Having just come off a 4 games in 5 nights stint last week, the Chiefs got a chance to 'rest' with just 4 games in 6 nights this past week. After the light schedule of the first half of the season, the boys are really getting a chance to play games rather than practice 4 times a week. Spokane was coming off a 5-3 road win on Sunday at Everett and were looking at two more consecutive contests against the Silvertips before hosting Tri City and Seattle.
Wednesday's home game with Everett was the final meeting between the two teams in Spokane, as the Chiefs had won the 4 previous meetings at the Arena. The previous game was not an easy win for Spokane and the rematch promised to be more of the same. At least I thought it would. That thought lasted until the end of the first period. Mitch Holmberg would score just 5:35 into the game to make it 1-0 Spokane. The Chiefs would extend the lead less than 2 minutes later when Mike Aviani scored a rebound. Everett would tally on the power play late in the first to cut the lead to 2-1, but Blake Gal scored in the final minute of the period to make it 3-1 Chiefs after one.
Gal's goal was a reallll dagger to Everett, as the momentum was squarely with Spokane going into the second. The Chiefs would get a Darren Kramer breakaway just over 3 minutes into the period to extend the lead to 4-1. The Chiefs would make it 5-1 after two when Liam Stewart stole the puck and scored on his second rebound attempt with 3 minutes left in the period. Brenden Kichton would cap the scoring with a great individual effort on a backhander less than 2 minutes into the third to top off a 6-1 Spokane win. On the surface, the victory looked easy, and in some respects it was, but the final score was in large part due to goalie Mac Engel. Engel turned away 23 of 24 shots, including 3 point blank chances by the Silvertips in the third period that could have made the score a lottt closer than it was.
The Chiefs then headed across Snoqualmie Pass to cap the three game series with Everett on Friday night. Having won in Everett just 5 days earlier, the Chiefs fully knew what to expect on the Silvertips home rink. It sure looked like Spokane had learned what it took to win in Everett in the first period. Kramer would tip a Blake Gal shot 7:45 into the game to put the Chiefs up 1-0. Just 4:50 later, Dylan Walchuk would re-direct a Kichton shot to score his first goal as a Chief to give Spokane a 2-0 lead after one. The Chiefs dominated the period, outshooting the Tips 17-8 as they looked like they were on their way to their third straight win of the week.
In the second, Davis Vandane scored his first career goal with Spokane as well, this one at 12:16 of the period to put the Chiefs up 3-0 after two. Usually a three goal lead after two is pretty safe, but I had seen Spokane blow one against Prince George in early December at home, so I knew the game was far from over. As the game approached the midway point of the third, the Chiefs had a power play with a chance to put the game away. Instead, the half effort of the team during the period caught up to them on the power play, as the Chiefs gave up an easy shorthanded goal to put the Silvertips back in the game at 3-1.
The crowd was now back in the game and so were the Tips. The Chiefs took an unnecessary and careless penalty and Everett would capitalize at 13:41 to move within 3-2. Now it was game on, as Spokane was hoping to hang on for the win. Everett would pull their goalie in the final minute and when the Chiefs failed to clear the puck, a shot by Nick Walters was turned away by Chiefs netminder Eric Williams. Williams put the rebound out in the slot though, and Kole Bauml put home the rebound with just 28 seconds left to tie the game at three.
At this point, a win seemed like a long shot. When Walchuk took a penalty midway through overtime, the fate of the game was sealed as Joel Winquist scored on the power play at 3:23 to cap an improbable 4-3 Everett win. I still get sick to my stomach thinking about how the Chiefs gave away the extra point that looked so winnable early in the third, but the fact of the matter was, the team had stopped playing their game in the second period thinking the game was won. Talk about a hard earned lesson for a team that seems intent of learning them over and over during this season.
Now the team returned home to face the #1 team in all of the CHL, the Tri City Americans. Tri had drilleddd Vancouver 11-4 on Friday, so I knew the Chiefs had better show a lottt better effort coming up on Saturday, or things could get a little embarrassing in front of the home folks. In the first period, The Ams would score just 4:17 into the game to go up 1-0. That feeling of apprehension I had didn't last long though, as Dominick Uher banged home a rebound just 31 seconds later to tie the game at one. The Chiefs then seized the lead when Todd Fiddler scored on a wraparound 1:04 after Uher's goal to give Spokane a 2-1 lead. Tri City would tie the game late in the period to force a 2-2 stalemate after one.
The Chiefs then re-took the lead on a Blake Gal power play goal 6:49 into the second to make it 3-2 Spokane. Tri City's Sam Grist would score his first career goal midway through the period to bring Tri back even at three after two and set the stage for a dramatic third period. Grist would take a penalty early in the third, and the Chiefs would convert their second power play of the game when Walchuk put home a rebound at 7:05 to give Spokane a lead they would never lose at 4-3. Tri City would pull goalie Ty Rimmer with less than 2 minutes left while they had a power play to get a 6-4 man advantage. The Chiefs buckled down though, as Uher skated the puck out of the defensive zone and scored a shorthanded empty netter with a minute and a half left to seal a 5-3 Spokane win.
It was just the second win for the Chiefs over their biggest rival in 6 meetings, and was a huge way to bounce back after the previous night's defeat. The special teams, which had been below average the night before, were excellent on this night, going 2-4 on the power play and a perfect 5-5 on the penalty kill. Now the big test in my mind would be how the team would perform just 2 days later when the entertained Seattle at home for the first time this season.
Spokane had defeated Seattle a week and a half earlier on the West Side 4-2, so you knew the Thunderbirds would be looking for a little revenge on the Chiefs home ice. The game would be played in the afternoon as part of a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday matinee, and over 4,200 fans turned out at the Arena to hopefully enjoy Spokane's 6th win in their last 7 games. Mike Aviani would get the home fans going just 3:46 into the game to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after one. Spokane missed out on 2 power play chances in the first though, so a one goal lead was anything but safe.
Seattle would prove that true in the second period, as they converted on their first power play of the game, as Seth Swenson scored at 4:21 to tie the game at one. The Chiefs answered quickly though, as Steve Kuhn stole the puck in the Seattle zone, and fed an open Gal on the left wing. Gal's one timer would give Spokane a 2-1 lead after two, but I felt anything but secure about it as the team looked heavy legged and their play ragged at best.
You would figure one strong period by the Chiefs in the third would secure the win, but the only team that came out to play the final 20 minutes were the Thunderbirds. Swenson would score on an odd man rush at 11:35 to tie the game at two. Spokane would get their 5th power play of the game less than 2 minutes later, but instead of taking the lead, the Chiefs would cough it up. A failure to keep the puck in at the Seattle blue line led to a breakaway by Justin Hickman. Hickman's backhand was stopped by goalie Mac Engel, but Engel slid backward with the puck in his pads over the goal line and Seattle had a 3-2 lead. Spokane would get one more power play late in the third, but the Chiefs inability to score on the man advantage would continue, as they would go 0-6 and Seattle would secure a come from behind 3-2 win.
Quite frankly, it was an embarrassing performance after playing so well against Tri City, and has become indicative of a team that can not stand success. Good teams build on wins and make it a point to continue the good habits acquired during the victories. Average teams do what the Chiefs did Monday...stand on their laurels and go out thinking they're better than they really are. As a result, the team got exactly what it deserved for their efforts on Friday and Monday...losses in games they probably should have won. It's games like these teams can look back at in the standings and go, woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Now the team will get some reallll tests this upcoming weekend. Spokane will take on the top 2 teams in the division when they visit Tri City on Friday before returning home to host Portland Saturday and Sunday. If the Chiefs play like they did last Saturday against Tri, it will be a competitive weekend. If they play like they did in Everett or against Seattle, it could be a longggg weekend. Friday's game will be on 1510 KGA beginning with the pre-game show at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7:10pm due to television on Root Sports. Saturday's Portland game will be on 790 KJRB because of the Gonzaga game on 1510 that night. Pre-game will be at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7:05pm Saturday, while Sunday's game will be back on 1510 with the pre-game at 5:30pm and the start time at 6:05pm. Let's hope for a positive weekend and we'll see you at the rink!