The season's longest homestand was going about as well as the Chiefs could hope after winning 3 of the first 4 games of the six to be played at the Spokane Arena. Spokane had just won back to back games over the Everett Silvertips, but were now facing the two toughest opponents they had faced all season in Kamloops and Portland coming to town on consecutive nights. Kamloops was the #2 team in the CHL and the top rated team in the Western Hockey League. The Blazers had lost only twice in regulation in 20 games entering Friday's contest, and had handled the Chiefs easily in early October, beating Spokane 5-1 in Kamloops.
Kamloops had just lost their previous game, 2-1 to defending league champ Edmonton at home on Tuesday, so the Chiefs were hoping the Blazers would come in on a little low into the Spokane Arena. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, that didn't turn out to be the case, as the Blazers struck just 2:36 into the game on a Jordan DePape shot from the left circle to make it 1-0 Kamloops. That lead looked like it would grow late in the first when Kamloops went on a power play in the final 3 minutes of the period. It was Spokane that would strike though, as Todd Fiddler went on a breakaway while the Chiefs were shorthanded and put the puck past Blazer goalie Cole Cheveldave to tie the game at one. Needless to say, it was a huggeee goal for Spokane to pull even at the end of the first against the top rated team in the WHL.
Kamloops would come right back and strike on the back end of a double minor power play to start the second period. The Chiefs Collin Valcourt took a needless 4 minute high sticking penalty right at the end of the first and set up the Blazers second rated power play to capitalize, which they did when the league's leading goal scorer, J.C. Lipon rifled one over Chiefs goalie Eric Williams from the right circle to make it 2-1 Kamloops. The Chiefs came right back though, as Mitch Holmberg, who was making his first appearance since being taken out on a cheap hit by Everett's Nick Walters on October 26th, scored on a shot from the slot just 19 seconds after Lipon's goal to tie the game at two. Spokane withstood 14 of the 15 Blazer shots in the period and would head to the third period all even at two.
The Chiefs came out in the third and played one of their best periods of the season, which is exactly what they had to do to pick up the 2 points. Defenseman Brenden Kichton fed a cutting Riley Whittingham net front and the rookie scored his first WHL goal 7:30 into the period to give Spokane a 3-2 lead. The Chiefs would strike just 57 seconds later when Cole Wedman scored his first of the season from the right point to make it a 4-2 game. Spokane never let up from there and would cap the 5-2 win when Dylan Walchuk banged home his 6th goal of the year with just 1:36 left. Williams was rock solid in net again for Spokane, turning aside 32 of 34 shots as the Chiefs won their 3rd straight game on the homestand and kept themselves one point back of Portland for first place in the U.S. Division.
Ironically enough, it was the Winterhawks that were next up for the Chiefs the following night. Vancouver had scored a convincing 9-5 win in Vancouver the night before, but having done the all night bus ride from Van to Spokane, I knew the Hawks wouldn't be arriving in Spok until about 6am. It wasn't going to be the best rested Portland team playing the Chiefs and the hope was Spokane would come out with some high energy and put the Winterhawks on their heels. After all, Portland had won their last 10 in a row, and the last thing the Chiefs needed was the Hawks to get things rolling early.
If you could envision a better start for Portland than what the Chiefs saw in the first period, I would hate to see it. The Hawks scored on a deflection just 5:01 into the game to take a 1-0 lead. Oliver Bjorkstrand would score just 19 seconds later on a shot from the left circle and it was 2-0 Portland. The Chiefs would steady the ship midway through the period when Brenden Kichton scored on a backhander at 10:47 to cut the lead in half at 2-1. The crowd was into the game, the team was flying around the ice, and the excitement lasted all of 50 seconds when Taylor Peters took advantage of a breakdown by the Chiefs in their defensive zone and Peters scored on a easy backhander past a sprawled Eric Williams to put Portland up 3-1. All the momentum built by the Chiefs on the Kichton goal went out the window, and the door slammed shut when the Hawks would score on a rebound late in the period to take a 4-1 lead after one.
Williams night would end after the first period, as backup Garret Hughson came on to begin the second. A quick start to the period would have helped Hughson and the Chiefs cause, but an easy goal from the slot just 3:29 into the period put Portland up 5-1. The Winterhawks would put two more past Hughson in the period, while the Chiefs came up empty on two power plays and 9 shots to find themselves buried at 7-1 after two. The third didn't go any better for Spokane, as the team was dysfunctional on offense, and saw the Winterhawks score two more goals in the period to cap a 9-1 rout. The Chiefs actually put up 19 shots in the third, but Portland goalie Mac Carruth never really had to make a spectacular save, and Spokane's power play went 0-7, leaving the team 0-17 in its' last three games.
It was a night to forget in a lot of respects. Portland now had a 3 point lead in the division, a lead they would expand to 5 points after beating Kamloops Sunday in Portland. The Chiefs now have to regroup as they get a week to digest the beating they took at home to the Hawks. Spokane will have just one game this week as they travel to the West Side to take on the Seattle Thunderbirds. Chiefs Head Coach Don Nachbaur and forward Mitch Holmberg will spend part of the week in Canada, where Nachbaur will coach the WHL all-stars in their two games with the Russian Select all-stars. Holmberg will play in game one of the series Wednesday in Vancouver. Both will return in time for the game in Seattle.
It will be interesting to see how the team recovers after Saturday's game with Portland. Hopefully it opened a few eyes on the team that the team still has a waysss to go before being considered one of the elite teams in the league. I'll have the call of Saturday's game on 1510 KGA beginning with the pre-game show at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7:05pm from the ShoWare Center in Kent. The Chiefs will then head home for games with Everett and Tri City and one game in Kennewick over the Thanksgiving holiday. Let's hope the boys get back on their game and we hope to see you at the rink!