With a 3 game sweep of Seattle under their belts, the Chiefs hoped the momentum of the week would carry over on the road as they headed out to face the hottest team in the WHL, the Portland Winterhawks. Portland had won 12 straight entering the game, and 31 of their last 33 contests. That's almost hard to imagine winning that many games in a row. The Hawks also had an impressive 20-3 mark at home and had not lost on home ice in over 2 months. This was the great challenge that faced Spokane as they took the ice at the Rose Garden.
Friday's game also marked the debut of defenseman Stewart Coyle, who was acquired in a trade with Vancouver earlier in the week. The other Chief acquired in trade, forward Alessio Bertaggia, would not be in action until the following week due to visa issues. Spokane would start backup goalie Garret Hughson in order to give Eric Williams a rest. It proved to be a wise choice, as Hughson was razor sharp in the first period, turning away 12 of 13 Portland shots. The only one to get by him was Nick Petan's back door cut at 14:59 of the period. Spokane would come back thanks to simultaneous Portland penalties late in the first that gave the Chiefs a 2 man advantage for 2 minutes. Brenden Kichton would convert at 19:01 with his 13th of the year to tie the game at one after the first.
Despite being outshot 15-11 in the second, it was the Chiefs that got the best of the play in the second period. The Chiefs would also get the only tally as Todd Fiddler put home a rebound of a Dylan Walchuk shot at 5:14 to give Spokane a 2-1 lead after two. Hughson was again excellent in the second and knew he would have to be starting the third. Fiddler was assessed a double minor at the end of the period, giving the Hawks a 4 minute power play to begin the stanza. Spokane was perfect on the penalty kill though, as they frustrated the 6th rated power play in the league and kept the lead after the Portland power play.
At this point, the crowd was restless, and the Winterhawks frustrated. The momentum was with the Chiefs and the team was less than 15 minutes from pulling the upset. The game would turn on a Spokane turnover by Coyle behind his own net, which Chase DeLeo took and banked off defenseman Cole Wedman's leg into the net at 6:44 to tie the game at two. You could feel the momentum turn, and when Portland got a power play chance less than 5 1/2 minutes to go, I could see it coming. The Hawks scored just 13 seconds into the power play to take the lead and the roof caved in.
Portland would score just 17 seconds after the power play tally to make it 4-2, and then would score again 1:22 later to cap a 5-2 win. Three goals in 1:39 to snap a 2-2 tie. It doesn't take long for Portland to jump all over teams when they get things rolling. It was a tough loss to swallow, especially as well as Hughson played in goal. The Chiefs were outshot 41-26 and in the end, when you're outshot that much, your chances of winning are slim to none.
The team didn't have much time to wallow about the game as the Chiefs headed home to face the third hottest team in the league, the Kootenay Ice. Kootenay had won 7 in row, just behind Kelowna's 8 straight, coming into the game. The Ice had not lost since the Chiefs had shut out Kootenay 1-0 back on December 28th in the first game back after the holiday break. Kootenay had humbled Spokane 7-3 the next night at the Spokane Arena to jump start the Ice current win streak, so Spokane was hoping to cool the Ice off in Saturday's meeting.
Spokane got off to a greattt start in the first period, as the Chiefs outshot the Ice 18-7 in the first. Mitch Holmberg appeared to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead midway through the period, but Mike Aviani was cited for goalie interference and the goal was waved off. No penalty was called on the play, and on the replay Aviani was nowhere to be seen in the crease. Fortunately for the team, they didn't dwell on it. Spokane would get the only power play chance in the game as it turns out, as Aviani was tripped up by Kootenay goalie Mackenzie Skapski. Just 19 seconds into the power play, Holmberg converted a Brenden Kichton pass to make it 1-0 Spokane. Kichton would then score on a delayed penalty call in the final minute and a half of the period to put the Chiefs up 2-0 after one, as Spokane was in firm control of the game after 20 minutes.
Kootenay would burst that less than 4 1/2 minutes into the second with a goal to cut the lead in half at 2-1. Holmberg would answer with his second official goal of the night at 13:13 to put the Chiefs back up 3-1. The Ice would come right back though as they would score just over 3 minutes later to pull within 3-2 after two periods. After dominating in the first, the Chiefs suddenly found themselves in a tight game headed to the third as Kootenay carried the momentum into the final 20 minutes.
The third was a pretty tight defensive battle, but Spokane would break through midway into the period when Dylan Walchuk's shot from the left wall found its way in at 9:04 of the third. It would prove to be the decisive blow, as goalie Eric Williams shut down all 9 Ice shots in the period to wrap up a 4-2 Spokane win. It was a great bounce back for the Chiefs after the tough loss the night before, and it brought to an end the Kootenay 7 game streak. Now the team will get a chance to rest for a few days before heading back on the road.
The team will now head to Kelowna to take on the Rockets, who just saw their 8 game streak snapped at Vancouver in overtime, as the two teams met in B.C. on Wednesday night at 7pm. It's the start to a home and home series as the two teams return to the Spokane Arena Friday night at 7:05pm. The Tri City Americans will follow to the Arena on Saturday night at 7:05pm and then the Chiefs head back on the road Monday afternoon at 3pm at Portland. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA on Wednesday and Friday starting with the pre-game shows at 6:30pm. Saturday's game will be on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game, with the pre-game again at 6:30pm. Monday's game will be back on 1510 with the pre-game at 2:30pm for a rare matinee performance by the Chiefs on the road.
It's another challenging week for Spokane as the Chiefs find themselves playing one of the top teams in the league every night for about a month long stretch. The team will no doubt see how it stacks up over the next few weeks, and will get a lot of questions answered about o. With back to back home games this weekend, we hope to see you at the rink!