Week 2 of the second half of the season for the Chiefs would turn out to be a lot less demanding on the club as opening week, as the team had to only play two games over a weekend, as compared to 4 games in 5 nights that greeted Spokane the first week back from the Christmas break. Spokane had split the 4 games with Seattle and Tri City, winning both home games against the Thunderbirds and Americans, while dropping a pair of one goal losses on the road in Kent and Kennewick. The frustrating part about the defeats was the Chiefs could have...and probably should have..won both games. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they ended up .500 for the week and failed to gain any ground on the three teams they were chasing in the U.S. Division; Everett, Portland and Tri City. Spokane would enter their weekend in 4th place, but just 5 points back of first place Everett, 4 back of Portland and 2 behind Tri City. Meantime, Seattle was just 2 points back of the Chiefs, leaving just 7 points separating the top from the bottom of the U.S. Division.
The Chiefs were still without Kailer Yamamoto and Filip Kral, who were leading their teams to the bronze medal game of the World Junior Tournament. Yamamoto's USA team would take the bronze with a 9-3 win over Kral's Czech Republic squad on Friday. While the Chiefs teammates were facing off in Buffalo, Spokane was home Friday for their next to last meeting of the season with Portland. After losing the first 5 matchups with the Winterhawks this season, the Chiefs had won the last meeting in Portland 6-3 on December 16th. Spokane was hoping to make it 2 in row as the team welcomed back forward Jeff Faith from the injured list. The team came out in the first and played perhaps their best period of the season. The Chiefs scored on the power play of the first as Ethan McIndoe's rebound goal just 5:55 in made it 1-0 Spokane. Tyson Helgesen would score again for the Chiefs less than 4 minutes later to make it 2-0, and when Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored on a power play in the final minute of the period, Spokane would take a 3-0 lead after one. The Chiefs out shot Portland 23-5 in the first as Spokane dominated puck possession and offensive chances.
Portland would come out in the second and score early to cut the margin to 3-1, but the Chiefs would score on a Zach Fischer power play goal 8:32 into the period to go up 4-1. The Hawks would answer with a Cody Glass goal at 8:32 to get within 4-2. Spokane would come right back with a Jake McGrew goal, his second straight game with a tally, at 13:26 to go back up 3 at 5-2. Hudson Elynuik would score off a 4 on 4 situation with 2:01 left in the second to give the Chiefs a 6-2 lead after two. Elynuik would then get credit for his second goal of the night in the first minute of the third. Elynuik drew a delayed penalty, leading Portland to pull their goalie for an extra skater. Glass' pass in his offensive zone was behind his teammate Ryan Hughes and the puck hit off the side wall at center ice and slid all the way into the Hawks net to give Spokane a 7-2 lead. Portland would get one gasp on the score sheet midway through the third to make it 7-3, but the Chiefs had Anderson-Dolan score his second of the game to give Spokane an 8-3 advantage. Rookie Luke Gallagher would cap off a 9-3 win with his first career goal in the final 4 minutes as Spokane got their second straight win over Portland.
The Chiefs out shot Portland 50-19, while going 3-4 on the power play and a perfect 2-2 on the penalty kill. The win also moved the Chiefs up the division standings as Spokane pulled into a 3rd place tie with Tri City. Spokane was now just 3 points behind first place Everett and 2 back of Portland for 2nd. The Chiefs hoped to move even further up the standings as they headed out Saturday to start a 3 game road trip at Seattle. Spokane had just been in Seattle the week before, losing a tough 5-4 game after leading 4-2 after two periods. The Chiefs came out determined to change that result, as they out shot the Thunderbirds 11-2 in the early going, The power play, which had been so good the night before, would be Spokane's undoing on this night, as the team failed to cash in on 4 chances in the first. Generally when you look a gift horse in the mouth, it costs you and it would do so to the Chiefs on this night. Seattle would score on a Donovan Neuls rebound in the final 2 minutes of the first period to take a 1-0 lead after one.
The second period would'nt start any better for Spokane as a shot from the blue lined glanced off the glove of Chiefs goaltender Dawson Weatherill and into the net to make it 2-0 Seattle. It was an uphill battle from there for Spokane. The Chiefs would cut the lead in half on Jaret Anderson-Dolan's team leading 22nd goal of the season at 12:44 to bring Spokane within 2-1. That was as good as it got for the Chiefs. Seattle would see Neuls score his second of the game on the power play late in the second to give the Thunderbirds a 3-1 lead after two. Another power play goal for Seattle early in the third would cap off a 4-1 decision as special teams were the difference on this night. The Chiefs would end up 0-6 on the game, while Seattle was 2-5 on the man advantage as the Thunderbirds won their second straight over Spokane in Seattle to take a 3-2 series lead. More importantly, the Chiefs are now tied with Seattle for 4th place in the U.S. Division with 45 points, just 4 back of first place Portland.
The Chiefs have now played 40 of their 72 game season, and the team has managed to be about as much like a rollercoaster as a team can get. Spokane has had one 3 game win streak and one 3 game losing streak. Otherwise, it's been a couple wins followed by a couple losses or a win-loss back and forth scenario like it's been the past month. Spokane just finished off a 13 game stretch through the U.S. Division, going 7-6 in that time. Outside of back to back wins on December 15 & 16, the Chiefs have gone win-loss for every two games since December 1st. Nothing like consistent .500 hockey. While it's meant the team has kept pace in the playoff race, it also means the Chiefs aren't gaining any ground either. A tough schedule awaits this team in January, so Spokane better figure out a way to win 4 or 5 in a row at some point, or they'll find themselves fighting to just get into the playoffs. The maddening thing about thattt scenario is this team is muchhh better than that. The inconsistent play has to change if the Chiefs truly want to contend in the West.
Spokane has dropped three in a row on the road, and they hope to change that this week as they finish the three game road trip at Kamloops Tuesday and Kelowna Wednesday. The Chiefs then return to open a 5 game home stand as they host Prince George Friday and Everett on Saturday. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday's games are on 1510 KGA with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm and the puck drops at 7 pm. Saturday's game will be on 94.1 FM the Bear due to Gonzaga basketball, but the times will be same as the previous 3 games of the week. The team will welcome back defenseman Filip Kral and forward Kailer Yamamoto from the World Juniors at some point, so let's hope the team takes a step up heading into the final 2 months of the season. We hope to see you at the rink!