Is it just me or does the off-season get shorter every year? It just feels like a few weeks ago I was writing about the Chiefs just falling short to Portland in the Western Conference Finals. We all know that was back in May though, and that the careers of Tyler Johnson, Levko Koper, James Reid and Jared Cowen have come to an end. With their exits, the last remaining parts of the Chiefs Memorial Cup run in 2008 departed, beginning a new era in Chiefs history. Their years in Spokane have been the finest four year run of success in franchise history and now the questions begin again about how will Spokane fare in 2011-12.
Like the fans, I'm as curious as anyone. I always look forward to seeing how the veterans have improved and changed from the previous year and what new guys find their way on to the roster.
Spokane returns a number of players from last season, particularly up front with Dominick Uher, Matt Marantz, Steve Kuhn, Blake Gal, Anthony Bardaro, Mitch Holmberg, Collin Valcourt, Marek Kalus, and Mike Aviani leading the way. Darren Kramer, who was drafted by Ottawa in the June draft, still has not returned to Spokane, and being 20-years-old this season, may have the possibility of being sent by the Senators to their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, NY. The Chiefs are in a wait and see mode right now on that front. Defensively, Brenden Kichton, Tanner Mort, Corey Baldwin, Davis Vandane, Reid Gow and Cole Hamblin all return. In net, Mac Engel goes from backup to starter. So there's a very good nucleus of players that went through the wars last season for Spokane.
In goal, the battle is on for the backup spot between Luke Lee-Knight, who was acquired in a trade with Prince Albert for defenseman Tyler Vanscourt, and rookie Zach Rakochy. Defensively, former first round pick Tyler King, Jason Fram, and Cole Wedman will be fighting for playing time and a chance to stay on the roster. With nine defensemen on the roster now, I can't imagine the team keeping that number deep into October. Up front, Connor Chartier, who saw some playing time at the very end of the regular season last year, Liam Stewart and Cody Nelson will more than get the chance to prove themselves. I'm intrigued by the newcomers and am looking forward to see how they pan out in these first couple of months.
The season started last Saturday on a veryyy warm day in the Tri-Cities. The two teams opened up last season in Tri, and it turned into a 6-3 nightmare loss night for the Chiefs as Spokane gave up four goals in the first period and were never really into the contest. Getting off to a quick start was definitelyyyy on the minds of the Chiefs as they took on a Tri City team that had knocked off Spokane in the two teams final three exhibition games. The Chiefs had struggled to score in all three contests against the Americans, so Spokane was hoping to change that in the season opener.
It looked like the Chiefs would do just that as Anthony Bardaro skated through the Ams defense while Spokane was on the power play to slip one through the pads of Tri goalie Ty Rimmer to make it 1-0 Spokane after one. It was a great first road period for the Chiefs as they withstood the Ams early flurries, then took over possession of the puck and took the crowd out of the game in the first 20 minutes.
The second period started much the same way for Spokane, but midway through the period, Bardaro took a careless tripping penalty and the Ams took advantage, scoring just 16 seconds into the man advantage on a Justin Feser blast from the blue line to tie the game on one. The game would then swing less than a minute later when the Chiefs Dominick Uher took a 5 minute major for a check from behind penalty and draw a game misconduct. Now the Chiefs were down another forward, and had to try to kill off five minutes of a Tri-City power play. The penalty kill started off well for Spokane and in fact, the Chiefs broke out of their zone on a 2-1 at one point, but failed to score. To make matter worse, Corey Baldwin took a two minute minor for slashing at the pads of Rimmer on the save, and the Chiefs now had to kill a two minute 5-3 Tri-City power play. The Ams scored just 11 seconds into the 5-3 to take a 2-1 lead after two and take the momentum into the third period.
In the third, Spokane played fairly even with the Americans until a slashing minor midway through the period on Brenden Kichton put Tri back on the power play. Just like they had in the second, the Ams converted as Connor Rankin banged home a rebound 1:05 into the man advantage to make it a 3-1 game. The Chiefs had a final chance to draw within one late in the contest. After pulling goalie Mac Engel, Spokane's Mitch Holmberg had a golden opportunity from the left side to bury a chance, but missed, and the Ams took the rebound and buried an empty net tally to seal a 4-1 win.
There's nooo doubt the special teams decided this contest, as Spokane went 1-4 on the power play and just 3-6 on the penalty kill. There is also nooo doubt that the Chiefs will have to be a lottt better on special teams when the two teams meet again in the Chiefs home opener on Saturday night at the Spokane Arena. Spokane will be without forward Dominik Uher, who drew a three game suspension for his major penalty in Tri-City, so Spokane will have to find a way to generate more offense than the one goal they put up in the opener.
I'll have the call for Saturday's home opener on 1510 KGA beginning at 6:30pm, with the dropping of the puck around 7:15pm. I'll have a weekly recap blog everyyy week here on KREM.com, as well as a blog of all the Chiefs road games on the Chiefs home page, Spokanechiefs.com. Look for the Behind the Scenes icon there. I'm looking forward to bringing you all things Chiefs this season!