The last time the Chiefs opened their season at Prince George, it came 10 years ago when Spokane went North and took two straight from the Cougars. The rest of the season was history, as Spokane went on to later win their second Memorial Cup title. The hopes this time around are probably not as high, but the team was hoping to set a standard of winning that was lacking last year, when the team missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season. New head coach Dan Lambert was hoping to establish a winning culture similar to the one he was a part of in Kelowna as well, and a good start in Prince George would be a nice step towards bringing that about.
Spokane didn't enjoy a lot of success against the Cougars last season, losing 3 of 4 meetings, but the Chiefs lone win came in the first game they played in Prince George. The Chiefs would get off to a good start towards repeating that on Friday night in game one as Spokane would score on a breakaway from Taylor Ross 7.5 minutes into the game to take a 1-0 lead. Prince George would get three power play chances in the first, but Spokane would turn things around on the Cougars on their second opportunity. Riley Woods would break free on another break away chance and would give the Chiefs a 2-0 lead 7 minutes after Ross' goal. Spokane would hold that lead until early in the second when the Chiefs would convert their only power play of the period.
Hudson Elyniuk scored 8:45 into the stanza to give Spokane a 3-0 lead. At that point though, the Chiefs committed 3 straight minor penalties in just over two minutes to give Prince George two 5 on 3 power play chances. The Cougars would score on the first one to cut the lead to 3-1 just over 16 minutes into the period, but Spokane would shut down PG on the next one and for the rest of the period.
The Chiefs would then re-establish control of the game when Ty Smith snapped home a shot off a face-off win in the PG zone in the last minute of the second to take a 4-1 lead into the third. Spokane would out shoot Prince George 11-9 in the third, but it was the Cougars that would get the only goal of the period as they scored off the rush nearly 9 minutes in to make it a 4-2 game. The Chiefs defense and goalie Dawson Weatherill did the rest, as they turned away the Cougars the rest of the way as Spokane secured a 4-2 victory in game one. Spokane's penalty kill was big, as they turned back 5 of 5 PG power plays. It was a good start to the road trip...one the team was looking for, but there was room for improvement in Spokane's ability to take care of the puck and generate offensive opportunities.
The next evening, it was the Cougars that jumped out to the early lead as a Chiefs turnover at the Prince George blue line led to a Cougar partial breakaway. Weatherill made the initial save, but PG's Jerad Bethune poked home the rebound 4:25 into the game to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead. Spokane would come right back just 28 seconds later as Rykr Cole took a perfect Riley Woods pass and scored his first of the season to tie it up at 1. The Chiefs would then take the lead as Hudson Elyniuk would score his second in as many nights at 13:01 to make it 2-1 Spokane after one. Spokane would extend the advantage as they scored the only goal of the second period on Nolan Reid's tally 2:48 in as the Chiefs took a 3-1 lead into the third.
The Chiefs defense would keep the Cougars at bay despite being out shot by Prince George 10-1 at one point. Spokane would get the final 3 shots of the game and score on two of them to put the game away. Eli Zummack scored on an empty netter with 2 minutes left to make it 4-1 and then Ethan McIndoe tipped in a Woods shot with 19.5 seconds remaining to wrap up a 5-1 triumph. The score was a bit deceptive as to how close the game was, but the Chiefs made the big plays when they needed them. Weatherill was rock solid in net once again as he turned aside 24 shots for his second straight win. While the power play was 0-4, the penalty kill was perfect to keep the Cougars at bay. It was a great start for the team that is still without its' two leading scorers from last year in Kailer Yamamoto and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who are still at NHL camps.
Spokane will now get ready for their second straight weekend facing one opponent as they take on the rival Kootenay Ice in a home and home series Friday and Saturday nights. The Chiefs will head to Cranbrook to face the Ice Friday night at 6 pm Pacific. Kootenay will then return the favor on Saturday as Spokane opens their home season against the Ice at 7:05pm. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA, starting with the pre-game shows at 5:30 pm on Friday and 6:30 pm on Saturday. We hope to see you at the rink!