind and got back on their game and wore down Regina until they finally cracked. Now Spokane will take a couple days to recover in Regina before heading to Prince Albert to face the division leading Raiders on Tuesday. The snow is falling in Regina, but even winter can't dampen the start to this road trip for Spokane and hopefully the boys can keep in rolling!
Friday, November 30th
Well, it's 3:30 am and I'm on my third attempt trying to save somewhat of a recap of tonight's 7-2 win over Swift Current. The computer keeps eating my homework as it were, so I'm going to be far briefer than normal or otherwise I'll get nothing in this blog. It was a great night for the boys as Mike Aviani and Todd Fiddler scored two goals apiece in the first two periods to put the Chiefs up 4-2 after two. Reid Gow, Tyler King and Mitch Holmberg each scored in the third as Spokane scored 3 goals off 4 on 4 situations to blow things open. Throw in power play and shorthanded goals from Fiddler and the special teams were outstanding tonight.
Aviani would finish with 2 goals and 2 assists, while Fiddler had 2 goals and an assist. Gow and King each had a goal and assist, and Eric Williams turned aside 27 of 29 shots for his 14 win of the season. Spokane skated hard, played physical, but more importantly, played smart with the puck and moved it as well as they have in a game all year. It was an impressive start to the 6 game Eastern Division swing, and if the team plays this well the rest of the way, it will be a great trip. Now it's late, and the Regina Pats await tomorrow night, so hopefully the team will play just as well...and the computer will cooperate a heckkk of a lott better.
Friday, November 23rd
I was thankful that the Chiefs road trip the day after Thanksgiving was only to Tri Cities, and thus, it allowed me a chance to spend the holiday with my son Patrick. Last year, the team was on the road to Kamloops, so I didn't even get to enjoy a good turkey dinner, let alone company with my family. Spokane had won their last 2 over Seattle and Everett, the latest win a 3-1 decision over the Silvertips on Wednesday. The win lifted the Chiefs into a second place tie with Tri City in the U.S. Division and set up a showdown for second place on Friday night down in Kennewick.
The drive down was gloomy as it rained practically the entire trip down Highway 395. A good crowd turned out for the contest though, and the Chiefs kept the hometown fans quiet early in the first when Cole Wedman took an Adam Helewka pass on the right point and rifled a shot past Ams goalie Eric Comrie 5:29 into the game to make it 1-0 Spokane. Tri City would come right back though as Zach Yuen scored when he gathered up a loose puck in the left circle after a scramble in the low slot midway through the first to make it a 1-1 game after one. Spokane was fortunate to be tied after 20 minutes though, as Tri outshot the Chiefs 17-9 in the period and controlled play offensively.
In the second, Spokane would break the tie when Blake Gal, in his first game in 6 weeks after injuring his knee in Seattle, scored his first goal of the year at 9:03 of the second to make it 2-1. Reid Gow hit Brenden Kichton on the right wing, and Kichton fed an open Gal in the slot for the go ahead goal. Helewka had started the play with some great work in the left corner to keep the puck in the Tri zone while the Chiefs changed, and it paid off in the tie breaker. Kichton then took a Jackson Playfair pass up the right wing and snapped home his 9th goal of the season just over 5 minutes later to make it 3-1 Spokane. Goalie Eric Williams got his second assist of the year when he hit Playfair up the left side on the breakout from the Chiefs end of the ice. Tri City though would come back when Mitch Topping scored with just 13 seconds left in the second to cut the lead to 3-2. A costly Chiefs turnover gave Tri a huge momentum boost heading into the third, and they would take advantage of it.
Beau McCue would rebound his own shot just over 8 minutes into the third to tie the game at three apiece. The two teams would go back and forth down the stretch until the Chiefs Dylan Walchuk stole the puck in front of the Tri City net. His pass hit Mitch Holmberg in the skate and went in the crease, where Collin Valcourt banged it in the open net at 16:26 of the third to give Spokane a 4-3 lead. Tri City would pull Comrie from the net in the final minute and it would pay off as Marcus Messier scored with just 16.1 seconds left to tie the game at 4 and send the game to overtime. Spokane had a chance to clear the puck but the Chiefs swatted the loose puck in front of the net to Messier's stick. In the overtime, Malte Stromwall scored on a rush just 43 seconds into overtime to hand the Chiefs their first loss when leading after 2 periods this season.
This game was a classic example of the Chiefs making way too many mistakes with the puck in their own zone. Spokane coughed up 3 goals as a direct result of errors in their own defensive zone. Tri City had more 'want' to their game and won far more battles on the wall for pucks and it eventually paid off in the win. Now the Chiefs have a chance to redeem themselves as they will host Tri City tomorrow night at the Arena. One thing is clear as we make the bus ride home through the rain up Highway 395. Spokane will have to play much harder and smarter against the Ams Saturday if they hope to get back into second place.
Saturday, November 17th
It had been a week since the Chiefs had taken to the ice to play a game, their longest break of the season outside of the Christmas vacation between the two halfs of the WHL regular season. I'm sure the Chiefs were anxious to get back on the ice as well, as Spokane was coming off their worst loss of the season after getting blown out by Portland 9-1 the week before. Spokane was also going to be without center Dylan Walchuk, as he drew a one game suspension for a clipping major penalty against the Winterhawks.
The good news for Spokane was the team was welcoming back defenseman Reid Gow from injury, which would be a major boost on the blueline. The Chiefs were taking on a Thunderbirds team that had beaten Medicine Hat the night before at home, running their record to an impressive 4-1-1 at home. One of those 4 wins had come in the Chiefs previous visit to the ShoWare Center in Kent back on October 16th, when Seattle pulled away in the third period to a 6-4 win. Spokane had won the last two meetings, 2-1 and 8-2, but both games had been at the Spokane Arena.
The drive over on game day was a rainy one, as the rain seemed to be everywhere in the state of Washington. The team hit an Italian place in Ellensburg for an average meal which did little to curb my appetite. Fortunately the boys ate a lot, so hopefully that was to be a good sign come game time. The Chiefs didn't exactly get off to a great start, with the exception of goalie Eric Williams, as Seattle spent the better part of the first in Spokane's end of the ice. Seattle put 18 shots on net, but Williams turned away every T-Bird opportunity to keep the game scoreless after one.
The Chiefs would strike quickly in the second, as Todd Fiddler stole the puck inside the Seattle blue line and snapped a wrist shot past Seattle goalie Branden Glover just 1:30 into the period to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. The lead would hold up as Williams stopped all 10 Seattle shots in the second, and Spokane denied Seattle on 2 power play chances in the stanza.
The third period would see the Chiefs hold their one goal advantage until late in the period. Once again, it was Fiddler that would strike, as he would take a Mike Aviani pass down the left wing and put a shot on Glover. The rebound would bounce out towards Fiddler, who flicked the puck with one hand on his stick and put it over Glover to make it 2-0 Chiefs. It turned out to be a huge goal as Seattle would come back and score just 1:57 later to cut the lead to 2-1 with just under 3:30 left in the game. Seattle would pull Glover in the final minute and a half, but Fiddler would get possession of the puck on the left wall and send the puck the length of the ice and into the net for his first career hat trick with 29 seconds left to seal a 3-1 victory.
Eric Williams would come up with 34 saves in another solid effort in goal, as the Chiefs finally got things going in the third, putting up 15 of their 34 shots. It wasn't a pretty win or an artistic one by any stretch of the imagination, but the Chiefs did just enough offensively and was responsible enough defensively, especially shutting down 4 Seattle power plays, to come away with their 3rd straight win against the Thunderbirds.
It was certainly a greattt bounce back after the previous game against Portland, and hopefully will get the Chiefs rolling as they look forward to three games next week with Everett and Tri City. Now the trip back is underway, and guess what? More rain...but I guess it beats snow on Snoqualmie Pass, so I'll take the rain drops anyyy time!
Saturday, October 27th
The Chiefs second longest road trip of the year finally came to a close Saturday night in Tri Cities, as the Chiefs tried to finish .500 on the 4 game trek with a win over the first place Americans. The team arrived in Tri right ahead of the Americans, who had played in Seattle, while Spokane was coming in from Everett. The Chiefs were coming off a disappointing 6-5 loss to the Silvertips, in a game in which Spokane lost their leading scorer Mitch Holmberg to a vicious hit to the head from the Silvertips Nate Walters. The WHL suspended Walters for his hit, but it was small solace for the Chiefs, who are now without Holmberg for the near future.
Spokane was now without Blake Gal, Marek Kalus and Holmberg up front; three of the team's top 6 forwards. The Chiefs are also minus Tanner Mort, one of their top 4 defenseman, so the team is having to rely an awful lot on rookies that were probably expecting to see minimal playing time at this time of year. It was all hands on deck for Spokane as they took on an Americans team that was coming off a 3-1 loss to Seattle, but had gone 5-0-1 on their recently completed Eastern Division swing. The Chiefs had won the first two meetings between the teams, but they were in Spokane's first two games of the year in September.
The Chiefs were hoping for a quick start to take the vocal Tri City crowd out of the game early and Spokane would do just that as rookie Jackson Playfair scored his first WHL goal at 15:34 of the first period to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead. Playfair's goal, on a tip of a Tyler King shot from the left wing, was also assisted by a face off win by Mike Aviani. Aviani would then extend the lead to 2-0 as he scored a power play goal from Jason Fram at 18:36 of the first to give Spokane a 2-0 lead after one. It was a perfect period for Spokane as they outshot Tri 10-7 and were perfect on special teams going 1-1 on the power play and penalty kill.
Spokane kept the momentum going in the second when Todd Fiddler stole a puck in the Americans zone and slapped a shot past Ams goalie Eric Comrie at 8:11 of the period to make it 3-0 Chiefs. It was Fiddler's third goal in two games and his 8th of the season, tying him with Aviani for second on the team. In the third, the Americans came out in full throttle, putting up 18 of the 20 shots in the period. They would break through on Chiefs goalie Eric Williams at 4:53 and again with the extra skater on at 18:53 to cut the lead to a precarious 3-2. Williams would make a couple of huge saves in the last minute though and the Chiefs would hang on for a 3-2 win.
The victory was the third straight for Spokane over their biggest rival, and pulled the Chiefs into a first place tie with the Americans in the U.S. Division. It was huge for the Chiefs mentally too, as they picked up a big road win on the end of the road trip while being shorthanded up front. Let's just say the bus ride home through the rain was a pretty happy one as the team watched Adam Sandler's 'The Longest Yard.' Now it's time to for the team to play 6 straight games at home, and I for one am glad to be heading back to Spokane!
Friday, October 26th
One thing is clear on this week long road swing. The Chiefs are covering a lottt of miles on the bus, as the team made its' second overnight journey of the trip after the game in Prince George Wednesday. The team arrived in Everett, site of the team's next game, on Thursday morning about 8am after a restless night's sleep. The final game in Prince George didn't leave a good taste in anyone's mouth, so the team was hoping a good day off on Thursday would rejuvenate the team's batteries. The weather was pretty nice in Everett too on the day off with sunshine and temperatures in the low fifties.Â
The team practiced at the Everett Events Center, home of the Silvertips on the day off, and spent the day resting before the team dinner. The meal was darn good, with prime rim and horseradish with rice. We even got chocolate chip cookies for dessert, which made the pain of watching the Vikings get drubbed by the Buccaneers slightly less painful. I spent the rest of the night watching the Giants win game 2 of the World Series and updating my other blog on krem.com. Nothing like a little writing on the day off.
The sun was long gone on game day the following morning, as a slight drizzle of rain started during breakfast. The team had a brief skate at the rink before heading back to the hotel for their pre-game meal at the hotel. Lunch was a keeper too, as the lasagna was the best pasta dish we've had on the trip so far...and we've had a lot of pasta. Trust me on that one. The game was a 7:35pm start, a little later than normal,, as Friday games on the West Side, including Portland, Seattle, Everett, and Vancouver all start at that time on Friday's. If you saw the traffic on I-5 or Highway 1 in Canada, you'd understand why they have to start later. It's a parking lot starting about 3pm on Friday and stays that way for at least 4 hours.
The Silvertips came in on a roll, having won 3 in a row on their Eastern Division swing, so the Chiefs knew a good start would be key to getting a win. Unfortunately, the good start belonged to the Silvertips, as they scored just 3:33 into the game on a Tyler Sandhu wrister from the left wing. Sandhu's shot beat Chiefs goalie Eric Williams to the far post and it was a quick 1-0 Everett lead. Things didn't get any better for Spokane when the Tips Reid Petryk scored on a loose puck in the crease at 7:50 of the period to put the Tips up 2-0. As if things weren't bad enough, Spokane then lost its' leading scorer Mitch Holmberg midway through the stanza when Everett's Nick Walters delivered a vicious hit to Holmberg's head and knocked Holmberg out of the game. Walters should have drawn a 5 minute major penalty and a game misconduct, but amazingly enough the referees were on another planet at the time and gave Walters a mere 2 minute minor for a check to the head! The Chiefs Dylan Walchuk fought Walters and drew a 2 minute instigation penalty, negating anyyy Chiefs power play opportunity, and Spokane was left without its' leading scorer for the rest of the night...anddd no power play,
I could only shake my head for the next several minutes. Everett would expand the lead when a shot by Miclo Mueller went off a Chiefs defenseman and fluttered past Williams at 16:17 of the period to make it 3-0. Spokane would counter when Connor Chartier poked home a rebound on a net front scramble at 17:06 to score his first goal and cut the lead to 3-1. Everett would come right back though, as Kole Bauml scored just 26 seconds after Chartier's goal with a shot from the right wing and it was 4-1 Silvertips. That goal would spell the end of the night for Williams in net, as Garrett Hugheson came on in relief.
The Chiefs would kill a power play right off the bat in the second period, and Spokane would get the momentum going when Reid Gow scored off an offensive zone face off win by Mike Aviani to cut the lead to 4-2 just over 2.5 minutes into the period. Spokane had a real chance to seize the game at this point, but Bauml would work his way behind the Chiefs defense and score just over 3 minutes after Gow's goal to put the Tips back up 3 at 5-2. Everett then scored on a soft shot from the right point at 13:50 of the period, and would take a commanding 6-2 lead to the third.
With everything that had gone wrong, it would have been realll easy to mail it in for Spokane in the third. The Chiefs had other ideas though. Dylan Walchuk would tip a Chartier shot just 5:14 into the period to cut the lead to 6-3. Todd Fiddler would then score on a backhander as he sprawled to the ice just 39 seconds later and suddenly it was a 6-4 game. The Chiefs had a chance on the power play to cut the deficit, but failed to score. Spokane would draw within a goal though on Fiddler's second goal of the period, as his shot from the left wall snuck through the pads of Everett goalie Dan Cotton and it was a 6-5 contest with just over 4 minutes left. Spokane would pull Hughson from net in the final minute and a half and get their best shot when Brenden Kichton fired one from the right wing in the final minute, but his shot went wide and Everett hung on for the 6-5 win.
It was a valiant effort, but wayy too many things had gone wrong for Spokane earlier in the game to earn the Chiedfs two points on this night. For the second straight losss, the Chiefs suffered to many mental mistakes and were outefforted in the battles for pucks. Until those components improve, Spokane will struggle. The loss of Holmberg didn't help at all, as the team is already without forwards Blake Gal and Marek Kalus and defenseman Tanner Mort. Several other players are dinged up or battling illness as well, so it's all hands on deck for Spokane as they now head to Tri City to face the first place Americans. The bus ride is a quiet one and the rain has been falling since we hit Seattle, but as we make our way over Snoqualmie Pass, things are starting to dry out. Hopefully better weather means better fortunes on the ice for the Chiefs as the boys are ready to get home after a longgg road trip.
Wednesday, October 24th
With a 6-1 win from the night before under their belt, the Chiefs were hoping to make it 2 in a row over Prince George on the Cougars home ice on Wednesday. Spokane had managed to win 2 third periods in two straight wins over PG overall, having pulled out a 3-2 win in the two teams first meeting on Saturday. Prince George had now dropped 6 straight and the Chiefs were hoping 7 would be the lucky number.
The sunshine from the day before had disappeared as clouds rolled into Prince George overnight. It wasn't a gloomy cloud cover though, as there were patches of blue sky above and the temperatures, while chilly, were pretty moderate for this time of year. The day flew by quickly as the team had breakfast, went through a brief pre-game skate, and then had their pre-game meal at the hotel. I must say, the stir fry was darn tasty once again, and it's shooting up the list as to one of my favorite meals on the road.
Spokane was hoping to start a little quicker in this contest than they had the night before when they fell behind 1-0 in the first. Chiefs goalie Eric Williams got the team a big boost early when he stoned the Cougars Dalton Siwak from point blank range early in the first to keep PG off the board. The Chiefs didn't generate much offensively until Adam Helewka won a puck from behind the Cougar net. He hit Mitch Holmberg, who skated above the right circle and hit an open Mike Aviani in front of the net. Aviani made a nice move to the backhand and tucked in his 7th goal of the season at 8:27 of the first to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead. That lead would hold till late in the period when a turnover by Chiefs defenseman Jason Fram at the Cougar blue line would lead to a Brett Roulston breakaway. Roulston would beat Williams top shelf and PG would pull even at 1-1 after the first.Â
The start of the second period would be a tell tale sign as to how the rest of the night would fall as the Chiefs turned the puck over twice in their own zone in the first half minute and before you know it, Alex Forsberg put in a rebound to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead just 26 seconds into the period. From that point, the Chiefs scuffled offensively, generating little in quality chances. Prince George would expand the lead midway through the second on a shot from Marc McNulty that hit off of Chiefs defenseman Reid Gow and into the net to make it 3-1 Cougars after two. Williams, who was the lone bright spot on this night, kept the Chiefs in the game as PG put up 29 shots on net in the first two periods.
The game muddled along in the third until Spokane pulled Williams for the extra attacker with less than 3 minutes left in the game. Even that fell through as the Cougars cleared their zone easily and scored an empty netter at 17:15 to make it a 4-1 game. The Chiefs managed a power play goal after pulling Williams again to score on a 5-3 advantage, when Brenden Kichton potted his 4th goal of the season, but it came with less than 30 seconds left as the Chiefs fell 4-2.
For the Chiefs to achieve a split was fortunate. Over the two games and 6 periods in Prince George, the team played one good period, the third in game one in which Spokane scored 5 goals. Otherwise, it was a flat and disappointing performance by the team. But hey, you get 2 points out of 4 after not playing well for 100 of 120 minutes, you'll take it. It does make for a quiet bus ride south to the States though. Next stop is Everett on Friday. I can assure you, if the team plays like it did tonight, that diesel horn in the Silvertips rink is going to get awfulll old in a hurry.
Tuesday, October 23rd
There is only one trip in the Western Hockey League longer than the 14 hour trek the Chiefs take North every year to Prince George. That’s the journey to the East Division the team does every other year. Lucky for the Chiefrs, they get to do both this season, with the trips only a month and a half apart. First up, was the trip to PG as the Chiefs got ready to face the Cougars for the second and third times in a row. The first meeting had seen Spokane’s Dylan Walchuk score a game winner with just 24.1 seconds left to lift the Chiefs to a dramatic 3-2 win. Now the Chiefs were hoping to use that momentum into the back to back meetings in Central British Columbia.
The bus left the Spokane Arena Sunday night for the all night excursion into Canada. I was just hoping to get some decent sleep, as you never reallyyyy get greattt sleep on the bus. Fortunately, the movie picked to be watched before we got to the border would help with any insomnia case. It was called ‘Fired Up.’ I did laugh a couple of times…twice to be precise…and found the film lacking comedy throughout. In other words, it was exactlyyy the film I needed! I got a good snooze in before we hit the border at Oroville, and fortunately the border didn’t take a great deal of time getting through. This was a drive I was glad our drivers Ray and KJ were doing because the snow started flying past Kelowna and continued past Cache Creek. The precipitation slowed down a couple hours outside Prince George, and I awoke in time for our breakfast stop in Quesnel, which is about an hour South of PG.
Breakfast at Denny’s is the reason why I don’t eat breakfast out very often. The food isn’t bad, in fact I ate most of my Grand Slam, but the food sure sits in your stomach like a gut bomb. I’m just glad we headed to the hotel instead of the rink, as I got a chance to relax and settle in the room instead of sitting in misery at practice. We arrived in Prince George about 10:30am, giving us a chance to relax before the practice at 1pm. After practice, the team had their team meal at Earl’s, a good steakhouse restaurant. The chicken and ribs were OK, but a steak sure would have tasted good after the all night trek.
The next morning, the team ate breakfast at the hotel before heading to the CN Centre for a morning skate. That didn’t leave a lot of time until the pre-game meal, which was pretty darn good, with lasagna, pasta and meat sauce, and stir fry. The boys sure enjoyed it too, as many went back for seconds, which is always a good sign. The weather was ideal for this time of year. Sure it was cold, we’re halfway to the Yukon you know, but it was sunny and clear, with not a flake of snow on the horizon. The CN Centre is a nice arena, holding a little over 4,000. Unfortunately, the crowd often times resemble a late night movie house, as several hundred fans usually turn out. On this night, the announced crowd was over 1,300. That was counting fingers, toes, legs and arms…and then some. It was closer to 550 in the crowd. It’s too bad. I for one, don’t know how the franchise stays solvent drawing those kind of numbers.
As for the game itself, the sparse crowd had something to cheer for as the Cougars took a 1-0 lead midway through the first. Troy Bourke tucked the puck past Chiefs goalie Eric Williams skate inside the post just 10 seconds into the Cougars first power play. Offense was limited for both teams, as each club only managed 5 shots on net in the first 20 minutes. Spokane had just one power play in the period, but the Chiefs managed very little in the way of offense, as they looked like they had just come off the bus in the first. The second didn’t start much differently, but the Chiefs did kill off over a minute of a PG power play to start the period. Slowly but surely though, Spokane started to get back on their game, as they generated 9 shots in the second. The Chiefs would break through with just 1:09 left in the second when Todd Fiddler took a Brenden Kichton pass, poked the puck by a Cougar defenseman, and then poked it again by a sliding Cougar goalie Mac Engel, and shuffled the puck into the empty net to tie the game at one. It was a huge goal for the Chiefs as they now went into the third period all even.
I just had the feeling that the next team to score would more than likely win. What I didn’t see was theoffensive fireworks that were to be put up in the period. Mitch Holmberg got things started by tipping in his team leading 11th goal of the season off a Reid Gow shot. The puck actually hit a defenseman’s stick..then Holmberg’s, before going off Engel’s and into the net at 4:44 to give Spokane a 2-1 lead. Just 41 seconds later, Collin Valcourt would rebound a shot of Holmberg’s into the cage on the Chiefs only power play over the final two periods, as Spokane took a 3-1 advantage. The Chiefs then seemed to light up from there. Adam Helewka fed Jackson Playfair for a shot in the slot. Engel made the save, but Tyler King pounced on the rebound between the circles and fired a howitzer inside the left post for his second goal in as many games with PG at 7:59 to make it a 4-1 game.
At this point, Spokane had firm control of the game. They would end the competitive phase of the contest when Dylan Walchuk, who grew up in nearby McBride, B.C., would give the family and friends lots to cheer about when he scored in his 2nd straight game against PG at 12:35 to make it 5-1 Chiefs. Spokane would wrap up the scoring when Liam Stewart hit Fiddler on an 2-1 rush while the Chiefs were shorthanded, and Fiddler hit a rocket under the crossbar for his second of the night to cap a 6-1 victory. The Chiefs were actually outshot 14-9 in the third, but tallied on 5 of those 9 shots to blow open the game. Spokane would kill off 2 Cougar power plays in the final minutes and pick up their second straight win over Prince George.
It was a great start to the 4 game road trip, and I just hope the team plays Wednesday night the same way they came out in the third period in this contest. It’s alwaysss tough to win 2 in row over a team on back to back nights, but the Chiefs know a win would propel them into a first place tie in the division with Tri City, so if that isn’t enough incentive, what is? For now, the post game meal at Boston Pizza is quite filling, and let’s face it, the meal alwaysss tastes better when victory is on your plate.
Tuesday, October 16th
It's not very often the Chiefs leave the day of a game, play the contest, and then turn right around and head home. Trips to Tri Cities and to Cranbrook, B.C. to play Kootenay are generally the only time that happens as usually the club leaves the day before to travel. On this day though, the team leaving the late morning of their game to head to Kent, WA to play the division rival Seattle Thunderbirds. You may ask why the team usually leaves early for a 4 hour trip and the answer is Mother Nature. With the unpredictability of the weather on Snoqualmie Pass during winter, the team plays it safe and usually arrives the night before games on the West Side in Seattle and Everett.
Today, winter was no where to be seen, but fall was in full fury. The weather was sunny as can be, but the winds were whipping with gusts up to 50 mph on the journey West. The team stopped in Ellensburg at a little pasta joint downtown, and the meal was great. A good hearty salad followed by chicken and pasta noodles with marinara and alfredo sauce. It hit the spot, yet wasn't toooo filling, which is perfect. The trip over was flawless..in fact, the team arrived a good 45 minutes early to the ShoWare Center. It gave myself and the team plenty of time to get ready for the night's contest with the Thunderbirds.
Spokane didn't exactly get off to a great start. OK, that's an understatement. Seattle scored just 1:01 into the game when Luke Lockhart pounced on a rebound netfront and shuffled it past Chiefs goalie Eric Williams to make it 1-0 T-Birds. Spokane generated just 1 shot on net in the first 14 minutes of the contest, yet still remained within one. The Chiefs got some offense going late in the period behind the line of Dylan Walchuk, Collin Valcourt and Mitch Holmberg, but could not get the equalizing goal past Seattle goalie Branden Glover, as Seattle took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission.
The momentum built offensively at the end of the first carried over to the second for the Chiefs. Holmberg blocked a pass in the neutral zone, and sprang free on a breakaway with the loose puck. Holmberg made no mistake, rifling a shot through the 5 hole of Glover just 24 seconds into the period to tie the game at one. It was Holmberg's league leading 10th goal of the season and gave the Chiefs an immediate lift in the second. Spokane built on that goal, as Mikulas Rimmel took the puck past a Seattle defender with a great move and snapped home his first WHL goal top shelf on Glover's glove side at 1:15 to give the Chiefs their first, and turns out, only lead of the game at 2-1. It was a high skill play by Rimmel and hopefully a preview of many to come from the rookie out of the Czech Republic.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, careless puck handing in their own zone would come back to bite them repeatedly in the second period, and would result in three costly Seattle goals. The first miscue would come just 2:33 after Rimmel's goal when a pass from Todd Fiddler hit the tape of Seattle's Alexander Delnov in the high slot, and Delnov would rifle home the goal to tie the game at 2. Another turnover led to a Seattle rush, where a Jesse Forsberg shot was stopped by Williams. Brendan Rouse shuffled the rebound over to a wide open Connor Sanvido, and Sanvido buried it at 6:13 of the period to put the T-Birds up 3-2. Spokane bounced right back though, as Adam Helewka took a puck behind the Seattle net, shot it off the back of Glover and into the net for his first career WHL goal to tie the game up at 3.
After a defensive first period, the two teams put in 5 goals combined in just 7:54 to set up what looked like to be a exciting finish. The second period settled down from there, and it looked like the two teams would settle things in the final 20 minutes. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Spokane failed once again to take care of the puck at their blue line, turning it over for a crucial third time. Branden Troock picked up the loose puck, hit Sanvido coming down the right wing, and Sanvido buried the puck top shelf with 22 seconds left in the period to give Seattle a hugeeee goal and a 4-3 lead after two. You talk about a momentum swinging goal. Seattle went in on as high a note as possible, while Spokane could only look back at the period and honestly say they gave away all 3 Seattle goals in the period.
The Chiefs were still down only one though, and hadÂ a chance to pull even with some offensive pressure in the third. Unfortunately, it's hard to sustain offense when the team takes back to back penalties to start the period. First a tripping penalty, then a questionableee hooking call, gave Seattle a 5-3 advantage for 57 seconds in the beginning of the third, and the league's top rated power play took advantage as Delnov scored on a one timer at 2:32 to hand Seattle a huggee 5-3 advantage. Spokane spent most of the third just trying to get the puck in the Seattle zone for any period of time from there, and would generate 17 shots in the period, two more than the team did in the entire first two periods. Spokane also got their only power play chance of the game, but failed to capitalize as the Chiefs were still down two late.
Spokane would finally break through, when some good forechecking kept the puck in the offensive zone, and Reid Gow would slap one in for his first goal of the year at 17:26 to bring the Chiefs within 5-4. On the goal, Brenden Kichton picked up his 2nd assist of the night, giving 147 for his career, passing the all time mark set by Frank Evans for most assists in team history. Kichton now holds all three scoring marks by a Spokane Chiefs defenseman for goals, assists and points. The Chiefs would then pull goalie Eric Williams with less than 2 minutes left to try and get the tying goal, but Lockhart poked the puck past Kichton and scored an empty netter with 1:20 left to seal a 6-4 Seattle victory.
The Chiefs outshot the Thunderbirds 32-23 in the game, includingÂ a 17-5 margin in the third, but too many mistakes with the puck in the Chiefs defensive zone cost Spokane dearly in this contest. Spokane generated just 1 power play on the night, while going 3-4 on the penalty kill. The team also lost veteran Blake Gal to an undisclosed injury at the end of the first period and were forced to go without him for the rest of the game. Spokane did get some good games from youngsters Tyson Predinchuk, Rimmel and Helewka, but far too many veterans had off nights, and the final score was the indicator. Now the team must regroup at home as they get ready to host Seattle and Prince George on back to back nights on Friday and Saturday. The rain is falling on the ride home over Snoqualmie, but let's hope the team doesn't have a wet ride all the way home after this one.
Friday, October 12th
Coming off a travel day North up to Kamloops, the Chiefs were hoping to extend their winning streak to 4 against a Blazers team that had lost just once, in a shootout, in 7 games this season. Kamloops was the third ranked team in the entire CHL entering Friday's game, so the Chiefs knew they were facing their most formidable test of the year. Game day started real nice outside but as the morning rolled along, clouds started to roll in, which I was hoping wouldn't be a premonition of things to come. Most of the day was spent relaxing, with a good walk in the morning around Downtown Kamloops, followed by an afternoon of watching the Orioles-Yankees playoff game.
Thankfully the game came around quickly after the Orioles lost to despised Yankees...OK, at least hated a lottt by yours truly. One thing you always hope for when facing a tough team on the road is a good start. Well, Spokane had anything but on this night. Kamloops forward J.C. Lipon, who was named the WHL and CHL player of the week after scoring 7 points in 2 games, picked right up where he left off as he personally beat up Spokane 3-0 in the first period. Lipon scored from in front of the net just 2:51 into the game to put the Blazers up 1-0. Then at 4:37, Lipon came on the ice on a change and rifled one from the right wing beyond the circle to make it 2-0. Lipon would then cap his natural hat trick on the Blazers first power play with a shot from the low left circle at 8:30 on a play where Chiefs goalie Eric Williams was runnn over on an obvious goaltender interference that wasn't called, as the game became 3-0 Kamloops. Howw the call was missed....is still beyond me.
As it was, the Chiefs were down 3 heading into the second period with a lottt of work to do. Spokane came out in the second and controlled the game offensively, outshooting Kamloops 19-4 in the second. The Chiefs would finally breakthrough against Blazer goalie Cole Cheveldave, who was excellent on this night, as Liam Stewart whipped a shot from the left circle at 18:01 from Dylan Walchuk and Reid Gow to bring the Chiefs within 3-1 after two. Spokane then had two power play chances at the end of the second and starting the third to get within one, but failed to score and it would come back to bite them.
Kamloops would score twice in a 2:29 period right after the failed Chiefs power plays to cap a 5-1 win. The game could be categorized as a sandwich where the filling was pretty good but the outer bread was stale, as the Chiefs had a weak start and finish to a game that saw them play fairly well in the middle portion of the contest. Spokane outshot the Blazers 37-23, but for the first time this year, the Chiefs were outplayed on special teams. Kamloops went 2-6 on the power play while Spokane failed to score on the power play for the first time in a game this season, going 0-4.
It was a disappointing result, but there's no doubt the game was a wake up to the team as to where they stand in the Western Conference compared to Kamloops. There's a lottt of work to be done with the Chiefs, but there were some bright spots that can be built upon. Spokane did lose defenseman Tanner Mort in the third period when his chin came out on the wrong end of a collision with Blazer forward Brendan Ranford. He's on a day to day evaluation after suffering a possible concussion. He and the rest of the team now gets a chance to try to get some rest on the 7 hour plus bus ride home to Spokane that will see the team get back at around 6am.
Fortunately for Spokane, their opponent, Vancouver, will get into town just as late as they are hosting Seattle Friday. It will help even out the rink, unlike the last meeting between the two when Spokane arrived in Van at 6am for a 4pm start after the Giants were off the night before. Hopefully the Chiefs come out ready to play a little better than they did tonight in Kamloops and give the home fans something to cheer about Saturday.
Wednesday, October 10th
For the first time in my 11 years, the Chiefs were getting to play back to back games at Kelowna and Kamloops this week. The team has always made the trip to Kelowna orrr Kamloops, followed by a trip to Vancouver or back to Spokane. Since Spokane only has to make the trek North to these two cities twice, that's 4 times total, it's nice to get half of them done in one fell swoop. Coming off a two game home sweep of Victoria and Lethbridge this past weekend, it was time to see how the team stacked up on the road. A 4-1 start is never a bad thing, and it's a lot better than the alternative, right?
The team left on Tuesday for the 5 hour plus ride up Highway 97. Boy, the weather has been amazing this fall so far. The drive was picturesque heading to one of my favorite cities in Canada, Kelowna. If you've never been in the Okanagan area, you owe it to yourself to make the trek North one summer or fall. You won't regret it. The movie of choice this trip was 'Training Day' with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawk. Good picture if you like mystery, intrigue and of course, foul language. I'm a fan of all three. The Chiefs were hoping to get the 2 game road trip off to a good start as they took on a Rockets team that was .500 entering Wednesday's contest.
The start of the game was back and forth until Spokane broke through on their first..and only...power play of the first period. Brenden Kichton found Dylan Walchuk in the low right circle. Walchuk's shot hit off Kelowna goalie Jordan Cooke's pads right to the stick of Mitch Holmberg, who lifted the rebound in the open net for his 8th of the season at 14:45 of the period to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead. The Rockets then went on their 3rd power play of the first, but Spokane would take a turnover in neutral ice and turn it into a 2-0 lead. Blake Gal hit Kichton on the right wing, and then Kich put the puck to a wide open Liam Stewart at the far left post at 15:55 to give Spokane a 2 goal advantage heading to the second period. Goalie Eric Williams was sharp in the first, turning away 20 Kelowna shots as the Chiefs special teams, ranked 1st in the league in both power play and penalty kill, were perfect in the period.
The second period started perfectly for Spokane, as Dylan Walchuk deflected a Collin Valcourt shot past Cooke at 4:51 to put the Chiefs up 3-0. The Chiefs played good hockey for most of the second, moving the puck and creating chances in the attack zone, while dominating possession of the puck. Spokane's Carter Proft then took a needless cross check penalty in the neutral zone late in the second, and the Rockets scored just 9 seconds into their power play to cut the lead to 3-1. The complexion of the game changed at this point, as Kelowna would keep up the momentum when Colton Sissions scored on a feed in the slot at 18:36 to bring the Rockets within 3-2 after two.
Kelowna would pull even at 8:46 of the third when Dylan McKinley scored on a rebound after Williams couldn't corral Myles Bell's shot from point blank range in the low slot. The Rockets had pulled even at 3 and had allll the momentum in the building at that point. The hockey folks will always tell you the importance of the bump up, or next shift, after a team scores a goal. For Spokane, it would prove to be the difference in this game. Spokane would get back on their game and bring pressure into the Kelowna end of the ice. Todd Fiddler would hit Gal on the fly on the wing. Gal's shot was stopped by Cooke, but Cooke left the rebound in the crease, where Mike Aviani pounced on it and stuck it in the net just 1:07 after McKinley's goal to give Spokane a 4-3 lead.
The goal settled down the Chiefs and took away the momentum Kelowna had built up over the last 2 periods. Spokane would seize upon Aviani's goal later in the third, when Stewart won an offensive zone face-off back to Holmberg, who sniped home his second goal of the night from the left circle at 15:04 of the third to make it 5-3 Spokane. It was a hugeee goal as it turns out. Kelowna would pull Cooke out of net and Ryan Olsen would tally his second goal of the night at 18:11 to bring Kelowna within 5-4. The Rockets would get another chance to pull Cooke in the final minute, but Reid Gow would take a loose puck in the defensive zone and find an open Valcourt in neutral ice. Valcourt would score an empty netter at 19:17 to seal the 6-4 win to get the Chiefs off to a good start on the road trip.
Williams was outstanding in net, turning away 39 shots to pick up his 4th straight win. The special teams were solid,, going 1-4 on the power play and 3-4 on the penalty kill. Holmberg now has 9 goals in 6 games to lead the WHL. Liam Stewart, Dylan Walchuk and Collin Valcourt all had a goal and an assist in the win. Kichton finished with 2 assists to move into second place in assists all time by a Spokane Chiefs defenseman, just one back of Frank Evans all time mark. Kich is already tops in goals and points, so he will be #1 before the weekend is out in all categories.
The team went through a morning skate the next day in Kelowna with a lunch at Boston Pizza before hitting the road North to Kamloops to face the B.C. Division leading Blazers on Friday night. Kamloops knocked off Victoria 5-2 on Wednesday and are ranked #3 in the latest CHL poll of top 10 teams in Canadian Junior Hockey. They will be the Chiefs toughest test to date...by far...and will serve as a good measuring stick as to where Spokane stacks up in the West. Let's hope the boys play as well as they did in the first and most of the second period on Wednesday.
Sunday, September 30th
The last day of September found the Chiefs on the road in Vancouver to take on a winless Giants team. Spokane had opened their home season the night before with a 5-3 win over rival Tri City to run their record to 2-0 to start the year. The team boarded a bus at the Spokane Arena and departed about 11pm for the all night ride North of the border. We arrived at the hotel in Vancouver about 6am, giving the team a massive 3.5 hours sleep before breakfast at 10. I took breakfast off and opted for the pre-game meal at 12:30pm instead, as I knew the 4pm start against the Giants was going to be upon me before I knew it.
It was a beautifullll day in Vancouver. I just wish I had the time to enjoy it, as after the meal I had enough time to shower, pack and put my bag on the bus before heading to the PNE Coliseum. The former home of the Vancouver Canucks is a bit run down now, but the old barn still has some history to it. My broadcast spot isn't the greatest, but it is center ice and close to the action. Now if they would just add some outlets, increase the lighting, and build a stable table to set my gear, I would be set!
The Chiefs were making their first visit since winning game 5 of their opening round playoff series with the Giants last April. Vancouver was coming in 0-3, the first time they had lost 3 in a row to start a season in their 12 years as a franchise. With that in mind, and not exactly feeling refreshed and well rested, the Chiefs knew they had a battle ahead of them.
Spokane started well though, as the Chiefs would score on their first shot of the game. After going on the power play, Mike Aviani drove to the net, taking a Jason Fram pass and scoring on a backhander just 3:29 into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. It was Aviani's third goal in as many games and gave the Chiefs a quick boost. It also turned out to be the only Chiefs power play of the period as Spokane's offense only generated 4 shots in a lackluster offensive period. Vancouver would get 3 straight power play chances and would score on their 2nd, as Nathan Burns shot from the left circle beat Mac Engel high to even the game at one. It was the first goal given up by the Chiefs penalty kill unit in 3 games this season.
Vancouver would use that late goal from the first and build on it in the second, as defenseman David Musil would score from the right wing past a screened Engel 6 minutes in to give the Giants a 2-1 lead. The Chiefs mustered just 5 shots in the second, despite getting 2 of the 3 power play chances in the period. With just 9 shots up on the board through 40 minutes, I hoped that the Chiefs would wake up offensively in the third.
Spokane would get the only two power plays of the third period, and they would get them back to back early. After failing to score on try #1, the Chiefs would capitalize on power play #2 as Mitch Holmberg got a rebound of a Brenden Kichton shot and backhanded it top shelf over Vancouver goalie Tyler Fuhr, who was making his first start, at 7:59 of the period to tie the game at 2. It was Holmberg's 5th goal in 3 games, and 4th in two nights. Kichton would get an assist, giving him 185 points for his career, passing Bryan McCabe as the all time leading scoring defenseman in Spokane Chiefs history. I'm sure Kitch would love to be playing at the next level right now, but with all the defensemen that have come through Spokane in their 28 year history, to be the top scoring d-man is quite an honor. I just wish he had been able to do it at home and be recognized for it. I'm sure that will come in the next home game.
There was still the game to be settled though. With the game tied at 2, the team could really thank Engel for getting them there. He turned away two primeee chances for the Giants from point blank range in the period to keep the Chiefs in the game. Marek Tvrdon had a greattt look from the left circle and Tristan Sieben got a great shot from the right side later in the period, but Engel denied both chances. What Engel couldn't stop was the inability for the Chiefs to win puck battles on the wall and clear the zone. The failure to do so would cost Spokane the game in the third. After failing to clear on three different occasions, the Giants would get a shot from Trevor Cheek from the left circle that beat Engel at 14:07 and give Van a 3-2 lead.
The Chiefs would pull Engel in the final minute and a half, and would put all types of pressure on Fuhr and the Giants, but did not score, and Vancouver secured their first win of the season while handing the Chiefs their first loss. It's often said the score in hockey is usally a fair result, and it was on this night. Engel did all he could with 21 saves, as the Chiefs were outshot 24-15. The effort was definitely lacking on this night, especially in puck battles on the wall. As a result, Spokane generated very little offensively in 5 on 5 situations.
Hopefully the team will rebound from this loss and learn the valuable lesson that without effort and passion in your game, defeat is surely going to be a result. The bus ride home is a long one, as we'll get home about 2 to 3 am, and will surely seem longer with no movie and defeat on everyone's mind. Let's hope the boys bounce back with some solid games at home with Victoria and Lethbridge.
Saturday, September 22nd
It just felt like baseball season with the Indians ended and here we are with another Chiefs season. Wait, baseball diddd just end 3 weeks ago, so I'm not hallucinating after all. Hockey season crept up on me a little quicker than usual this year. I can't quite explain why, but I just felt as unprepared as I ever have for a season opener. The boys on the other hand seemed quiteee ready, having gone 5-1 in the pre-season, winning their last 5 straight to go into the regular season on a roll. The last time the Chiefs were this good record wise in pre-season was their 6-0 mark in the 2007-08 season, and we seem to remember how well that team did that year.
After working most of the previous day at KREM, I wearily boarded the bus for the Tri Cities, where the Chiefs would open the regular season for the third straight year. The previous two trips had not ended well for Spokane, so it was hoped the team would gather inspiration from having won their last 2 games in pre-season from the Americans in Kennewick. The day was gorgeous, as temperatures were more like July than hockey season, hitting close to 90 degrees. I know I got a good nap on the way down, as did many of the players, as the scenery down Highway 395 is not exactly Chamber of Commerce beautiful.
The Chiefs welcomed back a veteran crew for this year, with 19 veterans from last year, including both goalies Mac Engel and Eric Williams. Engel would get the start on this night, as Williams, who was excellent in goal against the Ams in last year's 7 game playoff loss, was out with a minor leg injury. Rookie Garret Hughson would back up Engel, as Hughson was one of 7 rookies on the opening roster. Spokane would go with 6 veterans on defense as Jason Fram, Tanner Mort, Tyler King, Brenden Kichton, Reid Gow, and Cole Wedman anchored the back line. Up front, the Chiefs had 9 veterans, Blake Gal, Liam Stewart, Carter Proft, Mike Aviani, Mitch Holmberg, Collin Valcourt, Dylan Walchuk, Connor Chartier, and Todd Fiddler, while skating rookies Riley Whittingham, Jackson Playfair and Adam Helewka making their WHL debuts.
Tri City had a number of veterans back as well, but had lost far more firepower up front, as their two leading scorers, WHL Player of the Year Brendan Shinnimin and Adam Hughesman had both graduated. The Americans are always tough in their own building though, and especially opening night, having won 12 straight heading into this contest. The first period was about as tight as I expected, as neither team was able to score despite the two teams combining for 29 shots. The Chiefs got the only 2 power plays in the period, and Spokane came closest to scoring in the first as Kichton's shot hit off the far post after being tipped on the Chiefs first power play.
The second period started going Spokane's way from the puck drop. The Chiefs put up 17 of the period's 21 shots, and would finally break through midway through the second. Mitch Holmberg took a Liam Stewart pass, skated up the left wing and snapped a pass to an open Todd Fiddler net front. Fiddler stuffed the puck in the net past Tri goalie Eric Comrie, and the Chiefs had the first goal of the season at 1-0. It remained that way until late in the period when Spokane would capitalize on their 2nd of 3 power plays in the second. This time it was Stewart who put home a rebound of a Holmberg shot at 17:38 to give the Chiefs a 2-0 edge. I was thinking it was a huge goal to give the Chiefs a multi-goal cushion going into the third. Spokane had other ideas though, as the Chiefs would put home two more goals in less than 2 minutes to take a 4 goal advantage to the final 20 minutes. Mike Aviani would score on a rebound after a Cole Wedman shot hit the back wall and caroomed out in front of the net at 18:34. Holmberg then capped a 3 point period on assists from Carter Proft and Tyler King at 19:26 to put the Chiefs firmly in control going to the third.
The Chiefs had to feel good about their edge...maybe too good in fact. In the third, the team played defensive and tentative, while Tri City turned up their intensity. A bad pass led to a Parker Bowles breakaway at 11:53 to spoil Engel's shutout bid and make it a 4-1 game. Engel would come up huge less than a minute and a half later, as he denied Justin Feser on a breakaway that could have pulled the Ams within 2 and lit the building up. Instead, Engel's save temporarily steadied the ship. The Chiefs would cough up the puck again later in the period though and Malte Stromwall would cut the Chiefs lead to 4-2 at 17:48. Tri would pull Comrie in net for the extra skater, but Proft would force a turnover behind the Ams net and tap in an easy empty netter at 18:32 to close out a 5-2 win.
Despite the near melt down in the third, the Chiefs got a huge road win against their main rivals to start the season. Spokane played a real solid first period, an excellent second and a sub-par third. The Chiefs will no doubt address the below average third as they get ready to host the Americans in Spokane's home opener in a week. There is no question the Ams would love to return the favor to the Chiefs, so Spokane best be prepared to play a full 60 minutes this time around. The Chiefs are still off to a 1-0 start though, their first since the 2009-10 campaign, and hope to build on that in front of the home folks at the Arena on Saturday.