Posted on December 3, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Every two years the Chiefs head to the prairies of Canada and to play the 6 teams in the Eastern Division of the Western Hockey League. It's the longest road trip the team does in their travels through the WHL, giving the team plenty of time to bond and get to know each other even better off of the ice. It's also a chance to experience winter at its' best as well, as cold, ice and snow always seem to be travel companions during the entire journey. The team was coming off a nice 5-2 home win over the Tri City Americans that put Spokane in second place in the U.S. Division, so the team was hoping to keep that standing through their journey East.
The trip began Friday night in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. The team left Wednesday morning after a practice at the Arena and made its way to Medicine Hat, Alberta, which is about 2 hours west of Swift. The team practiced in the Hat Thursday afternoon before getting back on the bus and making the final leg to Speedy Creek. Swift Current, which is about 10-11 hours drive from Spokane, was coming off back to back wins over division rival Brandon, and were on a roll of late. The Broncos were the biggest team the Chiefs had faced this year, so it was essential for Spokane to take care of the puck and play some of its smartest hockey of the season.
A good start never hurts either, and the Chiefs did just that as Mike Aviani scored on a rebound of a Todd Fiddler shot off a 4 on 4 12:02 into the first to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. The Chiefs penalty kill did the job next, as goalie Eric Williams cleared the puck to the Spokane blue line to Aviani. Aviani hit Fiddler in stride past the Broncos blue line and Fiddler's backhander went in at 14:30 as his shorthanded marker put the Chiefs up 2-0. Swift's Chance Lund scored on a rebound just under two minutes later to cut the Chiefs lead to 2-1 after one. The Chiefs were outshot 8-5 in the period, so a lead was huge.
It showed in the second period how much the momentum of the first period lead meant to the Chiefs. Once again, Aviani and Fiddler got the Chiefs going. Aviani's second of the night, a backhander from the left wing 3:40 into the period put Spokane up 3-1. Fiddler then snapped a shot from the right circle on the power play for his second of the night at 8:43 to make it 4-1 Chiefs. Lund would counter with his second of the evening, scoring shorthanded on another rebound midway through the period to leave it a 4-2 game after two periods. Spokane put up 15 shots in the period and seemed to start to take over the game offensively.
That would be bourn out in the third as Spokane played one of their best periods of the season, dominating the Broncos in every phase of the game. Reid Gow's shot from the point just 1:58 into the period would extend the lead to 5-2. Marek Kalus, in his first game of the season after sitting out with an injury since the team's first exhibition tournament, would get an assist on Gow's goal. Tyler King's blast from the left wing on another 4 on 4 late in the third put the Chiefs up 6-2, then Mitch Holmberg scored again on the the 4 on 4 just 44 seconds later to cap the 7-2 win. Holmberg would take a nasty fall on the ice after being hit after the goal, and would leave favoring his shoulder, but it turned out to be a minor injury, which was nice to see after Holmberg had just returned recently from another injury.
Spokane outshot the Broncos 35-29, including a 15-7 margin in the third. Spokane also surrendered just 2 power plays and were perfect on the penalty kill as they wore Swift out during the game as the Chiefs put up one of their most impressive performances of the year. Aviani and Fiddler led the way, with Aviani going for 2 goals and 2 assists, while Fiddler went for 2 goals and a helper. It was a great start to the trip, as the team headed East 2 hours to the Capital of Saskatchewan, Regina, to face off with the Pats the following evening.
Like the previous game, the Chiefs came out firing in the first, as Spokane converted their first power play of the night when Dylan Walchuk roofed a shot from the slot at 4:23 to make it a 1-0 game. Just over 3 minutes later, Mitch Holmberg took a Walchuk pass and with his back to the net, turned and whipped a shot in the net for his 15th of the season and it was suddenly 2-0 Spokane. It looked like it would be an easy evening for the Chiefs, but the Pats turned the game around quickly in the first as they would score on their first power play midway through the period to cut the lead in half at 2-1. Regina's Morgan Klimchuk would then backhand a rebound off Chiefs goalie Garret Hughson with just 45 seconds left in the period to tie the game at 2.
The Pats carried the play early in the second and would take advantage of back to back Chiefs penalties, as Lane Scheidl scored two power play goals in the first 3:49 to give Regina a 4-2 lead. Fiddler would get his 21st of the season off a face-off win by Aviani at 8:53 to cut the lead down to 4-3 Regina. Klimchuk though would cap a 5 point night with his second tally of the night just 30 seconds after Fiddler's goal to put the Pats back up 2 at 5-3. Things were nottt looking good at this point. Spokane would get a huge goal late in the second though, as Reid Gow's shot from the point found its' way in at 14:36 to make it a 5-4 game after two. Rookies Riley Whittingham and Regina native Tyson Predinchuk set up Gow's 5th of the season, and it proved to be a foreshadowing of things to come in the third.
Whittingham, Predinchuk and Carter Proft were excellent on the night, and they came out and dominated in the third. Their hard work would culminate in Proft's 3rd goal of the year at 6:59 of the third to bring the Chiefs even at 5. After putting up 21 shots in the second, Spokane would outshoot Regina 17-4 in the third but would only manage to get Proft's goal to force overtime. The way the Chiefs controlled play from the midway point of the game, I was hoping they would find a way to keep it going in the OT, as a loss would have been pretty tough to swallow after coming back from 2 goals down. The success the team had on 4 on 4's the previous night in Swift crossed my mind, and sure enough Spokane would show the same type of play they showed the night before when they scored 3 different goals on 4 on 4's.
This time, Tyler King, who grew up just outside Regina, would take a pass at the point and slap the puck off Regina goalie Teagan Sacher's glove and in the net at 2:46 of overtime to give the Chiefs a hugeee come from behind 6-5 win in OT. Despite going just 4-7 on the penalty kill, Spokane put up all 6 shots in overtime to outshoot Regina 60-26 in the game. It marked a season high in shots for the Chiefs and gave them their 5th win in their last 6 games to keep them in second place in the division. It's also a pretty good feeling to go into two day's off with a win, as now the road gets even tougher for Spokane.
The Chiefs got a chance to watch the East Division leading Prince Albert Raiders on Sunday in Regina, and watched the Raiders run roughshod over the Pats 8-2. Former Chiefs Davis Vandane and Anthony Bardaro had a goal and 2 assists respectively, and no doubt served notice that Spokane will have to play a lot closer to their performance in Swift Current rather than Regina, to have a chance to win. I'll have the call on Tuesday night from Prince Albert on 1510 KGA beginning with the pre-game at 4:30pm Pacific Time, and the puck drop at 5pm. The next night on Wednesday, the Chiefs will be in nearby Saskatoon for game 4 of the trip as they face the Blades at the same times, again on 1510 KGA. Let's hope the boys keep playing well and bring home a couple more wins. I'll update the blog here on krem.com on Thursday after those two games, and you can get daily recaps on the 'on the road' blog under the newslink on spokanechiefs.com. We hope to see you on the radio!