Who'd believe it, but we're in the final week of the regular season. It just seems like a couple months ago that the Chiefs were opening the season against the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook. There were many hopes of the team being the top team in the WHL, but things haven't quite worked out that way for the team. At the same time, the Chiefs have had a great deal of success on the ice, winning 43 games thus far and approaching the 90 point mark for the year.
Last week, the team played 4 games in 5 nights for the second straight week as the boys played a longgg road trip thorough Seattle, Kelowna and Prince George. The first game was last Tuesday night in Kent, WA at the new home of the Thunderbirds. The ShoWare Center is a vasttt improvement over the team's old home at Key Arena. There's actually atmosphere in the new rink as compared to the mausoleum atmosphere of the Key. It's certainly helped Seattle as their home record is one of the best in the Western Conference.
Tuesday's game was back and forth through two periods as the teams were tied at 2. In the third, Drayson Bowman took an Ondrej Roman feed midway through the period and scored his second goal of the game to give the Chiefs the win. The team was a bit shorthanded that night as the team was without coach Hardy Sauter and forward Ryan Letts, who were both suspended, and defensemen Trevor Glass, Corey Baldwin and Stephan Ulmer, who were injured. The team really came together that night and gave every indication that this road trip was going to be very successful.
After a longgg ride to Kelowna overnight, the team arrived at 5am. Needless to say, it didn't help the team on the ice that night against the Rockets, as Kelowna jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the second period. Brady Calla's power play goal was all the team could muster, as the Rockets knocked off the Chiefs for the third straight time this season 4-1. In three games against Kelowna, Spokane has managed just 2 goals. That is definitely going to have to change by the team's final meeting on Sunday.
The good news out of the night was Stephan Ulmer returned to the lineup. Steph's puck moving ability is a big part of the team's success, and getting him back full speed by the playoffs will be huge for the team.
The Chiefs then headed up north to Prince George for back to back games against the Cougars. The first game Friday night was the most disappointing of the trip as former Chief goaltender Kevin Armstrong shut out the boys 2-0. Another slow start doomed the team, as PG put up 20 shots in the first period to take a 1-0 lead. Goalie Dustin Tokarski was outstanding or the margin would have been a lot worse.
Fortunately, the team bounced back with a convincing 5-2 win on Saturday. Tyler Johnson led the way with the first goal of the game and two assists. Mitch Wahl snapped a 2-2 tie with a great individual effort to net his 7th game winning goal of the year midway through the third period. Empty net goals from Drayson Bowman, who notched his career high 43rd of the season, and Levko Koper capped the scoring. It was a great way to finish the trip and launch the guys into the final week of the year.
Chiefs will still be without Baldwin, who's out another 5 weeks with broken right hand and Letts is out until game 3 of the playoffs due to his suspension. The good news for the team is Trevor Glass is expected to be back in the lineup for the season finale against Kelowna.
It's another 4 games in 5 nights stretch this week, as the team has 3 of the 4 games at home. It begins with Everett coming to town on Wednesday at 7pm. Then it's the much anticipated home and home series with Tri City on Friday at the Arena and Saturday in Tri. Unfortunately, there's not the suspense of winning the division title on the line like there was last year, but the intensity of the rivalry will certainly help the team get ready for the playoffs. Sunday night's game against Kelowna could certainly determine who finishes third and fourth in the Conference playoff race. As it stands now, the Chiefs will either face Kamloops or Seattle in the first round. The difference between third and fourth is huge though, because it means if you're third, you get Tri in round two. If you're fourth, it's Vancouver. Either way, it's going to be tough...and if the Chiefs plan to advance, they're going to be looking at Vancouver, Tri or Kelowna along the way. No one ever said winning the WHL was going to be easy, and it certainly won't this year. Hopefully the team can build the necessary momentum with a strong weekend against Tri and Kelowna.
All games will be on 1510 KGA. The Everett and Tri-City games will start at 7pm, with the Kelowna game at 6pm. The team will hand out the end of the year awards to the players on the ice before the Kelowna game, so come out and thank the boys for a great year.
Here's to a big playoff run...and see you on the radio!