With just one game on the schedule last week, the importance of the matchup was magnified for the Chiefs as they faced the rival Tri-City Americans last Saturday. Despite holding a 3-2 lead midway through the 3rd period, the Chiefs gave up two goals in less than a minute to lose a 4-3 decision to the Ams and drop 11 points back of first in the U.S. Division.
Spokane fell behind 2-0 early in the second period and things looked a bit dire for the Chiefs. Kenton Miller's wraparound goal three minutes after Tri's second goal brought the Chiefs within 2-1. It was Miller's third straight game with a goal, as his line with Steve Kuhn and Dustin Donaghy continue to get better with each passing game. Rookie Matt Marantz would even the game at 2-2 late in the second with a rebound goal net front, and the Chiefs carried a ton of momentum into the locker room in the second intermission.
Tyler Johnson would then give Spokane a 3-2 lead with a great individual effort on the penalty kill in the early third period. Johnson would knock the puck loose in the neutral zone and while carrying it to the net, would be hooked from behind, drawing a penalty shot. Johnson would convert with a nifty move to the backhand to beat Tri goalie Drew Owsley to make it 3-2 Spokane.
The key moment of the game would follow, as Tri would draw three straight penalties in less than a minute to give the Chiefs a 5-on-3 power play for about a minute. Spokane would have about three total minutes of power play time, but failed to score. This seemed to give Tri some momentum and they would take advantage, scoring on a power play goal with about six minutes to go to tie the game at 3-3. The Ams would then score on a misplay by Chiefs goalie James Reid less than a minute later and steal a 4-3 win over Spokane.
It was a veryyy disheartening loss for the Chiefs, especially since Spokane outplayed Tri for most of the game. The win was Tri's 9th straight, and lifted them into a first place tie with Portland in the division. The Chiefs now find themselves in 4th place in the division, 11 points out of the lead.
After playing one or two games a week for a month, the team will now play four games in five nights beginning Wednesday night at the Arena against Brandon. The Wheat Kings are hosting this year's Memorial Cup and have the kind of team that could earn their way to the Mem Cup with a WHL title. They have a lot of firepower up front and goalie Andrew Hayes already has four shutouts in net this season for the Wheaties.
The Chiefs will then head to Kelowna Thursday afternoon for a Friday night matchup with the defending league champion Kelowna Rockets. The Chiefs went 0-4 against the Rockets last season and will be anxious to get back into the win column against a team that will be in the thick of the league title race again come March.
Spokane will finish the weekend with a home-and-home series with the U.S. Division co-leaders Portland Saturday and Sunday. It's a must win weekend for the Chiefs, who need head-to-head division wins to get back in the race. Spokane has already dropped a home game to Portland and another loss on home ice Saturday would be devastating. The two teams will finish up Sunday afternoon in the Rose City, so a win Saturday in Spokane would give the Chiefs a much needed boost going into the final game of the weekend.
The team will be without forward T.C. Cratsenberg for Wednesday's game as he is serving a one game suspension for a game misconduct and fighting major against Tri. Defenseman Brendan Kitchton is also banged up, but should be back in action by this weekend. Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Letts are still out of the lineup and it should be at least two weeks before the two 20-year-olds are back.
The team sent down goalie Chase Martin this past week and has made newly acquired Michael Tadjedeh the backup behind James Reid. Tadjedeh impressed the coaches with his win against Kootenay two weeks ago and with his practice performances.
Spokane will take on Brandon on Wednesday night at 7pm, Kelowna on Friday night at 7pm, and Portland on Saturday night at 7pm. Sunday's game in Portland will begin at 5pm. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA beginning at 6:30pm on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and then at 4:30pm on Sunday.
Hope to see you at the rink!