The trip to Vancouver the previous Sunday was lesss than ideal to say the least. The Chiefs managed all of 15 shots on net and fell to the then winless Vancouver Giants 3-2. Amazingly enough, Spokane was tied until about 6 minutes remained in the game, so it's a good sign that you don't play very well at all, and yet still have a chance to win late. The Chiefs were hoping that the home cooking of the Spokane Arena would get things turned around as the team played host to Victoria and Lethbridge on Friday and Saturday.
The Royals came in Friday as the leaders in the BC Division at 4-1 and were coming off a dramatic come from behind 4-3 win over Medicine Hat two night's previously. Victoria was down 3-0 late in the second period before rallying for the win, so the Royals were coming in on a muchhh higher note than the Chiefs. Spokane had dominated the season series with Victoria last year, winning all 4 games, but that was last year. Friday's game was going to be a much tougher test, and it became obvious from the start, that would be the case.
The Chiefs made news earlier in the day trading defenseman Davis Vandane to Prince Albert, and releasing goalie Mac Engel for a trade. Vandane became the odd man out in the 20 year old situation when Brenden Kichton returned for his 20 year old season, while Engel saw the play of Eric Williams in last year's playoffs send Engel to a back up role in his 19 year old season. I wish both of them the best as I enjoyed spending time with both of them over the past couple of years.
Friday's game got off to a good start for the Chiefs as Mitch Holmberg's shot was tipped by Collin Valcourt midway through the first period while Spokane was on the power play to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead. Victoria would counter though on a power play goal from Jaime Crooks late in the first to tie the game at 1 after the first. The second period would see Spokane take control of the game, as the Chiefs put up back to back goals to take a 3-1 lead. Holmberg would notch his league leading 6th goal of the season on the power play just 38 seconds into the period to make it 2-1 Chiefs. Brenden Kichton, who passed Bryan McCabe as the all time leading scoring defenseman in Chiefs history the previous game, would add to his total with his first goal of the year 3:18 into the second to give Spokane a two goal lead heading into the third.
Victoria was far from done though, as the Royals scored just 21 seconds into the third. The Chiefs thought they had cleared the puck from the zone, but the Royals somehow kept the puck from crossing the blue line and Austin Carroll got behind the defense and backhanded one over Willams to make it 3-2. Kichton though would answer for Spokane with a blast from the point on the power play midway through the third for his second goal of the game to push Spokane ahead 4-2. Victoria would score with just over 3 minutes left to get back within 4-3, but Mike Aviani would cap the win with a breakaway while the Royals net was empty in the last minute to seal a 5-3 win. Williams had come up huge with a save in the final seconds on a shot from the low slot, and the Chiefs would get their 3rd win in 4 games.
Spokane's special teams were the difference, going 3-5 on the power play, while going 6-7 on the penalty kill. Williams had a rock solid outing, with 24 saves in net, while Kichton netted 4 points from the blue line. It was a very good win against a good and tough Victoria team that will challenge for the BC Division title when all is said and done. With a win under their belt, the Chiefs prepared to face off against the Lethbridge Hurricanes the next night for the two teams only meeting this season. Last year, the Chiefs finished their 5 games in 6 nights trip through the Central Division with a disappointing 1-0 loss to the Canes. It made for a long bus ride home, and I'm sure the Chiefs were hoping to erase that memory Saturday.
Spokane came out with some purpose...and then some...in the first period. Holmberg continues to be on fire, scoring his 7th goal in just 5 games on an odd man rush midway through the first to make it 1-0. The Chiefs then cashed in on their first two power play chances, as Todd Fidder scored off his own rebound two and a half minutes later to give Spokane a 2-0 lead. Valcourt then scored a goal for the second straight night on the power play to put the Chiefs up 3-0 late in the first. Lethbridge would score just 9 seconds after Valcourt's goal to cut Spokane's lead to 3-1 after two. The second period would see the Chiefs outshoot Lethbridge 19-4, yet it was the Canes who scored the only goal of the period on a shorthanded tally midway through the second to bring Lethbridge within 3-2 after two.
Needless to say, after dominating a period offensively and seeing a lead cut to one going to the third, I was sitting a bit nervous for the Chiefs heading into the final 20 minutes. The third was a close and tightly fought period, but it was Spokane that would break through in the scoring column. Defenseman Tanner Mort, never known for scoring goals, and who had shot the puck wide of the net most of the night, rifled home his first of the year at 15:38 of the third to give the Chiefs a hugeee 4-2 lead. The goal gave the Chiefs a big momentum boost in the final minutes, and forced the Hurricanes to pull their goalie Ty Rimmer on 2 separate occasions for an extra skater.
Spokane's defense held firm though and denied Lethbridge any chance to pull closer as the Chiefs secured their second win of the weekend at 4-2. The Chiefs put up a season high 43 shots and needed every one of them in the win. Special teams were once again key, as Spokane went 2-4 on the power play and a perfect 3-3 on the penalty kill. Both units are now tops in the Western Hockey League and are a hugee reason the Chiefs are off to a 4-1 start. Now the big challenge will come as the team heads out on the road for two games in the BC Division, before heading home after an all night bus ride to face the one team that's beaten Spokane, Vancouver, the following night at home.
First up is the Kelowna Rockets on Wednesday. After an off day, Spokane travels to Kamloops to face the BC Division leading Blazers. Both games are at 7pm, with the pre-game show on 1510 KGA starting at 6:30pm. On Saturday, the Chiefs head home to take on Vancouver at the Arena at 7:05pm. Pre-game is once again at 6:30pm on 1510. It will be a challenging weekend for the Chiefs against some good teams in trying travel circumstances, but such is life in the Western Hockey League. It will certainly be a good test and barometer for the team early in the season.