Hope everyone had a good holiday. The Chiefs got a well deserved break before heading back into the schedule with five games in eight days.
After finishing the first half of the season schedule with disappointing home losses to Portland and Seattle, the Chiefs looked for a little revenge against the Winterhawks in the first game back from the break. Things looked good early on too, as Spokane jumped out to a 2-1 lead after one. Anthony Bardaro got things started with a great individual effort just over two minutes in, as he took the puck down the right win and deked his way to the back hand net front to make it 1-0. After Portland tied it up midway through the period, Kenton Miller snapped a shot from the right circle to make it 2-1 Spokane. Both Miller and Bardaro had been playing real well before the break, and it was good to see them carry it over after being off for eight days.
Levko Koper would convert a Mitch Wahl face off win from the left circle just 41 seconds into the second period to make it 3-1 Spokane. Portland would score a power play goal seven minutes later, but Corey Baldwin would put home a wrist shot from the left point at 13:33 of the period to make it 4-2 Spokane after two. It was Baldwin's first WHL career goal and he got some help from Portland goalie Ian Curtis who misplayed the knuckleballing puck off his leg pad and in the net. All the Baldwin and the Chiefs knew was that it went in and Spokane had a two goal lead into the third.
Instead of coming out and putting the Hawks away, the Chiefs took the foot off the gas pedal and watched Portland score three goals in the third to steal a 5-4 win. Stefan Schneider's goal with just over four minutes left sealed the game as Portland outshot Spokane 16-8 in the third. It was a giveaway loss for Spokane as the Chiefs fell two points back of the Hawks for second in the division.
Fortunately for the Chiefs, they got a chance at revenge two nights later in Portland. The team left the day before a major snow storm hit the Portland area on Tuesday. Unfortunately, I got to drive through it as I had to work at KREM on that Monday when the team left. Let's put it this way...it took me an hour to go seven miles...and that was good. I got to the Rose Garden about 5:40..40 minutes later than I normally do, but it turns out I was early. When I arrived there were no officials, and only three Portland players, as they were all stuck in traffic. The game ended up being delayed nearly two hours, but the two teams were able to play in front of about 1,000 die hard fans.
Spokane fell behind just five minutes into the game, but despite being outshot 12-6 in the first period, managed to tie the game at one as Kyle Beach took a Mitch Wahl pass in the slot and scored his team high 25th goal of the season.
The second period didn't go so well for the Chiefs, as Portland got goals from Brad Ross and Ryan Johansen to take a 3-1 lead after two. The line with Ross, Johansen and Oliver Gabriel scored the first three goals of the game after dominating the Chiefs in the previous game.
Spokane would edge their way back in the third. Blake Gal's power play goal off a rebound of a Kenton Miller shot would make it a 3-2 game just over four minutes into the third. Spokane would come back and even things at three as Beach scored his second of the game on a Wahl pass midway though the period. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the comeback fell short as Johansen scored his 2nd of the night on a rebound of a Ross shot with just over two minutes left to give Portland a 4-3 win. The loss was Spokane's fourth in a row, the longest losing streak of the year, as the Chiefs dropped four points back of Portland.
After a nearly all day journey back from the aftermath of the winter storm that hit Oregon the day before, the Chiefs then headed to Tri-Cities to face the division leading Americans in the annual New Year's Eve tilt. The Chiefs knew it would be a difficult test, especially against a team that had won six in a row coming in.
The start of the game was a disaster for Spokane, as Neal Prokop scored just 14 seconds into the game to give the Ams a 1-0 lead. Tri would score again eight and a half minutes later, and just like that, it was 2-0 Tri. The Chiefs would battle back though, as their #1 penalty kill in the WHL scored a short handed goal from Koper after a Beach steal at center ice later in the first to make it 2-1 Tri after one. The Chiefs penalty kill was outstanding, going 4-4 in the period on their way to a 7-7 performance against the #5 power play unit in the league in Tri.
The second period was pretty even, but uninspired from both sides as neither team looked ready to seize the game. Tri would get the second goal of the game from Prokop midway through the period though and take a 3-1 lead. Then the Ams scored a back breaking goal with just 14.9 seconds left in the second to take a 4-1 lead. It was a goal that goalie James Reid misplayed and it seemed to just take the life out of the Chiefs.
Spokane would get Koper's second goal of the night with just over five minutes left in the game to make it 4-2, but an empty net goal sealed the win for Tri at 5-2. The Chiefs fifth straight defeat left them 13 points back of Tri as they got ready to head to Vancouver in a rematch of last year's Western Conference Semifinals.
It rained the entireeee time in Vancouver, and the team was just hoping that wasn't a preview of their game with the Giants. The start was less than encouraging though, as a Vancouver power play goal just over six minutes in made it 1-0 Giants.
Spokane would come back just over three minutes later and Beach found Wahl open in the right circle and the Chiefs center man snapped one top shelf to tie the game at one after one. Spokane would utilize the power play to take the lead in the second as Jared Spurgeon one timed a Wahl pass on a 4-on-3 advantage late in the period to make it 2-1 Spokane after two.
The third period belonged to goalie Michael Tadjdeh, who turned away all 15 Vancouver shots to help the Chiefs snap their five game losing streak. Tadjdeh stopped 35 Giants shots in relief of Reid in his third straight quality start.
Spokane took the momentum of that win into Seattle the next night against the Thunderbirds. The Chiefs had lost their last game to the T-Birds in the final game before the Christmas break and were anxious to get some revenge.
It was yet another slow start for the boys, as Seattle put up two goals in the first period to take a 2-0 lead after one. Spokane would answer in the second. Steve Kuhn, who was the player of the game for the Chiefs, took a Jared Spurgeon pass on the right wing and drove net front to shove the puck through the pads of Seattle goalie Calvin Pickard to make it a 2-1 game.
Spokane would tie the game later in the second as Ryan Letts deflected a Brett Bartman shot for his second of the year. The Chiefs would complete the comeback as Kenton Miller rebounded a Spurgeon shot net front at 18:48 of the second to make it 3-2 Spokane after two.
Tadjdeh and the Chiefs defense shut the door in the third, as the Chiefs goalie stopped all 12 T-Birds shots and ended up with 37 saves in Spokane's second straight win. It was a great finish to the road trip. as the boys went 2-2 on the four game swing.
It was also great to see guys like Tanner Mort, Mike Aviani, T.C. Cratsenberg, Dominick Uher and Reid Gow get significant playing time and contribute. One negative of the game was the team losing forward Matt Marantz for 6-8 weeks with a broken leg after he slid hard into the boards early in the 2nd period. It's a tough break, literally, for Marantz, who has been a solid player all year in his rookie season.
The Chiefs will get some good news later this week when the team welcomes back Stephan Ulmer, Jared Cowen and Tyler Johnson from the World Junior Championships. Brady Brassart and Mitch Holmberg will also be coming back from the Under 17 World Challenge, so the team will be full strength for a three games in three nights stretch over the weekend.
Spokane will open the week with a matchup with the Saskatoon Blades, who have the best record in the WHL, on Tuesday night at the Arena. The Chiefs will then host Chilliwack Friday and division leading Tri-City on Saturday. Spokane will finish the week with a road trip to Everett on Sunday. It's a key test for the Chiefs and will show what the team needs to address before the trading deadline on Sunday.
I'll have the call on the Saskatoon and Chilliwack games on 1510 KGA beginning at 6:30pm on Tuesday and Friday. Saturday, the Chiefs will be on 105.7FM beginning at 6:30pm due to the Gonzaga game on 1510. Sunday, I'm back on 1510AM at 4:30pm for the 5pm start in Everett.
It should be an interesting week for the boys...we'll see you at the rink!