Spokane Chiefs Blog: Happy New Year, indeed

Spokane Chiefs Blog: Happy New Year, indeed

Spokane Chiefs Blog: Happy New Year, indeed

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by Mike Boyle "The Voice of the Chiefs"

KREM.com

Posted on January 6, 2014 at 6:51 PM

The Chiefs closed out 2013 like they have the previous 24 years, with a trip to the Tri Cities to face the Americans. Spokane was coming off a split the prior weekend against the Kootenay Ice, while Tri City was swept by first place Portland. The Americans had dropped 6 straight as they had battled through injuries and losses of players to tournaments. Conversely, the Chiefs had won 4 of 5, but were coming off a 2-1 loss at home to the Ice. The New Year's Eve game had rarely gone Spokane's way, as the Chiefs had lost 15 of the last 23 matchups.
 
Slow starts have been a problem for the Chiefs most of the season, and they certainly have been the case in most of the previous New Year's losses, as the Americans have had a knack of getting out quickly in their past wins. On this night though, it was the Chiefs that would get the quick start, in large part due to their power play. Spokane would convert their first power play chance when Mitch Holmberg finished off a great no look pass from Mike Aviani at 12:02 of the first to give the Chiefs an early 1-0 lead. Tri City would put Spokane back on the power play on a delay of game penalty, and Riley Whittingham would score just 57 seconds after Holmberg's tally to put the Chiefs ahead 2-0. Spokane would get a chance to go ahead 3-0 on yet another power play chance, but Lucas Nickles would score shorthanded to bring the Ams back in the game at 2-1.
 
The Chiefs had a 5 on 3 chance for over a minute after Nickles goal, but would fail to capitalize and the period would end with Spokane up 2-1. Neither team would score in the second, as the Chiefs would outshoot the Americans 15-8. At this point, my feeling was that if Tri City scored the next goal, it could be a long third period for Spokane. The Chiefs would avoid that fate though, as Holmberg would notch his second of the night on a great pass from Adam Helewka just over 6 minutes into the third to put Spokane up 3-1. The goal was Holmberg's league leading 39th of the year, 12 ahead of his closest pursuers. The 39 goals also matches his total from all of last season.  It would also turn out to be his 8th game winning goal of the season, tops in the WHL.
 
The goal would be even bigger when the Americans Brian Williams scored on a rebound at 14:18 of the period. Chiefs goalie Eric Williams was excellent on this night, having turned aside several Ams attempts earlier in the game, including a shorthanded breakaway attempt from Phillip Tot that could have tied the game early in the third. Williams would turn away 32 shots on the night and fended off a couple of good shots in the final two minutes as Tri had an extra skater on with their net empty. Spokane would finally wrap it up when Colton Bobyk scored into the empty net in the final seconds to secure a 4-2 win. It was the Chiefs first win on New Year's Eve since 2007 and turned out to be a huge win as the three teams ahead of them in the standings, Portland, Everett and Seattle, all lost on this night.
 
Gaining 2 points on all of those teams on one evening is a rare thing, so the Chiefs were hoping this would springboard them into 2014. Spokane returned home for a three game homestand, starting with back to back weekend games with Victoria and Everett. Victoria was in second in the B.C. Division and with the second best record in the Western Conference behind Kelowna. It was the final meeting of the year between the two teams, as Spokane had swept two games in Victoria, before the Royals won the only previous game in Spokane, by a 4-1 score in mid-October.

The Royals were 21-1 on the season when they scored first, so my mind was a bit more at ease when Markson Bechtold scored his first of the year midway through the first period to give the Chiefs the early 1-0 advantage. Victoria would counter on the power play just under 3 minutes later though and the game was tied at one after the first. Spokane would start the second ready to go as Dominic Zwerger scored his 7th of the year 1:39 into the period to put the Chiefs up 2-1. Cole Wedman would then bang home a rebound of a Connor Chartier shot at 6:20 and suddenly the Chiefs took a 3-1 lead. Victoria would answer on a Taylor Crunk breakaway at 10:27 of the period as Spokane would lead 3-2 after two periods.

Like many teams in the WHL, the Chiefs have been virtually unbeatable when leading after two and they would be again on this night. Mitch Holmberg, who had scored two against Tri City in the previous game, would come alive in the third. He would score his career high 40th goal of the season on a great pass from Mike Aviani midway through the third to give the Chiefs a huge insurance goal and a 4-2 lead. Holmberg wasn't done as he would score from the slot on the power play 2.5 minutes later to put Spokane in control at 5-2. The Royals would score a power play goal in the final minute, but it was too little, too late, as the Chiefs claimed their 3rd win over Victoria in 4 meetings this year with a 5-3 win.

Spokane put up 41 shots in one of their better games of the season, and they needed too as Victoria had their 6 game winning streak snapped. The win also got the Chiefs within 1 point of Everett for second place in the U.S. Division as Spokane entertained the Silvertips the next night at the Spokane Arena. Spokane had won 4 straight this year over Everett, but every game had come down to the third period or overtime to decide the winner. The Chiefs had also won 16 straight from at home over the Tips, dating back to March of 2010.

Saturday's contest would start like the previous 4, with some tight defensive zone coverage and limited offensive opportunities. Fortunately for the Chiefs, goalie Eric Williams was there to turn away 10 Silvertips chances to keep Everett off the board. The Chiefs had some bad puck luck in the first as they failed to score on 19 shots, but had two hit posts, and had one goal waved off when the referee ruled Connor Chartier had prevented Everett goalie Austin Lotz from making a play on Liam Stewart's shot. Instead of a 1, 2 or even a 3 goal lead, the Chiefs found themselves in a 0-0 game after one.
 
It was more of the same in the second period as Everett got the better of Spokane in the shots department 11-7, but Williams kept the Silvertips off the score sheet and the game headed to the third still scoreless. Spokane was able to go on the power play in the final minute of the second and would take advantage of it in the third. Mike Aviani banged home his league leading 17th power play goal of the year at 1:09 of the third to put the Chiefs up 1-0. Everett also drew a penalty for a hit to Aviani at the end of the play, and Spokane would score on a Jason Fram shot at 2:01 on the man advantage to seize a 2-0 lead.

Everett would claw back into the game, scoring on a Carson Stadnyk shot at 3:38 of the period to cut the lead to 2-1. Spokane's Reid Gow then took a double minor penalty late in the period to give Everett a 4 minute power play and they would take advantage on the back half of the double minor, scoring at 15:09 to bring the Silvertips even at 2-2 and send the game to overtime.

The Chiefs got a point blank shot from Stewart in the opening seconds of overtime that could have given him his second OT winner against Everett this year, but Lotz stopped the shot. Spokane took the momentum though and converted when Holmberg came down the right wing and hit an open Aviani net front just 56 seconds into overtime to give the Chiefs a 3-2 win. It was Spokane's 5th in a row over Everett this season and extended the win streak at the Arena over the Tips to 17 in a row over 4 years. That just seems almost impossible to believe, but sure enough, the results are in the books to confirm it. The win also allowed Spokane to tie Everett for 2nd in the division and 4th in conference.

Just as importantly, the Chiefs are now just 2 points back of first place Portland in the division and has Spokane right back in the race for the top spot in the U.S. Division. The Chiefs get a chance to rest and practice this week, as they only have two games this weekend. Spokane will host Kamloops at the Arena on Friday night and then travel to Seattle to take on the Thunderbirds on Saturday. Spokane is a combined 0-4 against these two teams, so the weekend will be a great chance to get a little redemption against them. I'll have the call on Friday's game on 1510 KGA beginning with the pre-game show at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7:05pm. Saturday's game will be on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game on 1510. Times will be the same as Friday, 6:30pm pre-game and 7:05pm puck drop. Here's hoping the Chiefs keep up the good work of last week and we hope to see you at the rink!
 

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