The Chiefs returned home from a great three game road sweep of Kamloops, Kootenay and Tri-City to open a three game homestand last week against Everett, Prince George, and Tri. Spokane came into the homestand with their longest winning streak of the season at seven in a row, and were just five points behind first place Tri and two back of second place Everett going into Wednesday's game at the Spokane Arena against the Silvertips.
After losing the first four games of the season series to the Tips, the Chiefs had won three of the last four meetings. A win in this contest would pull Spokane even with Everett for second place in the division.
The Chiefs would jump all over the Tips in the first period offensively, putting up 19 shots on Everett goalie Thomas Heemskerk, but Heemskerk turned away all 19 chances and the game was scoreless after one. Somehow I knew the inability to take advantage of the offensive pressure put on by the Chiefs would come back to bite them and sure enough it did.
After a Spokane turnover in their own zone, Everett's Byron Froese would snap one past Chiefs goalie James Reid to give the Tips a 1-0 lead midway through the second period. Spokane would get back even in the final seconds of the period. After Froese took a roughing call at 18:01, Jared Spurgeon would pick up a loose puck behind the Everett net after a net front scramble and put a wrap around past Heemskerk with one second left in the period. Spokane's Kyle Beach somehow got a stick on the puck as Spurgeon put it in and got credit for his league leading 47th goal of the year, as Spokane took a ton of momentum into the locker room as they tied the game at one.
Now I had the feeling that Spokane had seized the initiative and more importantly, put doubt in the Silvertips minds that they would lose another one goal game to Spokane, like they had a week and a half earlier in overtime after losing a one goal lead going into the third period. The Tips didn't feel my vibe at all though, as they came out and controlled the play against the Chiefs in the first part of the third and eventually scored when Scott McDonald put a puck off a skate and past Reid at 6:16 of the period to make it 2-1 Everett.
The Chiefs got only one power play in the third and really didn't do a lot with it, as ten shots in the stanza were turned away by Heemskerk and Spokane lost their 6th game in 9 tries with Everett 2-1. Spokane certainly generated chances as they outshot the Silvertips 41-27, but the Chiefs didn't get nearly enough second and third chances on net to seriously challenge the Everett defense. The loss was a disappointing one, as now the Chiefs fell four points behind the Tips for second in the division.
Fortunately for Spokane, they would get to rebound against the worst team in the league, the Prince George Cougars. Friday would prove to be a very special day for everyone associated with Spokane Chiefs hockey as the team unveiled its 25th Anniversary Team at a press conference that afternoon. Sixteen of the twenty-five made it to the presser, as the other nine were all detained by playing in their current seasons in Europe, Canada and the United States.
It was an absolute joy to be a part of Chiefs history and talk with the greats of yesteryear, Bryan Maxwell, Pat Falloon, Trevor Kidd, Travis Green, and Kerry Toporowski amongst others. It almost made it a distraction that a game was still to be played that night.
The Chiefs jumped on the Cougars and I mean quick. Brendan Kichton put home a shot from the point at 1:16 of the first and it was suddenly 1-0 Spokane. Tyler Johnson then drove the puck netward and backhanded his 29th of the season at 4:05 to leave it 2-0 Chiefs after one. It looked like it would be the kind of cakewalk many fans thought it would be.
When Levko Koper picked off the puck in the neutral zone and took it into Cougar territory with a nice toe drag and snapped a shot home shorthanded 40 seconds into the third period, it looked like the rout was on. Prince George fought back though, as Alex Rodgers converted a 2-1 rush while shorthanded less than 6 minutes later to cut the lead to 3-1. Rodgers then hit two posts on the night that could have cut the lead further, but puck luck was not with the Cougars this night.
Instead, it was Johnson that dominated the night. Kyle Beach's shot from the slot on the power play went off Johnson for his second goal of the night at 10:44 to leave it 4-1 Spokane. Johnson would then cap the scoring with a steal at the Cougar blue line and put home another backhander at 19:34 to close out a 5-1 Chiefs win.
Spokane outshot Prince George 32-21 and went a perfect 7-7 on the penalty kill. It was Johnson's second power play of his career, and his linemate Koper went for a goal and an assist. It capped a perfect night for the team and the organization.
Now would come the big test the following night, as the division leading Tri-City Americans came to town. Spokane came in seven points back with three head-to-head matchups left with the Ams, so the Chiefs knew if they had any chance of catching Tri, they had to win all of the remaining head to head matchups.
This game didn't start so well for Spokane, as Pat Holland's shot from the right circle got through the pads of James Reid to give Tri a 1-0 lead in the first. The Chiefs would get even on the only power play of the period, as Kyle Beach shot the puck from behind the Tri goal off Ams goalie Drew Owsley and into the net at 15:32 to tie the game at one. Koper would then give the Chiefs a huge lift with the go ahead goal at 19:04, as he took the puck from Johnson down the left wing and snapped one through the pads of Owsley to give Spokane a big 2-1 lead going to the second.
Spokane would then convert their second power play opportunity in as many chances, as Mitch Wahl boomed a shot from the point at 6:35 of the second to make it 3-1 Chiefs. Spokane had scored ten seconds into their first power play on Beach's goal and then took all of 12 seconds to convert on Wahl's 28th of the year. It looked like it would be another cruise for the Chiefs, but back would come the Ams as they would score on their first power play chance of the night late in the second to cut the lead to 3-2 after two.
It started to feel like the last game at the Arena against Tri two weeks earlier, as the Ams came back from a 3-1 deficit with a power play goal in the second and then scored with three seconds left to force overtime. I sure was hoping that wouldn't be the case again.
Brady Brassart would see to it that history wouldn't repeat itself. Koper would lead a rush midway through the third period and find Brassart trailing the play. Brassart then snuck the puck through back up goalie Alexander Pechursky's pads at 11:54 to give Spokane a 4-2 lead. Pechursky had come in for Owsley, who had left the game several minutes earlier after colliding with Chiefs forward Blake Gal going for a puck at the top of the slot.
Spokane would then score their third power play goal of the night in the final minute, as Tri pulled Pechursky on an offensive zone face-off, and Johnson found Kenton Miller for the empty netter to wrap up a 5-2 Chiefs win.
Spokane went 3-7 on the power play and drew themselves within 5 points of Tri for first going into the final two weeks of the regular season. It also marked the 5th straight win for the Chiefs over their division arch rivals and gave the Chiefs the season series with their 7th win in the 12 game set. The Chiefs wrapped up the month of February going 11-2 as they headed into March like a lion, as it were.
The Chiefs embark on a three game road trip this week, beginning at the defending league champion Kelowna Rockets Wednesday night. Spokane will then head for their final meetings of the season with Portland on Friday and Seattle on Saturday.
I'll have the call for all three games on 1510AM KGA. Wednesday and Saturday's games will have the pregame at 6:30, with all the action at 7pm. Friday's game with Portland will have the pregame at 7pm with the puck drop around 7:45pm due to the Winterhawks having their team awards ceremony that night.
Every game is more important than the last this time of year, so we hope you tune in. We'll see you on the radio!