Spokane Chiefs Blog: A fight for home-ice advantage

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by Mike Boyle, "The Voice of the Chiefs"

KREM.com

Posted on February 22, 2012 at 12:49 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 22 at 8:10 PM

After this past week's games, the Chiefs knew they had less than a month remaining in the regular season, making their game with Vancouver that started the week as perhaps the most important the team has played this season. Vancouver and Spokane were tied for 4th in the Western Conference entering the contest, and Wednesday's meeting would be the last of the season between the two. With the two teams more than likely on a collision course to matchup in the first round of the playoffs as the 4 and 5 seeds, the winner of this game would take a big step towards securing home ice advantage in the series.

With all this at stake, the Giants and Chiefs faced off Wednesday in Spokane. From the beginning, the game had the feel of a playoff contest, as the two teams played with high energy, tight defense and lots of checking. The Chiefs had to rely on the penalty kill three times in the first period, including a 5 on 3 Giant power play for 1:06. Spokane escaped unscathed though, as the Chiefs killed off all three penalties and still managed to outshoot Vancouver 8-5 in the period.

After the scoreless first, the Chiefs would jump on top at 5:38 of the second when Liam Stewart scored on a rebound of a Tanner Mort shot net front to make it 1-0 Spokane. The lead would hold until the last minute of the period, when the Chiefs gave up the puck in the neutral zone and the Giants came in on a 3-2 rush. Chiefs goalie Mac Engel made a fantastic stop of the first shot but the Giants Cain Franson roofed the rebound to tie the game at one after the second.

The way the game was going, with offensive opportunities at a premium, there was a feeling that the next goal would be the game winner. That feeling was borne out midway through the third, when the Chiefs once again turned the puck over in the neutral zone and it led to a Vancouver rush the other way. Jackson Houck beat the Chiefs defense to the net, and Vancouver led it 2-1. Spokane would get one chance on the power play, and would pull Engel in the final minute, but would be unable to net the equalizer as Vancouver came away with a huge 2-1 win to go 2 points up on the Chiefs in the race for 4th place.

Emotionally, it had to be a huge let down for Spokane, as the team now had to head out on the road for 4 straight games, including 3 straight in 3 nights over the weekend at Kootenay, Tri City and Seattle. The Chiefs were also staring at 8 of their next 9 away from the Spokane Arena, so the next 3 weeks will certainly be a test for the team as they head into this final month of the regular season. First up over the weekend was the defending league champion Kootenay Ice, whom the Chiefs had beaten 2 of 3. although both wins had come by a shootout and overtime.

Spokane had fallen in Cranbrook two weeks previously when the Ice scored twice in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie on their way to a 4-2 win. The man who had scored the game winner midway through the third would get the Ice off to a 1-0 start on this Friday night, as Joe Antilla scored his 4th goal in 4 games against the Chiefs at 7:13 of the first period. The Ice didn't take long to extend the lead as Antilla's linemate Drew Czerwonka scored just over 5 minutes later to make it 2-0 Kootenay. Spokane would jump back in the game on a Marek Kalus goal late in the period with a shot inside the blue line to cut the lead to 2-1, but Kootenay's Max Reinhart would cap a 3 point first stanza with a goal just 1:13 after Kalus' tally to give the Ice a 3-1 lead after one.

The Chiefs would turn the puck over in their own zone and Kootenay's Joe Martin would bang another one in the net midway through the second period to give the Ice a 4-1 advantage. Just as it looked like it was time to look forward to the next night's meeting with Tri City, the Chiefs cut the lead to two when Dominick Uher tipped a Brenden Kichton shot late in the second to make it a 4-2 game heading into the third. Uher would convert a great feed from Blake Gal off the rush midway through the third to bring Spokane within 4-3. The Chiefs would never get any closer though, as back to back penalties in the last two minutes left Spokane shorthanded and unable to get the puck down to the Kootenay end of the ice.

The loss to Kootenay was Spokane's third straight, matching their longest of the season. It wasn't going to get any easier the next night as the Chiefs headed to Kennewick to take on the first place Americans. Spokane had lost 3 of 4 in the Tri Cities, but had won their last time down into Tri 3-1 on January 20th  after a three goal third period. Early on it looked like Spokane would make it 2 wins in a row in Kennewick as the Chiefs converted their first power play of the game on a Liam Stewart tip of a Corey Baldwin shot. The Chiefs would come right back just 19 seconds later as Kalus banged home a rebound of a Darren Kramer shot to make it 2-0. The Americans would cut the lead in half on a Brendan Shinnimin goal late in the period on their 3rd power play of the first.

The lead would hold up for Spokane until the Ams went on the their only power play late in the second period. Shinnimin would strike again just 4 seconds into the man advantage to tie the game at two. Tri City would complete the comeback when Derek Ryckman's shot from the point found its' way past goalie Mac Engel 53 seconds later to give the Americans a 3-2 lead after two. Spokane would get one final crack at the Ams with a power play late in the third period, but Kramer's shot from the slot would ring off the left post and the Chiefs fell for a season high 4th straight time 3-2.

Spokane managed just 21 shots in the contest while giving up 34 as the Chiefs fell 13 points behind  in the division to Tri City. It had just been a week earlier that the Chiefs had a chance to move within 5 points with a win over the Americans at home, but 4 losses later Spokane found themselves almost out of the running for a division crown. The more immediate concern was for the Chiefs to get off the schneid and get a win, as the team headed over to the West Side to take on the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Spokane had won 4 of 5 over the T-Birds going in, but only one of the wins had come fairly easily, as the two teams seemed to battle down the final minutes in every contest. The last time the Chiefs had traveled to Seattle, it took Dominick Uher's goal with 1:12 left to snap a 3-3 tie on Spokane's way to garnering a 5-3 win. It seemed like another close game was in store, as the Chiefs absolutely dominated the first period, outshooting the Thunderbirds 17-4, Spokane could only manage one goal on Seattle goalie Calvin Pickard though, as Uher tipped a Tanner Mort shot midway through the first to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after one.

In the second, Spokane had to kill off 2 Seattle power plays, and Engel turned aside a Brendan Rouse breakaway to keep the Thunderbirds off the scoreboard. The Chiefs would then extend the lead as Collin Valcourt tipped a Corey Baldwin shot late in the period past Pickard to give Spokane a 2-0 lead after two. It was a huge goal for the team as a two goal lead against a team on the road is lottt more secure than a 1 goal advantage.

The 2-0 lead was quickly extended in the third when Stewart scored on a partial breakaway just 1:24 into the third after a Seattle turnover to give Spokane a huge 3 goal lead. It was Stewart's 4th goal in his last 5 games and his tally capped off a 3-0 Chiefs win. Engel and the defense shut the door on the T-Birds again in the 3rd period, as Engel's 18 saves sealed the Chiefs first shutout of the season. It was a nice way to end the team's 4 game losing streak as well, as the team got 4 days off until their next contest.

Spokane will look at just two games this week, but they will once again be formidable tests as they face first place Portland and second place Tri City on Friday and Saturday. The Winterhawks are the hottest team in the league, having won 8 straight and 9 of 10 to take a 2 point lead over the Americans. Friday's game will be on 1510 KGA, as well as Root Sports on television. I'll have the call on 1510 beginning at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7:05pm from the Rose Garden. Saturday, the Chiefs return home for their only home game until March 7th as they host the Americans at 7:05pm. The game will be on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game on 1510, as the pre-game will start at 6:30pm.

There are just 4 weekends left in the regular season, and the Chiefs are down to their last 6 home games, so we hope to see you out at the rink soon!

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