If there's a tougher league to travel in than the Western Hockey League, I'd like to see it. The amount of miles covered by the 22 teams in the WHL from the end of September to the middle of March is astounding...and all of it by bus! I think it's fair to say the Chiefs have more than given their fair share in the travel department this season, and there's still a month to go in the season.
Spokane put in 4 games in 5 nights, with the final 3 over 3 nights over the past weekend. The Chiefs got to face the other 4 teams in their U.S. Division as well, giving the adventurous fan a chance to see every team in the division in the space of 5 nights. First up would be the division leading Portland Winterhawks, who had a 5 point lead on Spokane entering the contest. It was the last time the Hawks would visit Spokane this season, so it loomed as a large game for the Chiefs.
The Chiefs came out playing well in the first period, putting up 16 shots in the first 15 minutes, but were unable to score on Portland goalie Mac Carruth. Meantime, the Chiefs held Portland to 8 shots and Spokane goalie Mac Engel was hardly tested. Spokane got on their second power play of the period looking to take the lead when the game took a sudden turn the wrong way for the Chiefs. Spokane coughed up the puck inside the Portland blue line and the Hawks Taylor Peters went the other way on a breakaway and scored on Engel shorthanded to give Portland a 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the goal set off a 5 goal outburst for Portland over the next 1:59 seconds, a new record for 5 goals given up in a span for Spokane....not exactly the kind of record you want to set. You could feel the air go right out of the building as Portland basically won the game in 2 minutes.
Engel was pulled after the 4th goal for emergency backup Adam Iwan, but it didn't matter who was in net for Spokane this night. The team was in a word, awful, in their own zone defensively, whether it was coverage or puck responsibility, both were lacking for Spokane. The Chiefs did get two goals from Kenton Miller and Mitch Holmberg in the first 4:02 of the second to get within 5-2. Portland answered just 24 seconds after Holmberg's goal to make it 6-2 and the Hawks put up 3 more goals in the period to take a commanding 9-2 lead after two.
The third period was just a chance to regain respectability for the Chiefs. Tyler Johnson put up two goals and Collin Valcourt scored as well for Spokane in the third, but it was far too little, too late, as Portland ran away to a 10-5 win.
The loss dropped the Chiefs 7 points back of Portland for the division lead, and with just one more meeting with the Winterhawks, it reallyyyy damaged Spokane's chances of winning the division title. Spokane ended up outshooting Portland 48-29 in the game, including a 19-5 margin in the third, but the first period meltdown was far too much to overcome. Now the Chiefs had to head out on the road to face an Everett team that is alwaysss tough in their own building.
Spokane came out farrrr more committed in the defensive end of the ice against the Silvertips and the game remained scoreless for the first 3/4 of the period. The Chiefs were able to break through on their first power play of the game as Dominick Uher tipped a Jared Cowen shot in just 5 seconds into the man advantage to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after one. Mac Engel was on his game in net and he turned away 10 Everett shots in the first and 10 more in the second to keep it a 1-0 Spokane lead going into the third.
The Chiefs saved their best period for the third, as they dominated puck possession, outshooting Everett 14-3 and put the game away on a Holmberg empty net goal with just over a minute to go to seal the win. Engel picked up his second shutout against the Silvertips in 2.5 weeks as the Chiefs skated to a 2-0 win. It was a huge start to the three game weekend and gave the boys some much needed momentum going into Saturday's game with Tri-City.
Spokane had lost 3 in a row to the Americans coming in, and led Tri by just 1 point in the standings for second place entering the game. It was a huge game for Spokane to say the least.
The start to the game didn't exactly go the Chiefs way as Tri scored easily just 4:38 into the game to take a 1-0 lead. I can't lie. I had visions of the Portland game dancing in my head after watching the Ams take the lead. Fortunately, my visions didn't prove to be very accurate, as the Chiefs put up 2 straight goals on the power play to take a 2-1 lead. Holmberg scored in his 4th straight game and Uher in his second straight as the Chiefs special teams were indeed special on this night. Brady Brassart scored another tally late in the period to give Spokane a 3-1 lead after one.
The second period started a lottt better than the first, as Blake Gal put home his 16th goal of the year at 4:53 to make it 4-1 Spokane. Former Chief David Conrad answered for Tri late in the second to leave the Chiefs with a 4-2 lead after two. The third was pretty uneventful until Tyler Johnson heated up late in the period. First came his 6th shorthanded goal of the year to put Spokane up 5-2. Johnson then scored his league leading 43rd of the year on the power play to give the Chiefs a 6-2 lead. Brendan Kichton's 5 on 3 power play tally capped a 7-2 win as the Chiefs league leading power play went a whopping 4-7 on the night. Just as impressively, the top ranked Spokane penalty kill went a perfect 6-6 against the second ranked Tri City power play. The win put the Chiefs 3 points up on Tri and within 5 points of Portland in the division as the team headed west once again to face Seattle.
There was no reason to think the Chiefs couldn't make it a perfect 3-3 weekend, as they had won 3 in a row from Seattle in the season series entering Sunday's game. The one thing you always worry about though is overconfidence, especially coming off a highly emotional win over your biggest rival the night before.
From the beginning, it felt like the team was just a little off of their game. Despite missing passes and making mental mistakes, the Chiefs jumped out to a 1-0 lead midway through the first period as Anthony Bardaro stole the puck in the Seattle zone and tucked it past Thunderbird goalie Calvin Pickard. Spokane put up 18 shots in the period and managed to kill off 3 Seattle power plays, so there was reason to think the team would be able to find a way to win.
In the second, the team got off their game, and Seattle started getting on theirs as they outshot the Chiefs 16-12 and tied the game at one on a goal at 15:09 of the period. The Chiefs did manage to kill off another 3 Seattle power plays, but had only generated one power play in the first two periods. The game was tied at one, and quite frankly, Spokane had to feel great they were only tied at this point in the contest. All Spokane had to do was win the third period and their 3rd straight win was all but assured.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs gave up an early goal in the first two minutes of the period to give Seattle a 2-1 lead, and Pickard would take over from there. Spokane failed to score on a 5-3 power play over 1:47 midway through the period and Pickard turned away 28 Chiefs shots in the third to pick up the win. Sadly enough, the third period was far and away the Chiefs best of the game, but Pickard is a goalie that on any given night can steal a win for his team and he did just that on this night. The T-Birds added an empty net goal in the final minute and Spokane was handed a veryyy disappointing 3-1 loss. The loss prevented the Chiefs from gaining ground on first place Portland, and Tri-City won in Chilliwack to move within one point of Spokane for second place.
Now the Chiefs have to play 4 road games in 6 nights, beginning in Everett on Wednesday night. Spokane's 2 wins in Everett have been tough ones, so the team will need a great effort to make it 3 in a row over the Silvertips in their own barn. The road doesn't get any easier either, as Spokane then heads to Kelowna to play the Rockets Friday night, and then makes the long overnight trek to Tri-Cities for a game Saturday. To add to it, the Chiefs have to head back to Tri Monday to make up the postponed New Year's Eve game. It's a toughhh week of games, and travel to say the least.
Wednesday's, Friday's and Monday's games will all be on 1510 KGA beginning with the pregame shows at 6:30 and the puck drop at 7pm. Saturday's game in Tri will be on 790 KJRB with the pre game at 6:30 due to the Gonzaga game on 1510 KGA. It's another big week for the boys on the road, and another major test to the team as they head into the final month of the regular season.
The team is expected to get starting goalie James Reid back in action this week, so that should prove to be a huge boost for the team on a tough road trip. Hopefully some wins will follow as well!