Spokane Chiefs Blog: Flying out of the gates
Posted on October 1, 2013 at 2:06 PM
After a veryyy brief 2 weeks off from baseball, and I use the term 'off' loosely here, another Spokane Chiefs season is upon us! Unlike most past seasons though, the team started off with 4 games in week one. Over the past several seasons it's been 2 to 3 games tops, so I was interested to see how the boys would respond to having play that many games in the week. The team was also having to replace their leading scorer, Brenden Kichton, as well as leading goal scorer Todd Fiddler, and veterans Blake Gal, Dylan Walchuk and Alessio Bertaggia, all of whom were 5 of the top 8 scorers on the team. The good news was Spokane had both goaltenders Eric Williams and Garret Hughson back between the pipes, and returned 5 of their top 6 defenseman from a year ago. Throw in veteran forwards Mitch Holmberg, Mike Aviani, Liam Stewart and Connor Chartier, and the Chiefs were far from barren in contributors from last season. Now the big question was how were the vets going to adapt to their expanded roles?
The answers would come quickly in the season opener in Tri Cities on Saturday the 21st. The two teams had met 3 straight times in the pre-season, with Spokane winning 2 of the encounters. The Chiefs didn't take long to seize control of the teams' 4th meeting as Chartier scored on a rebound just 5:30 minutes into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. The goal would unleash the Chiefs on a 4 goal outburst in 5:49 to seize a 4-0 lead. Mitch Holmberg started a huge week for himself with back to back goals to make it 3-0, then Liam Stewart converted a great Chartier feed at 11:19 to cap the goal scoring in the first for the Chiefs. Tri City would bounce back with a power play goal in the first, then another tally midway through the second to cut the lead to 4-2.
Spokane then took back control of the game with two goals in the final 1:59 of the second period. Mike Aviani tipped in a Reid Gow shot to make it 5-2, then Holmberg capped off a hat trick with a rebound of a Jason Fram shot with just 4 seconds left to leave the Chiefs firmly in control at 6-2 after two periods. Instead of laying back and resting on the laurels of a 4 goal lead in the third, Spokane continued to put the pressure on in the third. Despite not scoring, the Chiefs held Tri City off the board by limiting opportunities as Spokane outshot the Americans 11-6 in the period and rolled their way to an opening night 6-2 win. It was a great start to the season, and certainly gave the boys a lift as they headed North of the Border for 2 games with the Victoria Royals.
Victoria was coming off splitting a home and home series with Vancouver, with the loss in the Royals home opener, so you kneww they would come out ready to go in front of the home fans. The Chiefs came out just as determined though and the two teams went back and forth until Spokane broke through on their first power play chance of the game. Once again, it was Holmberg, who scored his 4th of the year at 9:22 of the first to give the Chiefs the 1-0 lead. Blair Oneschuk then scored his first WHL goal on a rebound at 15:06 to make it 2-0. Victoria would score on the power play with just 45 seconds left in the period to get them within 2-1 and seemingly give the Royals the momentum going into the second. Spokane would come right back though as Aviani hit an open Jeremy McIntosh on the backdoor of the Royals net with just 11 seconds to go and the Chiefs would take a hugee 3-1 lead to the intermission.
That goal had to be a backbreaker for Victoria and a huge boost for the Chiefs and it carried into the second. Carter Proft blasted a shot from the slot at 11:49 of the second to put Spokane ahead 4-1. The Royals answered back just 45 seconds later to cut the lead in half at 4-2 as the two teams went to the third period. Spokane, much like they had in Tri Cities, came out and dominated the third and pulled away from the Royals. Holmberg scored his 2nd of the night and 5th in 2 games at 8:38 of the period to make it 5-2 Chiefs. Adam Helewka would cap the scoring with a nice goal on a 4 on 3 power play at 13:02 and for the second consecutive game, Spokane scored a 6-2 win. Once again the team got out to a lead, then responded to the home team's rally to win it. Another question would be answered the next night, and that was how would the boys handle their success of the night before, when the Chiefs faced the Royals again on Wednesday the 25th.
The early answer was...not so good. Victoria jumped alll over the Chiefs in the first period, at one point outshooting Spokane 10-2. The Chiefs would end up getting the final 3 shots of the period, and fortunately for Spokane, Mike Aviani would net a rebound on the Chiefs only power play of the first to give Spokane a 1-0 lead after one. Garret Hughson was razor sharp in the first, as he was a hugee reason the Chiefs had the early lead. The power play would continue to serve the Chiefs well in the second period, as Holmberg would score his 6th of the season, and Aviani his 2nd of the night to hand Spokane a 3-0 lead going into the third.
Connor Chartier would score at 7:39 of the third to make it a 4-0 lead, and then Aviani netted the team's 2nd hat trick in 3 games with his 3rd of the night as he converted a Holmberg pass to score shorthanded at 11:59 to put the game on ice at 5-0. Victoria would break up Hughson's shutout bid at 13:17 on a power play marker, but Aviani capped a career high 4 goal, 5 point night with the final tally of the night at 16:42 to secure a 6-1 Chiefs win. It ended a bannnerrr road trip to start the season, as the Chiefs outscored their opponents 18-5 in the three road wins, for their first 3-0 start since the 2007-08 season. Spokane now hoped the offense would keep it rolling as they headed back to the Spokane Arena for the home opener against the Americans on Saturday.
For the 4th straight game, the Chiefs penalty kill gave up a goal, but for the first time, Spokane fell behind in a game as Connor Rankin converted on Tri's first man advantage just 3:29 into the game to give the Ams a 1-0 lead. The Chiefs turned up the offense as the period went along, but failed to score on Tri City goalie Eric Comrie despite outshooting the Ams 13-7 in the first. It was more of the same in the second, as Comrie stoned the Chiefs on their first 8 shots of the period. Holmberg though would finally solve Comrie with a deceptively slow shot with just 30 seconds left in the second to tie the game at one heading into the third. It was a tremendouslyyy big goal for Spokane as they finally got rewarded for outshooting the Ams 22-10 through 2 periods.
Once again the third period would prove to be an all-Spokane affair, as the Chiefs would outshoot the Americans 16-6 in the third. Cole Wedman would force a key turnover in the neutral zone. Mike Aviani picked up the loose puck, leading a rush up ice. Holmberg followed the play, took Aviani's pass and snapped his league leading 8th goal of the year past Comrie at 4:25 of the third to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead. The lead was endangered late in the third when the Ams Justin Gutierrez got free net front and put a point blank shot on goal. Goalie Eric Williams made the stop of the night, swallowing up the puck and preserving a 2-1 Chiefs win. Spokane would end up outshooting Tri City by a whopping 38-16 margin in securing their 4th straight win to start the season.
It's the first 4-0 start for the team in over a decade, and for his efforts, Holmberg was honored as the WHL's player of the week. Holmberg scored 5 goals and 5 assists in the three games with Tri City and Victoria that consisted of the WHL week. Holmberg is leading the league with 8 goals and 14 points and with Aviani have combined to be the top scoring twosome in the WHL. The Chiefs now face their most formidable test of the early season as they head back on the road for two games this week. Spokane will begin at defending league champ Portland Wednesday and finish the week at Everett, who is unbeaten after their first two contests. The Chiefs will truly get a barometer of where they stand early in the season after those 2 games. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA beginning with the pre-game shows at 6:30pm, and the puck drops at 7:05pm. Hope you get to tune in!