Spokane Chiefs Blog: Early Christmas gifts
Posted on December 17, 2013 at 10:55 PM
I once heard a saying that dinner was always better when victory was on your plate. I don't recall where I was when I heard that saying, but it certainly rings true, especially with the Chiefs heading into the Christmas break this past week. Spokane has been struggling in the win-loss department over the past 3 weeks, playing just below .500. The hope was the team would finish the first half strong and go into the second half of the season with some momentum. Spokane would wrap up the first half hosting Everett and Prince George and travelling to Everett over a 5 day span. The Chiefs struggles had left them 8 points back of 2nd place Everett in the U.S. Division standings and had seen Spokane fall to 4th place. The two meetings against Everett were a great opportunity to get the Chiefs right back towards the top of the standings.
Spokane had won the previous two matchups against the Silvertips in close games back in October. One area the Chiefs have struggled with all year is getting off to a good start in the first period. That deficiency was pretty consistent in the team's up and down play through November and early December. On this night against the Silvertips, Spokane would change that pattern as Mitch Holmberg would notch his league leading 34th goal of the season at 15:55 of the first to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead. Jeremy McIntosh would then follow at 17:47 with his 3rd of the year and the Chiefs would take a 2-0 lead into the second period.
Spokane didn't rest on its' laurels in the second as Dominic Zwerger, in his first game back since getting hurt in Lethbridge in early November, stole the puck at the Chiefs blue line and scored on a breakaway at 4:19 to give Spokane a 3-0 lead. Just when it looked like the Chiefs were going to blow it open, Everett scored just 50 seconds later to cut the lead to 3-1. Zwerger was called for a trip in the last minute and a half of the period, on a call that was flat out missed, to give Everett the power play. Zwerger had nearly fallen down and while getting up on his feet, a Silvertip had tripped on his own accord over Zwerger while going off on a change. Zwerger was called for the penalty on an awful call and Everett took advantage, scoring on the power play with just 9 seconds left in the period to bring the Tips within 3-2 after two.
That swing in momentum would carry over into the third when Everett would score on an odd man rush at 8:19 of the period to tie the game at three. Spokane had killed off 3 of 4 Everett power plays in the game, while having zero power plays. That would change late in the third. After a holding call on the Tips, Mike Aviani would bang home a rebound net front through the pads of Everett goalie Austin Lotz at 16:12 of the third to put the Chiefs back on top 4-3. It was Aviani's league leading 14th power play goal of the year and would prove to be the game winner as Holmberg would cap a 3 point night with his 2nd goal of the game on an empty netter at 19:38 to wrap up a 5-3 Chiefs win.
It was a great start to the week and the Chiefs got a couple days off to prepare for Prince George on Saturday. It was the annual Teddy Bear toss night and the one thing you like to do is to get that first goal quick and then concentrate on the game. In last year's game, the Chiefs didn't score until there was about 3 minutes in the game, so the team was hoping to avoid that fate in this year's tilt. It wouldn't be a concern in this year's game. Much like the previous game against Everett, Spokane got a goal from Holmberg to start things off as he scored just 4:35 into the game on a rebound of his own shot to make it 1-0. The teddy bears flew at this point, delaying the game for about 10-15 minutes.
The fear is the delay would kill any momentum the Chiefs got from the early lead, but Adam Helewka would score on the power play at 10:21 to put Spokane up 2-0. McIntosh would then notch a goal for the second straight game at 12:28 to put Spokane up 3-0. Aviani then capped a 4 goal first for the Chiefs with another power play goal at 14:08 on a great pass from Holmberg and the Spokane was in control 4-0 after one. Fifteen shots and a 2 for 4 power play performance were a big part of the first and it was one of the best first periods the team has played all year.
As good as the first was, the second was as bad. The Cougars would score 3 goals in 6:33, two of them from former Chief Todd Fiddler, to cut the lead to 4-3 after two. What had once looked like a rout was now going to be a nail biter. The Chiefs would get the biggest goal of the game from an unlikely source as rookie defenseman Jeff Rayman, in just his 8th game of the year, scored from the blue line at 9:15 of the third to give Spokane a 5-3 lead. Holmberg would then score his league leading 37th of the season and cap a 4 point night with his second of the game at 14:06 and the Chiefs came out with a 6-3 victory. Spokane put home 3 power play goals and put up 36 shots in securing their second straight win of the week.
The toughest task was still ahead for Spokane as they headed West on Sunday to Everett to face the Silvertips for the second time in 5 days. The last time the Chiefs played the Silvertips in Everett, Spokane needed an overtime goal from Liam Stewart to win 1-0. Stewart wasn't on this trip, playing for Great Britain in the World Junior tournament. The team was also still without Reid Gow, who was out for a second straight week with injury. For the third straight game, the Chiefs would jump out to first period lead when Tyler King scored his first goal of the year at 9:22 of the first to put Spokane ahead 1-0 after one.
Goalie Eric Williams would keep the lead for the Chiefs as he turned away Everett's Josh Winquist net front on a spectacular save as Spokane turned away 3 Everett power plays in the first two periods and held the 1-0 advantage after two. Zwerger would steal the puck early in the third and feed Aviani for his 26th goal of the season at 6:17 to put the Chiefs up 2-0. Williams and the defense would do the rest, as Williams got his second shutout of the Silvertips this year, turning aside all 29 Everett shots. It was a great end to the first half of the season, as Spokane heads into the break on a three game winning streak, and have moved within 2 points of Everett for second in the division and third in the conference.
The Chiefs 3 twenty year olds, Holmberg, Aviani and Williams have quite simply been the best group of 20 year olds in the WHL. Hopefully those three will keep up their sterling play in the second half, and the younger players elevate their games to help the Chiefs make a run towards the top of the division. Spokane is now off until December 27th when they open a home and home series with the Kootenay Ice. The two teams head to Spokane the following night on the 28th before the Chiefs wrap up the calendar year of 2013 with the annual trip to Tri Cities on December 31st. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA on Friday the 27th with the pre-game at 5:30pm and the puck drop at 6pm. Saturday the 28th the game is on 790 KJRB with the pre-game at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7:05pm. I hope everyone has a great holiday season and we hope to see you at the rink after the holidays!