With a brutal 3 weeks of the schedule in the rear view mirror, the Chiefs were battered and beaten up, seeing their team down 5 players as they got a rare week of practice. Getting the practice time was the good news. The bad? Once again the schedule had the Chiefs playing teams towards the top of the league, as Spokane had to travel to Kamloops and Portland on back to back nights. It wasn't bad enough the Blazers and Winterhawks were ranked #1 and #3 in the Conference, but the team had to do the all night drive from Kamloops to Portland and then play on back to back nights. A tall task for any team, but particularly for one that was as short handed as Spokane.
First up were the Blazers, a team that had got off to a great start, with a 14 game winning streak and had been challenging for the top of the league much of the season. Kamloops had struggled for much of the past month, but seemed to be turning things around in the last week. Spokane had lost the first outing in Kamloops in October, falling behind 3-0 before they knew what hit them, so a better start was certainly at the top of the list to have any chance at a win on Friday. The Chiefs had a better beginning to this contest but fell behind 1-0 late in the first on a Tim Bozon goal while getting outshot 13-8.
Bozon's line with Colin Smith and Kale Kessy were just getting started with that first goal, as the three would absolutely dominate the Chiefs on this night. It overshadowed a great effort by Chiefs forward Mitch Holmberg, who went for this 3rd hat trick of the season. Holmberg would get his first of the night as Spokane scored on their first power play 35 seconds into the second period to even the game at one. Kamloops roared right back though, as J.C. Lipon and Kessy scored just over 5 minutes apart midway through the period to put the Blazers up 3-1. Holmberg would come back with a breakaway at 13:45 to get Spokane within 3-2. Kessy would score his second of the period on a power play tally late in the second to give Kamloops a big insurance goal and a 4-2 lead heading into the third.
The Blazers would score another power play goal at 1:30 of the third to seize command of the game at 5-2. Smith would put the game on ice with Kamloops 6th goal midway through the 3rd to make it 6-2 Blazers. Holmberg would get his hat trick on a rebound at 10:19 to bring the Chiefs within 6-3, but Bozon would counter with his 2nd of the night, and the Blazers third power play tally of the game to put Kamloops up 7-3. Blake Gal would cap the scoring for the Chiefs with a great end to end goal late in the third to finish off the 7-4 defeat. Gal had been forced into defensive duty as Jason Fram had gone down when his leg jammed into the boards midway through the second period.
It was just the latest injury blow to a team that is already looking like a MASH unit. With Tanner Mort and Tyler King already out, the defense is now short a man. Add to it 3 forwards, and the team has zero healthy scratches to its' lineup. This was the challenge the team faced after the brutal all night drive to Portland to face a Winterhawks team that had lost just 7 times in regulation in over 50 games. The last time the two clubs met, the Hawks had handed the Chiefs their first shutout in 102 games with a 3-0 win on January 25th. The game marked the 5th time the two had played since January 11th, with the two clubs splitting the 4 games.
The Chiefs returned back to the Memorial Coliseum, where they had beaten Portland 5-2 on January 21, snapping the Winterhawks 20 game winning streak in that building. It certainly seemed the Hawks had remembered that result when they came out in the first period, as they dominated the Chiefs in every facet. Fortunately for Spokane, goalie Eric Williams kept the team in the game as he turned away 20 of 22 shots in the period as Portland took a 2-0 lead after one. Taylor Leier scored on a rebound top shelf on the Hawks 16th shot, and then Brendan Leipsic tipped a shot on the power play on Portland's last shot of the period with 17 seconds left. The biggest problem for Spokane was the total lack of offense, as the team put up a season low 1 shot in the first.
Fortunately for Spokane, the team woke up offensively in the second period, getting off 12 shots on Portland goalie Mac Carruth. The Winterhawks put up 17 of their own though, and would score the only goal on Leipsic's second of the game just 1:05 into the period to carry a 3-0 lead into the third. The Chiefs would actually outshoot the Hawks 13-9 in the third, but once again, it was Portland that got the only goal on an Oliver Bjorkstrand rebound of his own shot late in the period to cap a 4-0 Portland win. It marked the second straight shutout by the Winterhawks over the Chiefs and extended Spokane's losing streak to a season high 4 games.
The Chiefs have now fallen 3 points behind Tri City for 4th in the Conference and the last home ice spot in the first round of the playoffs, which begin in a month and a half. Spokane now has just a 2 point lead over Victoria for 5th, so Spokane better figure out how to get back on the winning track, or they could find themselves in 6th by the end of the week. Spokane will host 2nd seed Kelowna Wednesday at the Arena at 7:05pm, before heading to Cranbrook, B.C. to play the Kootenay Ice on Friday at 6pm. The Chiefs then return home for games with Tri City on Saturday at 7:05pm and Victoria on Sunday at 6:05pm. It's a hugeeee weekend for the team, as it could literally make or break the team's playoff chances of making a good run in the post-season. Seeding plays a large part, not to mention momentum, something the Chiefs seriouslyyy lack right now.
I'll have the call on 1510 KGA for Wednesday, Friday and Sunday's games. Saturday's game will be on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game. The pre-game shows will start things off a half hour before puck drop. Let's hope the team gets healthy and gets back to it's winning way...or it could be a longgg week. I hope to see you at the rink!