Another week...another 4 games for the Chiefs, as the scheduling grind continued for Spokane. Unlike the previous week where 3 of the 4 games were at home, the Chiefs found themselves on the road for 3 out of 4. The week began with Spokane hosting the Calgary Hitmen, the 2nd best team from the Eastern Conference. Calgary was playing their final game of their trip through the U.S. Division, having swept the previous 4 games from the American opponents. The Hitmen had run over Tri City the night before 6-2, so the Chiefs knew they were getting a team on top of their game. Spokane meanwhile was coming off a lackluster effort in a 5-3 loss to Victoria, so there was no doubt the Chiefs had to up their game significantly if they hoped to have a chance.
The early stages of the game indicated that the Hitmen were still on their game as former Chief Brady Brassart scored midway through the first to give Calgary a 1-0 lead. The goal was disputed by Spokane as Calgary's Cody Sylvester ran into Chiefs defenseman Brenden Kichton, knocking Kichton into goalie Eric Williams and putting Williams to the ice. Williams was in no position to get back into position and Brassart scored easily. The referees saw it as incidental contact and no penalty for interference was called and the goal stood as Calgary took the lead to the second.
Sylvester would add to the Calgary lead on a power play goal less than 2 minutes into the period to put the Hitmen up 2-0. The Chiefs didn't hang their heads though, and came charging back midway through the stanza. Dylan Walchuk banged home a rebound from Todd Fiddler and Mitch Holmberg at 9:29 to get the Chiefs back in the game at 2-1. Calgary then took back to back minor penalties to put the Chiefs on a 2 man advantage. Brenden Kichton scored on a slap shot from the point to even the game at two and Spokane seized the initiative from there. Spokane continued to pressure the Hitmen and Carter Proft would score from the slot on his own rebound at 18:49 to give the Chiefs a 3-2 lead after two. Spokane put up 17 shots in the period and finally seemed to be back on their game.
In the third, Spokane got the all important insurance goal when Fiddler scored on a rebound of a Holmberg shot at 10:57 to make it 4-2 Chiefs. Calgary would rally on a goal with the extra skater on and their net empty with 2:11 left. The Chiefs would buckle down defensively and not allow the Hitmen another quality chance in the final 2 minutes despite getting the extra attacker on the ice again, and Spokane held on to a 4-3 win. It was a great bounce back game for the Chiefs after the Sunday loss to Victoria and gave Spokane a lift as they headed out on the road for a 3 games in 4 nights trek through the U.S. Division.
First up were the Everett Silvertips, who had dropped 8 straight, including a 4-1 game at Kelowna the night before. The Chiefs though had lost both meetings in Everett earlier in the season, including a 3-2 decision back on January 4th. In both previous games, Spokane had started slowly, but the Chiefs would reverse that trend this night as they would jump out to an early lead when Cole Wedman's slapper from the right point on a delayed penalty just over 7 minutes in made it 1-0 Spokane. The Chiefs would add to the lead when they would score on their first power play of the night. Alessio Bertaggia, in his first game back since getting injured against Kelowna a month ago, scored on a scrum in front of the Everett net to put Spokane up 2-0. Everett would cut the lead to 2-1 on a Kole Bauml goal with just over 5 minutes left, but the Chiefs would get a momentum building breakaway from Mitch Holmberg on a great steal and pass from Mike Aviani to take a 3-1 lead after one.
Everett would get a chance to cut the lead to one on a power play midway through the second period, but the Chiefs would take advantage short handed as Brenden Kichton put a perfect pass to the tape of Dylan Walchuk, who directed it past Everett goalie Dan Cotton to put Spokane up 4-1. It was a big goal, as Everett would score on that same power play to cut the lead to 4-2 heading into the third period. Farrr better to be up 2 goals than 1 going into the final 20 minutes. Spokane would jump out in the third and take a 5-2 lead when Jackson Playfair made a nice steal, hit Mikulas Rimmel in the slot and Rimmel wristed one past Cotton for his 3rd goal of the year. Bauml would score his second of the night to bring Everett within 5-3, but Bertaggia would seal it with his 2nd goal of the game on an empty netter in the final minute to cap a 6-3 win.
The Chiefs became the first road team to win on the road in the series as they controlled play offensively through most of the contest. It was a nice way to start the 3 game road trip as well, as Spokane headed South to play Tri City, who was sitting 3 points back of Spokane entering Saturday night's game. The two teams had met a week earlier in Spokane, and the Chiefs had skated to a relatively convincing 5-2 win. It had been Spokane's first win over Tri in 4 contests after Spokane dominated the season series early in the year. After winning the first two in Tri, Spokane had dropped the last 2 and were hoping the momentum of the previous night's win would carry over.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the Americans had scored a huge win on the road in Portland Friday and it was obvious from the puck drop which team had more of Uncle Mo on their side on Saturday. The Ams would score just 3:38 into the game when Connor Rankin sent the face-off past goalie Eric Williams to make it 1-0 Tri City. It went nowhere but downhill from there for Spokane. The Americans would score on an odd man rush, a power play and shorthanded in the first to take a commanding 4-0 lead after one. Tri City outplayed Spokane in every phase of the game in the period, and did not let up in the second.
The Ams would put up 2 more goals in the second, the last being a Parker Bowles highlight reel goal as he skated right through the Chiefs defense and tucked one past backup goalie Garret Hughson, who had come on in relief of starter Eric Williams to start the period. It was 6-0 Tri after two periods and the competitive phase of this contest was overrrr. The two teams went scoreless in the third, as Tri City played their 3rd and 4th line players primarily, while Spokane floundered offensively.
It was an embarrassing loss for Spokane as they were neverrr in the game. Tri City outskated, outhit and just wantedd the game more, and it was apparent from the outset. A disappointing outcome in a game that could have put Spokane up 5 points on Tri City going into the final month of the season. Now the lead was just one point over Tri and Victoria as the Chiefs headed West for a Monday afternoon game with the #1 team in the CHL, the Portland Winterhawks. The Chiefs had been shutout in their last two meetings with the Hawks, losing 4-0 in Portland on February 2nd in the two teams last matchup.
Coming off a shutout loss, their third since a January 25th 3-0 blanking at home to the Winterhawks, the Chiefs needed to come out on a muchh stronger note against Portland, much like they had when they beat the Hawks at the Memorial Coliseum January 21st 5-2. Unfortunately, the Winterhawks remembered that loss as well, as it snapped a 20 game winning streak at the Coliseum. Portland came out on Monday and took the game to the Chiefs from the outset, more specifically Taylor Leier did. He scored 2:57 and 5 minutes into the game to give Portland a 2-0 lead. When Shaun McPherson scored late in the first, the Hawks took a 3-0 lead into the second.
Nottt exactly the start the Chiefs were looking for. The second period didn't prove to much better. It did for Portland's Oliver Bjorkstrand and that was the biggest problem for Spokane. Bjorkstrand scored two power play goals in the first 7:04 to put the Winterhawks up 5-0 and ensure a second straight loss for the Chiefs. Spokane did get a glimmer of hope as Bertaggia scored on the power play at 11:03 to get the Chiefs on the board for the first time in close to 8 periods against Portland. Adam Helewka would score his 9th of the year at 14:43 to cut the lead to 5-2, and if the Chiefs could have held Portland off the board the rest of the period, take some hope into the third. Unfortunately, Bjorkstrand wasn't done, as he scored his 3rd of the period at 18:46 to make it 6-2 Portland after two.
Bjorkstrand struck for the 4th time early in the third, and the only thing I could think of was the bus ride home at that point. Mike Aviani would score a nice power play goal from Mitch Holmberg at 12:05 to cut the Hawks lead to 7-3, but another Portland power play goal, their 3rd of the contest late in the game capped a convincing 8-3 Portland win. Not a great way to finish the road swing, as Spokane was outscored 14-3 by their two biggest rivals in their division. It had to be a humbling experience to say the least, and now the Chiefs have a lot of re-examination to do if they hope to move forward and secure the 4th place spot in the Western Conference.
One thing's for sure. The schedule is still going to be as brutal as it has been the last month and a half. Spokane will welcome the defending league champion Edmonton Oil Kings, currently rated #4 in the latest CHL poll on Friday, and then the #7 ranked Kamloops Blazers come to the Spokane Arena on Saturday. Both teams have won 9 of their last 10, with Edmonton the top team in the Eastern Conference and #2 to Portland overall. Kamloops is second in the B.C. Division and 3rd in the West behind Portland and Kelowna. It is going to be a monsterrr challenge for a Chiefs team still missing Tyler King and Jason Fram defensively.
The team called up 16 year old defenseman Colton Bobyk to help with the blue line depth, and give a chance to get Blake Gal back up on the forward lines a little more often than he's been able to the last month. One thing's for sure, Spokane can nottt be putting Edmonton and Kamloops on the power play often, as the Oil Kings are #1 in the league(and #1 on the penalty kill, too), while the Blazers are #2. I just hope the Chiefs get back to the level of early December for this weekend. I'll have the call Friday on 1510 KGA beginning at 6:30pm, while Saturday's game will be on 790 KJRB, with the pre-game at 6:30pm. Puck drop both nights will be 7:05pm and we hope to see you at the rink!