The New Year meant one thing for the Chiefs. Lotssss of games to play in the month of January. In the 31 days of the first month of 2012, the Chiefs will play 15 games, so there will hardly be any time to relax....let alone celebrate wins or feel sorry about losses. The first week of January found Spokane playing 4 games in 5 nights, with three straight over the first weekend of the month. Three of the four games were on the road, as the Chiefs became well acquainted with the team bus.
First up were the Kelowna Rockets, a team the Chiefs had opened the second half of season against just 8 days prior in Kelowna. Spokane had won that contest easily 4-1, so the hope going in was the Chiefs could come out with a similar result the second time around. This game though, the Rockets made it apparent early that this game would not come nearly as easy as the last meeting between the two. Kelowna scored on new Chiefs goalie Eric Williams on a shot from the right point just 2:38 into the game to make it 1-0 Kelowna. Spokane would come back late in the first as Jason Fram rifled home his 4th goal of the season to send the Chiefs into the first intermission tied at one.
The second period would remind me of trips to Kelowna ten years ago when the Rockets would ring up goal after goal on the Chiefs. Kelowna scored on a power play marker just over 3 1/2 minutes into the period and never looked back. A big reason why was Rockets forward Brett Bulmer. Bulmer took the game over, scoring a natural hat trick over a 9:16 span to give Kelowna a 5-1 lead after two. The Chiefs had to kill off a Kelowna power play early in the third, but after successfully doing so, Spokane would score just 1:13 into the period when Darren Kramer scored off a great pass from Mitch Holmberg to cut the lead to 5-2. Despite outshooting the Rockets 11-6 in the period, Spokane failed to notch another goal and ended up losing by that 5-2 margin.
It was a disappointing start to the week to say the least, and it made the three games to follow from Friday to Sunday look even more formidable. The Eastern Division leading Moose Jaw Warriors were up first on Friday, and if there was good news for the Chiefs, it was the Warriors were struggling on their U.S. division trip, having won just one of their first 4 games. Spokane was further bolstered by the return of Dominick Uher, who returned to the team after playing for the Czech Republic in the World Junior Tournament over the previous two weeks. Moose Jaw would come in with two former Chiefs on their roster, with defenseman Tyler Vanscourt and forward Kenton Miller returning to face their former team.
Moose Jaw would jump out to a 1-0 lead midway through the first when Cody Beach, the younger brother of former Chief Kyle Beach, scored on the Warriors 3rd shot of the game. When Spokane is successful, they usually answer back quickly, and on this night, they would do so. Off a faceoff win, Corey Baldwin slapped home a shot just 3:12 after Beach's goal to tie the game at one. Holmberg would snap home a shot with just 1:25 left in the first to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead after one. Neither team was able to get on the board in the second and Spokane would take a precarious 1 goal lead to the third despite outshooting Moose Jaw 28-13 through two periods.
In the third, the Chiefs Blake Gal would redirect a Baldwin shot just over 4 1/2 minutes into the period to give Spokane a 3-1 lead. The advantage would grow to 4-1 when one of the new Chiefs Todd Fiddler would take a Kramer pass netfront and score his 2nd goal with Spokane at 12:17 of the third. Moose Jaw would cut the lead to 4-2 on a goal with less than 3 1/2 minutes to go. The Warriors would pull their goalie with less than 1 1/2 minutes left, but Spokane would keep Moose Jaw at bay, and close out the game on a Uher empty net goal with just 9 seconds left to finish a perfect 6-0 against the East Division this season with a 5-2 win. Spokane got back on track in this game, putting off 40 shots while holding Moose Jaw to just 1 power play chance.
I must say it was veryyy good to be back in Spokane to play in front of the home folks after 4 straight games on the road. I think it showed in the boys play in this game as well. The team didn't get a lot of time to celebrate though, as the Chiefs were on the bus right after the game and headed West to Seattle to get ready for the first meeting of the year with the Seattle Thunderbirds. It was hard to believe that the Chiefs had played 36 games, exactly halfway through the season, yet had not met one of their division rivals. This game was a big one for Spokane too, as the T-Birds were just 6 points behind the Chiefs for 3rd place in the U.S. Division.
The first meeting between a team can certainly set a tone for a series, and the first period can be key towards doing just that. Spokane and Seattle went back and forth the first few minutes of the first, but the Chiefs would slowly take control of the period midway through. Mitch Holmberg would score off a rush on a great pass from Dominick Uher and Spokane would take a 1-0 lead. Seattle would go on the power play a little over 4 minutes later, but the Chiefs would be the team to capitalize. Steve Kuhn gathered up a blocked Corey Baldwin shot and scored shorthanded on a partial breakaway to give Spokane a 2-0 lead. Spokane would complete a 3 goal period when Todd Fiddler scored on a great pass from Brenden Kichton with less than 2 minutes left to put the Chiefs up 3 after the first.
The one thing you always worry about with such a big lead early is the letdown that could follow. Seattle would score just 22 seconds into the second period to put the worry right into me as the Thunderbirds got the early momentum. Spokane settled things down from there though, as the Chiefs would outshoot Seattle 14-7 in the period to hold a 3-1 lead after two. The T-Birds would tally another goal at 12:50 of the third, and suddenly the Chiefs lead was down to one at 3-2. Spokane didn't panic though, and when Fiddler found Holmberg at 16:22 of the period, Holmberg's second goal of the night would seal a 4-2 Spokane win.
For the second straight game, goalie Mac Engel was rock solid in net, surrendering just 2 goals in each Spokane victory. It's good to see Mac getting back on his game after struggling in his last 2 games before the Christmas break. The combination of Uher, Fiddler and Holmberg was dynamic in this contest and I was looking forward to seeing how they would fare the next night in Everett against the Silvertips.
It didn't take very long to get the answer to that question, as Fiddler would tally in his third straight game of the weekend just 4:39 into the game with assists going to his two linemates. Everett would rally to take a 2-1 lead on goalie Eric Williams as the Silvertips took the lead with a goal on their first power play of the game. The Chiefs came right back though, as Mike Aviani tallied just 42 seconds after the Tips took the lead to tie the game at 2. Holmberg would score for the third straight game as well 26 seconds after Aviani's goal and the Chiefs would take a 3-2 lead to the intermission.
Unlike the night before, the Chiefs would take the momentum into the second. While Everett was on the power play, Blake Gal would score Spokane's second shorthanded goal in as many nights midway through the second period to stake the Chiefs to a 4-2 lead. Marek Kalus then tallied on the power play late in the second to hand Spokane a commanding 5-2 lead heading into the third period. The Chiefs totallyyy controlled the second, outshooting Everett 15-2 in the stanza and putting the Chiefs 20 minutes from their 6th win in 7 tries against Everett.
In the third, the game was proceeding along until the referee gave Chief Jarid Hauptman a 4 minute double minor for spearing. Everett's Jari Ericson and Hauptman collided at center ice and Ericson was laying on Hauptman's stick. Hauptman got up first, then tried to get the stick from out from underneath Ericson, who was in nooo hurry to get up. Hauptman pumped up and down trying to free his stick, and the referee somehowww came to the conclusion that Hauptman purposefully speared Ericson. It was one of several creative calls on the night in a game in which Everett got 7 power plays to Spokane's three. Yet Spokane outshot Everett 34-30 in the game. Now someone can explain that to me I'm sure, but I'm three times sure it will never make any sense that a team that was outplayed gets twice as many power plays.
Everett would capitalize on that 4 minute power play to cut the lead to 5-3, but that was as close as the Tips would get. Spokane goalie Eric Williams turned away 16 of 17 Everett shots in the third to hold Everett at bay and the Chiefs would get their 3rd straight win of the weekend. It was good to see Williams rebound after a slow start in the first to puck up his first win with Spokane. It was a big 6 points for the Chiefs too, as they stretched their lead over Seattle for third place from 6 to 12 points. Spokane is now 10 points back of Portland for second, and with 3 home games with the Winterhawks coming up in the next 2 weeks, the Chiefs can at least entertain thoughts of making a run at second in the division.
Spokane will now face 4 games in 6 days coming up this week, but 3 of the games are at home, so that will help the old bus legs. The Chiefs will play Everett in a home and home series, with Wednesday's game in Spokane and Friday's in Everett. Saturday, the Chiefs will host the WHL's top team, the Tri City Americans and then on Monday afternoon in a matinee game at the Arena, Seattle will pay their first visit of the year to Spokane. Wednesday, Friday and Monday's games will all be on 1510 KGA, while Saturday's contest is on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game on 1510. Wednesday and Saturday's home games will be at 7:05pm, with the pre-game shows at 6:30pm. Friday's game from Everett will have the pre-game at 7pm with the puck drop at 7:35pm. Monday's family day will be a 2:05pm start with the pre-game at 1:30pm.
It will be another busy week for the Chiefs, but hopefully the team will play as well as they did over this last weekend to make things interesting in the U.S. Division. Saturday's game with Tri City will more than likely sell out, so make it a point of getting your tickets early. We hope to see you at the rink!