Posted on December 10, 2012 at 7:52 PM
Thursday, Jan 9 at 11:33 AM
The longest road trip of the season finally came to a close last weekend, as the Chiefs headed to Brandon, Manitoba and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to finish up their 6 game tour of the Eastern Division. Spokane had gone 4-0 with wins at Swift Current, Regina, Prince Albert, and Saskatoon, matching the most wins the team had ever acquired on an eastern trip, matching the 1995-96 team. The Chiefs looked to beat the record with their first win in Brandon in 12 years against a Wheat Kings team that always seemed to find a way to beat Spokane over those last 6 games in Manitoba. I had never called a win in Brandon, the only building in the league I had not called a Chiefs victory, so I was hoping that would change on Friday.
After a rare day off the ice and taking the bus from Saskatoon the day before, the Chiefs came out ready to skate in the first against the Wheaties. Jason Fram shot a puck off the end wall and Collin Valcourt snapped home the shot from the slot 6:54 into the game to put the Chiefs up 1-0. Brandon would draw back even as a shot from the slot by John Quenneville brought out the bears on the ice on teddy bear toss night with 4:39 left in the period. The two teams hit the intermission early because the goal came with less than 5 minutes in the first, and the break seemed to let the Chiefs re-group. Dylan Walchuk found Mitch Holmberg net front and Holmberg's backhander at 18:42 gave Spokane a 2-1 lead after one. The two teams went right into the second period, but neither team was able to score as Chiefs goalie Garret Hughson was hardly tested as Spokane outshot Brandon 10-6 in the period.
Walchuk would get a huge goal from the right circle at 4:41 of the third to give the Chiefs a 3-1 lead early in the third. Brandon would close the gap to 3-2 on a goal at 13:19, but Hughson would keep the Wheat Kings at bay, stopping 19 of 20 shots in the period. Spokane would answer the Wheat Kings goal when Holmberg would score his 2nd of the night on an Adam Helewka pass at 14:25 to put the Chiefs back up 4-2. Holmberg would then find Mike Aviani for an empty net goal in the final minute to wrap up the Chiefs fifth straight win on the road trip with a 5-2 victory. It was a history making win for Spokane, their 5th in a row on the swing, and season high 6th straight. The win also brought the Chiefs within 2 points of first place Portland in the U.S. Division, as the Hawks fell at home to Tri City. Spokane then headed down Highway 1 to Moose Jaw to try to close out an unbeaten Eastern Division trip.
The Warriors had dropped a tough game in the final 10 seconds the night before at home to Red Deer and the Chiefs were hoping they'd still feed a bt down going into Spokane's first game at the new Mosaic Center. The old Civic Centre, known as the 'Crushed Can', has been torn down and replaced with as nice a facility in the Western Hockey League. The new building seemed to fit the Chiefs just fine, as Carter Proft snapped a shot from the left wing just 3:41 into the game to make it 1-0 Spokane. Holmberg then notched his 3rd goal in the last 2 nights at 7:16 of the period to stake the Chiefs to a 2-0 lead after one. Spokane had a couple more shots hit off posts in the first, so the lead could have been even greater for the Chiefs as they outshot the Warriors 10-4, including a 9-1 margin to start the game.
As well as the first period went for Spokane, the second was the exact opposite. For the first time since the Prince Albert game, the Chiefs suffered a 3 goal streak by the opposition. Moose Jaw would score 3 goals in the first 8:21 to erase the 2-0 Spokane lead and take a 3-2 advantage. The first two goals came just 16 seconds apart as defensive mistakes and a failure to cover the puck by goalie Eric Williams led to a 2-2 game. Former Tri City American Jordan Messier would beat Willams to the far side from the right wing to complete the comeback for Moose Jaw. The Chiefs then killed off 2 straight Warrior power play chances to stay in the game, and then 9 seconds after the second penalty kill, Reid Gow drilled one top corner from the left wing at 18:19 of the second to bring the Chiefs even at 3 after 2 periods.
No doubt, Gow's goal was a huge one for Spokane. The Chiefs really carried the play offensively in the third, outshooting the Warriors 11-3 and spending the majority of the period in the Moose Jaw end of the ice. Unfortunately for Spokane, the Warriors scored on one of their 3 shots as Morgan Reilly's shot from the left wing beat Williams to the glove side and Warrior goalie Justin Paulic turned away a great chance by Holmberg late to preserve a 4-3 Moose Jaw win. It was a tough loss to swallow, as Spokane had clearly outplayed Moose Jaw for all but about 10 minutes of the 60 minute contest. It also ended the trip on a sour note as the team then hit the road for a 12 hour bus ride with a loss.
In the big picture though, the team did go a franchise record best 5-1 in the East, earning 10 of a possible 12 points. It was the best road trip the team has ever had, and the team ended the journey just 4 points out of first in the division. Now the team returns home for 3 games in the division before going into the Christmas break as the first half of the regular season comes to a close. The Chiefs will host Seattle Friday night, Tri City on Saturday in the annual teddy bear toss game, and Portland the following Tuesday. All the games will begin at 7:05pm, with the pre-game shows at 6:30pm. Friday and Tuesday's games will be on 1510 KGA, with Saturday's game at 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga basketball game. Let's hope the boys finish the first half in a flourish and we hope to see you at the rink!