With a split in Prince George, the Chiefs took the longggg overnight trek to Everett to face the division rival Silvertips for the first time. Spokane had a lot of success against the Tips last year, winning 8 of 10 meetings, with one of the two losses in overtime. Everett came into the game on a roll though, having won 3 straight to close out their trip through the WHL's Eastern Division. The Chiefs were still without forwards Blake Gal and Marek Kalus, and defenseman Tanner Mort. What made it even more difficult was minor injuries that were popping up and a couple of players came down ill on the ride down from Prince George. It was definitely going to be an 'all hands on deck' mentality for the team as they took on the Silvertips.
The start of the game went about as badly as you could ever script in a Hollywood picture. Everett scored just 3:33 into the contest to take a 1-0 lead. It became 2-0 just under 4 1/2 minutes later and it looked like it was going to be a longggg night for Spokane. Then the game took an ugly turn midway through the period. The Chiefs Mitch Holmberg was receiving a pass at his own blue line and had to turn his head backward to receive the pass. Everett's Nick Walters took a running start and buried his shoulder squarely in Holmberg's face as Holmberg started to turn up ice, sending Holmberg violently to the ice. The hit knocked Holmberg out, breaking his nose and leaving a trail of blood on the ice as Holmberg tried to stagger off the ice. Dylan Walchuk came to the defense of his teammate and squared off with Walters.
My reaction at the time was, the Chiefs were going to get either a 5 minute power play on the major penalty pre-meditated hit to the head, or 3 minutes minimum if Walchuk was given a 2 minute minor for an instigation for starting the fight with Walters. Welllll, Walchuk did get the 2 minute instigation and Walters? A 2 minute roughingggg minor. I saw there was nooo penalty going on the board on Everett, and there would be no power play for Spokane. I was...and stillll am...lost for words. Everyone...and I mean everyyy singleee person in the building saw the hit was exactlyyy what the league is trying to eliminate, except the two referees on the ice. So now Spokane was without its leading scorer for the rest of the game...and longer, Walters got to play the rest of the game, and the Chiefs did not get the power play it deserved. How bad was the non-call? The next day the WHL suspended Walters and eventually handed out a 3 game penalty. The Chiefs will be without Holmberg for longer than that, so 3 games is extremelyyyy light. But he did get a suspension, which was deserved. Now my question is, how are the officials held accountable for this badly handled non-call that resulted in an injury? Wish I had an answer to that one.
Everett kept their momentum going with their 3rd goal of the period on a shot that changed direction from the right point late in the first, but the Chiefs would respond with their first goal of the night when Connor Chartier would score his first of the year on a rebound at 17:16 of the period to make it a 3-1 game. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Everett's Kole Bauml would score just 16 seconds after Chartier's goal to put Everett up 4-1. It would lead to the end of the night for Eric Williams in net as Garrett Hughson entered the game at that point.
Down 3 heading into the second period, Spokane came out and killed off a Everett power play and then struck when Reid Gow's shot found the net at 2:38 of the second to make it 4-2. Bauml would strike for his second goal of the game just 3:03 later thought, and the Silvertips were up 5-2. Another Everett goal midway through the second would put Everett up 6-2 after two periods, and it looked like the Chiefs were 20 minutes from their second straight loss on the road trip.
Spokane came out a different team in the third. Walchuk would tip a shot in at 5:14 to cut the lead to 6-3. Just 39 seconds later, Todd Fiddler backhanded one in while falling to the ice to make a 6-4 game. Suddenly there was hope for Spokane to complete an improbable comeback. The Chiefs then got a power play chance midway through the third, but were unable to score. Spokane would draw within one though when Fiddler would notch his second of the night at 15:54 to get the Chiefs within 6-5. Hughson would stop a penalty shot with just over 3 minutes left to keep it a one goal game and Spokane would pull Hughson in the final minute and a half, but would be unable to get the equalizer as Everett held on for the 6-5 victory.
It was a greattt comeback for the Chiefs, and the hope was the momentum built in the final 20 minutes in Everett would carry over to a showdown with the Chiefs biggest rival, Tri City, the next night in Kennewick. The team was once again without Holmberg as they faced an Americans team that had lost the night before in Seattle. Tri had won 5 of 6 before that though on their Eastern Division trip to take over first place in the division, as they enjoyed a 2 point lead over Spokane entering the game.
The question as to whether the good finish would carry over into Tri City was quickly answered in the first. Spokane would take the early lead on Jackson Playfair's first WHL goal at 15:34 of the first period to take a 1-0 lead. The Chiefs would get their only power play of the first, and as it turns out, the entire game, just over a minute later. Spokane would use all but one second of the power play before Mike Aviani scored his 8th of the year to give the Chiefs a 2-0 lead heading to the first intermission. It was a great start for Spokane, and Aviani's goal gave the Chiefs a big 2 goal cushion.
The lead would expand to 3-0 midway through the second when Todd Fiddler scored his 3rd goal in his last 2 games on a steal and slap shot, and the Chiefs would take that 3 goal edge into the third period. As you would expect, Tri City came out ready in the third and had Spokane on their heels after scoring 4:53 into the period to make it 3-1. From that point on, it became the Eric Williams show for the Chiefs as he would turn aside 16 of 18 Tri City shots in the third, as the Ams outshot Spokane 18-2 in the third. Tri would get within one on a goal with an extra attacker on after pulling goalie Eric Comrie, but the Ams would get no closer, as Williams made a couple of hugeee stops on point blank shots in the final seconds to preserve a 3-2 Chiefs victory.
Talk about a huge win. With everything adversely that had hit Spokane, the Chiefs had got back on their game in time to win their 3rd straight over their division rival and draw themselves into a first place tie with the Americans in the division. Now Spokane was heading home to open their longest homestand of the season, 6 games, as they hosted Seattle just 3 days later at the Spokane Arena. Like it seems with everyyy team the Chiefs have been facing lately, the Thunderbirds were on a roll themselves. Seattle was coming off winning 2 of 3 games over the weekend, and the lone loss had been in overtime to the league's best team, Kamloops. Both of the Chiefs previous 2 meetings with Seattle had been tight games, and there was no reason to expect anything different this time around.
Boy was I in for a surprise. Spokane came out in the first period and played their best 20 minutes of hockey I've seen this season. The Chiefs skated hard, were physically winning battles for the puck, active with their sticks and played their systems to near perfection, and it would be reflected on the scoreboard. Spokane would score on their first power play of the night when Mike Aviani scored on a rebound at 9:11 to make it 1-0 Chiefs. Just 1:14 later, Tyler King's shot from the point got past Seattle goalie Branden Glover and it was 2-0 Spokane. The Chiefs would kill off Seattle's second power play of the period, and just 7 seconds after the kill, Fiddler would pick off a pass at the Spokane blue line and score on a breakaway to put the Chiefs up 3. The fans had barely got done celebrating the goal song when Carter Proft poked in his second goal of the year 15 seconds after Fiddler's goal to lift the Chiefs to a 4-0 lead. Fifty five seconds later, Liam Stewart scored on a rebound to cap the 5 goal explosion, and Spokane was firmly in control with a 5-0 lead heading to the second.
There was no letup in the second as Fiddler scored his second of the night, and 5th in 3 games, with a power play goal just 57 seconds into the period to make it 6-0. Seattle would spoil the shutout for Williams on a Luke Lockhart goal at 6:50, but Spokane still led 6-1 after two periods. Midway through the third, Brenden Kichton, and then Mike Aviani, scored 1:26 seconds apart to blow the game open at 8-1. Aviani would finish with 4 points on the night with 2 goals and 2 assists. A later power play goal by Seattle would cap the scoring at 8-2, and Spokane would skate off with their 7th straight win at home, and in sole possession of first place with 22 points.
It was a great start to the homestand as all elements of the Chiefs game came together. Now the big question is, will Spokane be able to sustain it while still without 4 of their top players. The rookies and second year vets are having to step up their games and have done so for the most part, but now consistentcy will be the watch word for Spokane. The Chiefs will continue the homestand with games at the Arena against Red Deer Friday and Everett on Saturday. The Silvertips will be back on Tuesday as Spokane will have 3 games as well next week. All games will be at 7:05 pm, and I'll have the call on 1510 KGA beginning with the pre-game show at 6:30pm. We hope to see you at the rink!