Spokane Chiefs Blog: Chiefs slide into holiday break
Posted on December 20, 2012 at 12:17 AM
After completing their most successful road trip East in franchise history, the Chiefs returned home to play the final 3 games of the first half of their 2012-13 season at home at the Spokane Arena as they hosted U.S. Division rivals Seattle, Tri City, and Portland. Spokane had moved within 6 points of first place Portland and had also cracked the CHL Top Ten poll for the first time this season at #9. It was a key stretch for Spokane as they hoped to head to the 9 day holiday break on a positive note.
First up were the Seattle Thunderbirds on Friday, a team Spokane had beaten 3 straight times after losing the series opener between the two. The Chiefs looked like they would make it 4 in a row early, as Dylan Walchuk scored just 3:35 into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Seattle would quickly bounce back midway through the period when the Chiefs took back to back minor penalties 5 seconds apart. The Thunderbirds would score on both their 5 on 3 and 5 on 4 power plays to take a 2-1 lead after the first. Despite outshooting Seattle 15-9 and having 3 power play opportunities, the Chiefs found themselves down after 20 minutes.
The second period didn't get any better, as the Thunderbirds got their second goal from Luke Lockhart, a shorthanded tally just 49 seconds into the stanza, to go up 3-1. The Chiefs bounced right back as Riley Whittingham sent a Marek Kalus pass into the back of the net at 1:57 to bring Spokane within 3-2. Seattle would score on a rebound at 11:16 and then converted a 2 on 1 rush at 13:24 to take a commanding 5-2 lead into the third period. The Chiefs were in disarray at this point, making wayyy too many defensive mistakes and not working within their offensive system hardly at all. When Seattle's Connor Honey scored 1:27 into the third to put the T-Birds up 6-2, it looked like the rest of the game would be used for Spokane to build some momentum for their following night's game with Tri City.
The Chiefs started to get things going offensively when Seattle got back to back penalties early in the third. Mitch Holmberg scored from the left circle on the 5 on 3 at 8:09 to cut the lead to 6-3. Spokane failed to score on the 5 on 4, so a golden opportunity went by as the Chiefs still trailed by 3. Later in the third, Spokane got another power play chance, one of 4 in the period for the Chiefs. Once again Holmberg would strike, as he scored his 2nd of the night at 14:31 to make it a 6-4 game. Now the crowd was back in the game and the Chiefs really fed off of that momentum. Kalus would then get his second assist of the night as Holmberg completed the natural hat trick at 17:09 to get Spokane within 1 at 6-5.
What looked like a lost cause now was a game within grasp. The Chiefs would pull backup goalie Garret Hughson, who had come in for starter Eric Williams at the beginning of the third, and bring on an extra skater in the final minute and a half of the contest. The move would pay off as Mike Aviani would take a Holmberg feed net front and bang home a rebound of his own shot with 55 seconds left to tie the game at 6. It was a miraculous comeback that the Chiefs would hope to become complete in overtime. In the OT, Holmberg would get a chance to end it on a breakaway, but Seattle goalie Branden Glover would turn the shot away to keep the game going. Lockhart then had a chance to end it less than a minute later with two point blank chances, but Hughson came up big to send the game to a 3 round shootout.
In the shootout, Holmberg scored in the first round for the Chiefs. Connor Sanvido would coutner for Seattle to tie it 1-1 after the first round. Todd Fiddler and Seattle's Seth Swenson were both denied in round 2 to send it to the decisive 3rd round. Chiefs Captain Brenden Kichton scored on his shot, and then Hughson turned aside Roberts Lipsbergs attempt to give Spokane a 2-1 shootout win and the 7-6 win. It was the greatest comeback I had ever called with the Chiefs, so it had to rank amongst the best comebacks in franchise history. It was also the first win as a head coach for assistant Jon Klemm, who is filling in for Don Nachbaur while he is off coaching with Team Canada at the World Junior tournament.
It was a greattt start to the final week of the first half of the season, as the Chiefs then turned their attentions to their rivals, the Tri City Americans. Spokane had knocked off Tri in 4 of 5 previous meetings, and were hoping the momentum of the previous night's victory would carry over on Saturday. Spokane came out ready in the first, as they outshot the Americans 15-7 in the period, but Ams goalie Eric Comrie turned aside every Spokane chance as the two teams were scoreless after one. The game remained scoreless after two as both teams failed to score on the only 3 power play chances generated by the two teams in the second.
It became a case of who would blink first in the third, and it would be the Chiefs. A defensive breakdown would leave Tri City's leading scorer Justin Feser wide open net front and he would convert at 2:03 of the third to make it 1-0 Tri City. Tri would strike again at 4:47 on a Malte Stromwall goal and a 2-0 deficit looked like 10-0. Spokane's offense kicked into gear and the Chiefs would outshoot Tri 14-6 in the period, but Spokane wouldn't get past Comrie until 16:41 when Reid Gow brought out the teddy bear's for the annual Teddy Bear Toss. Spokane would lift Williams in the final minute and a half, but despite unrelenting pressure in the Ams zone, Spokane wouldn't find the equalizer on this night as Tri came away with a 2-1 win.
It was just Spokane's 3rd home loss in 16 games, and left the Chiefs 10 points back of division leading Portland going into Tuesday night's game at the Arena. It was the first meeting with the Winterhawks since Portland had humbled Spokane 9-1 in the two teams first meeting in early November.
Unfortunately, it looked like another rout in progress in the first half of the first period as Portland struck for goals at 6:29 and 10:14 to take a quick 2-0 lead. This night though, the Chiefs would fight back. Todd Fiddler notched his team leading 24th goal of the year at 14:31 to cut the lead in half at 2-1. Mitch Holmberg would follow with his 23rd of the year at 18:17 to even the game up at 2 after the first.
Portland's Nick Petan scored his second straight goal of the game 11:50 into the second to give the Hawks a 3-2 lead. Back would come Spokane again as Blake Gal scored from the slot at 16:35 to tie the game at 3 heading into the third period. The Chiefs outshot Portland 15-8 in the second and would outchance the Hawks 14-7 in the third, but Spokane would fail to take advantage of the offensive opportunities. Portland's Adam DeChamplin scored on one of Portland's few quality chances in the third at 10:40 off the rush to give the Hawks a 4-3 lead. Spokane would pull goalie Eric Williams in the final minute, but would fail to get a puck in the net as the Chiefs suffered their second straight loss at home for the first time this season.
It was an extremely disappointing end to the first half, as Portland was down four of their leading players to the World Junior Tournament. The last two losses dropped the Chiefs 12 points behind the Winterhawks in the division and just 4 ahead of Tri City for third. Now the team is looking at 5 of their first 7 games after the holiday break on the road, so there will no margin for error if they hope to challenge Portland for the top spot in the division. The Chiefs will still be without Coach Nachbaur until early January, so the team will have to rally behind Acting Head Coach Jon Klemm and Assistant Kevin Sawyer and right the ship before it's too late. The Chiefs will open the second half with a home and home series with the Kootenay Ice on Friday, December 28th in Cranbrook before coming back to Spokane on Saturday the 29th. The Chiefs will then head to Tri Cities for their annual New Year's Eve tilt the following Monday. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA with the exception of the Tri City game, which will be on 790 KJRB. I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas, and we'll see you at the rink the end of the month!