The last time I had been in the Tri Cities with the Chiefs, it was April 18th, Game 7 of the Western Conference semi-finals as Spokane and Tri City squared off for the right to face Portland. The Chiefs saw a 2-1 lead disappear late in the 3rd period as the Americans skated off with a 3-2 victory. Spokane hoped to erase the disappointment of that loss as they headed back down Highway 395 Saturday night to face off with the Ams.
The Chiefs welcomed back a number of veterans from last season's squad, including goaltenders Mac Engel and Eric Williams. Engel would get the start on this night as Williams would sit out with an injury. Spokane would start 15 veterans in the opener, while welcoming rookie forwards Riley Whittingham, Adam Helewka, and Jackson Playfair. The Americans and Chiefs had played twice during the pre-season, with Spokane winning both matchups in Tri Cities. Tri had not lost a home opener since 2000, so the odds were certainly against the Chiefs coming into the contest.
The two teams played an even first period as the Americans outshot the Chiefs 15-14 in a scoreless 20 minutes. Spokane had the only two power play chances in the first, and had a Brenden Kitchton shot hit the post, but the Chiefs failed to put one past Ams goalie Eric Comrie. Spokane would break through midway through the second when Todd Fiddler would deposit a puck in the net off assists from Mitch Holmberg and Liam Stewart at 9:26 to make it 1-0 Spokane. The Chiefs then exploded late in the second to seize control of the game.
Stewart would score on a rebound on the Chiefs second of three power play chances in the period at 17:38 to give Spokane a 2-0 lead. The Chiefs then made it 3-0 at 18:34 when Mike Aviani scored after a Cole Wedman shot. Holmberg then snapped home the Chiefs 4th goal of the period at 19:26 to give Spokane a commanding 4-0 lead after two. It was a dominating period of hockey for Spokane as they outshot the Americans 17-4 to take their 4 goal lead into the final period.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the inspired play of the second gave way to mailaise in the third, as the team skated as if the game was over and gave up 2 easy goals for the Americans midway and again later in the period. Fortunately for the Chiefs, Engel came up huge with about 7 minutes left, when he denied a breakaway from Ams captain Justin Feser that could have totally changed the complexion of the game. Spokane would put the game away when Carter Proft forced a Tri turnover behind their own net and tapped in an empty net goal in the final 1:28 to complete a 5-2 Spokane win.
It snapped the Americans over decade streak of winning home openers and got the Chiefs off to a 1-0 start for the first time since winning at Prince George in 2009. Spokane got good offensive contributions from Holmberg, who scored a goal and 2 assists, while Stewart and Proft finished with a goal and an assist apiece. Engel finished with 29 saves to pick up the victory as the Chiefs outshot the Americans 35-31 in the contest.
It was a great way to start the season...anyyy win in Tri Cities is a big win. Now the big challenge will be to duplicate the opening night's success on home ice, as the Chiefs host the Americans Saturday night in Spokane's home opener. There is nooo doubt the Ams would love to return the favor to the Chiefs, so it will make for an intense game at the Spokane Arena. I'll be glad to be there and I'll have the call on 1510 KGA beginning with the pre-game show at 6:30pm and the opening puck drop about 7:15pm. Sunday the team will turn right around and head to Vancouver to take on the Giants at 4pm in Spokane's only trip to Van this season. It will be the first meeting between the two since Spokane knocked off the Giants in the opening round of the playoffs last season. The pre-game will be on 1510 beginning at 3:30pm. I hope to see you at the Arena Saturday!