Spokane Chiefs Blog: Weathering the storm
Posted on February 13, 2013 at 12:01 AM
Updated Monday, Nov 11 at 11:10 PM
It's that time of year when the season gets to be a little bit of a grind for teams in the Western Hockey League, and it's certainly been that way for the Chiefs of late. It seems the team is playing 4 games a week on average, and when you throw in the travel, let alone the injuries the team has been facing, it's a nightly battle for survival for the team. Spokane was hanging tough in the Western Conference playoff picture, entering last week in 5th place in the conference, just a point back of Tri City. Spokane was looking at another difficult week as they welcomed Kelowna, Tri City, and Victoria to the Spokane Arena, while travelling to Kootenay in a 4 games in 5 nights stretch, including 3 straight over the weekend.
First up were the Kelowna Rockets, whom the Chiefs had lost 2 straight the last time the teams met in mid-January. The Rockets were the hottest team in the WHL, having not lost a game in regulation since December 16th, going 17-0-2 over their previous 19 contests. Spokane was also in the middle of their longest losing streak of the season, having dropped 4 straight, including two games at Kamloops and Portland the previous weekend. With all of this coming into the game, I don't think anyone could have forecast what was to follow in the first period.
The Chiefs jumped on the Rockets from the start, as the team got a goal from rookie Riley Whittingham scored at 5:29 of the first to put the Chiefs up 1-0. Mitch Holmberg would follow quickly at 6:51 with his 31st of the year to make it 2-0 Spokane. Goalie Eric Williams was making the lead stand up as he turned away 10 Rockets shots in the first and the Chiefs would add to the lead on a Mike Aviani goal off a give and go with Todd Fiddler late in the period and Spokane would lead it 3-0 after one. It was a stunning start to the game and I was expecting the Rockets to shoot themselves back into the game in the second.
Kelowna tried, as they put up 14 of their 33 shots in the period, but once again Williams was equal to the task, as he kept all 14 of the tries out of the Chiefs net. Spokane would strike again midway through the second on a Fiddler breakaway from Brenden Kichton and Aviani at 9:33 to go up 4-0. Kichton would then score on a slapper from the blue line on the power play at 10:52 to put the Chiefs up 5-0 after two periods and effectively put the game away. Williams and the defense did the rest as the Rockets failed to score on their last 9 shots of the game and Williams notched his third shutout of the year with a 5-0 win. It was a well deserved win, as the Chiefs controlled all phases of the game and it was a huge bounce back from the disappointing road trip the weekend before.
Now the big question once again was, could the team sustain this type of performance the next game? The Chiefs headed North to Cranbrook, B.C. for their only road game of the week as they took on the Kootenay Ice. The trip would begin the first three games in three nights stint for the Chiefs this season. Spokane will only have two such outings all season, as they will also finish the regular season with a three in three with Tri City and Portland. The last time the Chiefs and Ice met up, Spokane snapped Kootenay's 7 game winning streak with a 4-2 win in Spokane January 12th. There was no doubt the Ice wanted to get a little payback on the Chiefs after that loss and it would become apparent in the first period.
Kootenay would snap a scoreless game late in the period as Jon Martin scored on a rebound of his own shot to make it 1-0 Ice. Levi Cable would take advantage of some shoddy Chiefs defense and come in open down the right wing to score on a rebound of his attempt less than 3 minutes later to put Kootenay up 2-0 after one. In the second period, the Chiefs would absolutely dominate the 20 minutes, outshooting the Ice 18-8. Spokane would break through midway into the stanza when Mitch Holmberg scored on the power play to cut the lead in half at 2-1. Despite controlling the puck in the Kootenay end practically the entire period, Spokane would get no more and would continue to trail 2-1 after two.
The third period was abysmal from the first shift for the Chiefs, as the Ice would score just 54 seconds in to go up 3-1. Spokane would generate all of 2 shots in the third, as the Ice scored again at 8:02 of the period to cap off a 4-1 win. The result was such a let down, not just from the game before, but from the previous period, as Spokane was in position to take their second straight of the week and from the Ice, but instead the Chiefs found themselves pondering how to bounce back the next night against the rival Tri City Americans. Spokane had lost 3 straight to the Americans, and now found themselves a point back of the Ams in the division after Tri City had won their game against Everett earlier in the week. Fortunately for the Chiefs, Tri had lost Friday at home to Victoria, who pulled themselves past the Ams and Chiefs into 4th in the Western Conference.
So the weekend was shaping up to be a huge one for Spokane as they had the chance to move themselves into 4th with a pair of wins over Tri and Victoria on back to back nights at home. The Chiefs came out in the first period and went back and forth with the Americans until getting on the board on a Riley Whittingham power play goal at 17:56 to lead 1-0 after one. Whittingham would tally again in the second for his first multi-goal game of his career to give the Chiefs a 2-0 lead after two. Now the big concern was whether Spokane would come out in the third like they had the previous 40 minutes or like the third period the night before.
Spokane couldn't have asked for a better start as Connor Chartier's rebound just 25 seconds into the third put the Chiefs up 3-0. Spokane then went on the power play with a chance to make it a 4 goal lead, but instead coughed up the puck in the Ams zone and saw Lucas Nickles go the other way for a shorthanded goal to cut the lead to 3-1. Goalie Eric Williams would steady the ship though as he made a couple of big saves to keep it a 2 goal lead. Adam Helewka then gave the Chiefs some relief with a breakaway goal midway through the third to make it 4-1 Spokane. Tri City would move within 4-2 late in the period, but the Chiefs would seal the game on a Mike Aviani empty net goal in the final minute to put away a 5-2 victory.
The win moved Spokane past Tri City in the standings and tied them with Victoria for 4th in the conference with 66 points. Now the showdown was on between the Chiefs and the Royals as the two would meet Sunday in Spokane's final game of the week. There was no doubt the biggest question for Spokane would be how much would be left in the tank against a Victoria team that had the night off and were well rested. It didn't take long to find out that the Royals had far more in the legs as Jaime Crooks scored just 2:09 into the game to put Victoria up 1-0. The Royals would strike again at 7:08 to take a 2-0 lead. Victoria then got a 4 minute power play to just about put the game away, but the Chiefs would strike back on a Dylan Walchuk shorthanded goal in the final minutes of the period to cut the lead to 2-1 after one.
I thought the Chiefs would get a bit of an energy boost with the Walchuk goal and come out in the second with a burst, but it was the Royals who did so as Crooks scored shorthanded just over 5 minutes into the second to give Victoria a 3-1 lead. The Royals would then score on their only power play of the period to take control at 4-1 going into the third. Mitch Holmberg would score on a rebound just 3.5 minutes into the period to bring the Chiefs within 4-2, but another Chiefs turnover in the offensive zone led to an Austin Carroll goal at 7:40 to put Spokane in a 5-2 deficit. Adam Power's first WHL goal would get the Chiefs to 5-3 midway through the period, but that was as close as Spokane got as Victoria secured their first win over Spokane in 6 tries.
Victoria now leads the Chiefs by 2 points for 4th in the Western Conference with 5 weeks left in the season. Spokane owns a point lead over Tri City for 5th as these 3 teams will battle for those three spots down the stretch. Spokane has yet another tough week on the schedule, as they play 4 games in 6 nights beginning with a home date against the Calgary Hitmen on Wednesday at the Spokane Arena. Calgary has gone 4-0 on their U.S. Division trip thus far and are coming off a dominating 6-2 win at Tri City the night before. The Chiefs will then head out on a 3 games in 4 nights road trip through the U.S. Division with games at Everett, Tri City and Portland Friday, Saturday and Monday.
Wednesday's game will be at 7:05pm, as I'll have the call on 1510 KGA beginning with the pre-game show at 6:30pm. We're back on 1510 Friday with the pre-game at 7pm and puck drop at 7:35pm. Saturday's game from the Tri Cities will be on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game, with the pre-game at 6:30pm and start at 7:05pm. Monday's game will be a matinee President's Day contest with a 2:30pm pre-game on 1510 and the puck drop at 3:05pm. Unlike this past week, 3 of the 4 games are out of Spokane, so matching the 2-2 performance from this past week will be a difficult task. Spokane will need to do at least that though if they hope to keep pace with both Victoria and Tri City in the playoff chase for the final home ice spot in the first round of the playoffs though. Let's hope the boys have it in them and we hope to see you at the rink this week!