There is no question the 3-0 shutout win in Seattle was a huge boost for the Chiefs and it couldn't have come at a better time. After losing four straight games, the last thing the team needed was a losing streak going into back to back games against two of the top 3 teams in the league in Portland and Tri City. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, those two are also the top two teams in the U.S. Division. Just two weeks earlier, Spokane was challenging those two for the top of the division, but the 4 game losing streak pretty much put an end to any division championship hopes. Not to mention that the Winterhawks and Americans have heated up to be the two hottest teams in the league. First up would be a trip to Portland, where the Chiefs had gone 0-3 back in November. The Hawks came in on a roll, having won 8 straight games to pass Tri City for the top spot in the division.
One thing the Chiefs couldn't afford to do was fall behind by a big margin, as Portland has more offensive firepower than Spokane. In a tight first period, Portland would take a 1-0 lead on a power play goal by Ty Rattie, who has just drilled the Chiefs all year long. The power play resulted after an awfullll call for embellishment on the Chiefs Mike Aviani, after he was cross checked in the back by Portland defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon. The missed call helped put the Chiefs into an early deficit. It was also the beginning of a long day special teams wise for the boys, as they would go 0-4 on the power play, while going just 1-3 on the penalty kill.
Spokane would pull back even early in the second period when Mitch Holmberg snapped home a great Dominick Uher pass from the left wing 2:17 into the period to make it 1-1. The game was pretty even until the middle of the period when the Chiefs began making the first of several critical turnovers that led to easy Portland goals. The first came from defenseman Cole Wedman as his turnover in the neutral zone led to a Hawks odd man rush that ended with a Joey Baker goal to make it 2-1 Portland. The Chiefs went on the power play just over 30 seconds later with a chance to tie the game. Instead, defenseman Brenden Kichton put the puck right on the tape of Portland's Taylor Peters, who walked in on Mac Engel and scored on a backhander just 48 seconds after Baker's goal to put the Hawks up 3-1. Marcel Noebels would score with just 34 seconds to go in the second to make it 4-1 and it looked like the Chiefs would be in for a longgg third period. Dominick Uher would give the Chiefs life though, as he scored on a rush up the left wing and scored with just 9 seconds left to bring Spokane within 4-2 after two.
It was a huge goal for the Chiefs to give them the feeling they were still in the game. Unfortunately, the Hawks would re-take a three goal lead when Oliver Gabriel scored just over three minutes into the third period for a 5-2 Portland lead. Back would come the Chiefs again, as Liam Stewart scored off a rebound of a Collin Valcourt shot at 4:10 to bring Spokane within 5-3. It was Stewart's 5th goal in 6 games, and gave the Chiefs a real boost. Once again, the Chiefs would go toe to toe with the Hawks from that point until yet another bout of turnoveritis. Spokane's Davis Vandane coughed up the puck at the Portland blue line, and the Winterhawks Brendan Leipsic skated away on a breakaway to score at 11:03 to put the Hawks up 6-3. If that wasn't a bad enough back-breaker for Spokane, anotherrr turnover in the Chiefs zone was converted by Sven Bartschi for Portland's 3rd unassisted goal of the game to put it away at 7-3. Portland would score their 2nd power play goal of the game less than 2 minutes later to cap the scoring and seal up an 8-3 win. The score was not indicative of how close the game was, but the Winterhawks have the firepower to turn a close game into a rout, especially if the other team gives the puck away as much as Spokane did on this night.
Now the team headed home for an almost all night bus ride home to take on a Tri City team that had won 4 in a row. The Chiefs had dropped their last 2 decisions to the Americans, including a home loss two weeks previous. Spokane didn't look like they would snap the streak early on either, as Justin Feser scored a sofftt goal on Chiefs goalie Eric Williams just 1:13 to make it 1-0 Tri City. The Americans would extend the lead when Zach Yuen converted an Adam Hughesman shot on the rebound on a situation that looked like a 2 on 1 in the Chiefs zone, and it was 2-0 Tri midway through the first. As the crowd grumbled a bit, Spokane turned the game around in a blink of an eye. Dominick Uher converted a great pass from Dylan Walchuk net front at 16:36 to cut the Ams lead in half at 2-1. Just 19 seconds later, Mitch Holmberg scored from the left goal line and suddenly the two teams were even at 2 heading into the first intermission.
The game stayed tied until midway through the second when Tri's Patrick Holland banged a rebound through the pads of Williams, who failed to secure the puck in the crease, and it was 3-2 Tri City. The Americans would then take a 4-2 lead off a 4 on 4 when Justin Feser skated in and snapped a shot in at 14:32. That spelled the end of the night for Williams, as Mac Engel entered the contest for Spokane. The Chiefs cut the lead to 4-3 midway through the third when Blake Gal's slap shot beat Tri goalie Ty Rimmer at 10:46 of the period. That was as good as it got for Spokane though, as the Ams Brendan Shinnimin found an open Holland in front of the Chiefs net at 14:11 to put the Americans back up by two. An Adam Hughesman power play goal at 16:15 ended the competitive phase of this contest, and when Shinnimin wrapped up a 4 point night with an empty netter with 13 seconds left, the Chiefs had absorbed their second straight beating on the scoreboard at 7-3. It was the worst loss in the series yet to the Americans, and I'm sure left a lot of players and fans with a lot of head scratching.
It was a painful weekend to say the least. The team had totally got off of its' game of keeping things simple with the puck, limiting turnovers, and outworking other teams at both ends of the ice. NONE of those things happened consistently in the two losses, and they have been problems over the previous three weeks, as the team had dropped 6 of 7 games to fall to 5th in the Western Conference. Now the Chiefs were 5 points back of Vancouver, their probable first round opponent, for home ice advantage in the series. It's times like these that a good road trip can turn things around and that's exactly what the Chiefs are hoping to accomplish as they head to British Columbia for 4 games with the Victoria Royals and Prince George Cougars.
The first game of the swing happened Tuesday night in Victoria, the capital of B.C. If you've never been to this city, make it a point of doing so at some point. It's a beautiful city with Old World charm mixed with a modern feel to it. The downtown sits right by the water and offers spectacular views. It's my new favorite city in the league. If the job ever opened up here, I'd beat down the door to apply. It's that nice here. The big worry for me though was the team would get caught up in everything you can do here and not focus on the task at hand, which was namely, get back to the way the Spokane Chiefs have to play hockey to be successful in the win-loss column.
Tuesday's game didn't start off well either, a common theme of late for Spokane. The Royals Dakota Conroy banged home a rebound past Engel just over 5 minutes in and it was suddenly 1-0 Victoria. The Chiefs would bounce back quickly though, as Mitch Holmberg snapped in a shot from the low left circle a little over 7 minutes later to tie the game at one after the first period. Despite having to kill off the only two power plays awarded in the period, Spokane outshot Victoria 12-8 in the first. Neither team would score in the second, a major triumph for Spokane, as the team had to kill off 3 more Victoria power plays in the period. Spokane didn't get a power play until late in the second, as the Chiefs had to endure some questionableeee officiating in the period. Dominick Uher took a cross check in the back and was sent head first into the boards midway through the period as the referee stood by and watched. It was at minimummm a 4 minute double minor, but Victoria received nothing. I knowww if the Chiefs had committed that hit, it was a 5 minute major, a game misconduct and a suspension forthcoming. The team to their credit, worked their way through it and the game remained tied at one going into the third.
Spokane would take their first lead of the game when Collin Valcourt put home a rebound of a Brenden Kichton shot 1:30 into the third to make it 2-1 Chiefs. While some of the guys struggled with bus legs in this game, Valcourt wasn't one of them, as he played one of his finer games of the year to finish with a goal and an assist. Victoria would come back and tie the contest on a Jamie Crooks goal at 7:26 of the period, and the game would remained tied late into the third. Spokane would break through when Steve Kuhn found Blake Gal in the crease at 16:40 and the Chiefs regained the lead at 3-2.
Victoria would get an offensive zone face-off with just over a minute left in the game, but Corey Baldwin, who had endured a frustrating night at the hands of the officials with 3 straight penalties earlier in the game, blocked a shot and took the puck to center ice and fired it in the open Royals net to cap a 4-2 Chiefs win. Mac Engel was rock solid in net for Spokane, turning aside 26 Victoria shots for his 25th win of the season. While Spokane went 0-2 on the power play, the penalty kill was excellent, turning back all 6 Royals power plays. It was the key to win without question.
Now the team has taken the first step towards getting back on their game, as they take on the Royals again on Wednesday here in Victoria. After a day off Thursday, the team will face a Prince George team that has handed Spokane two extremely disappointing losses on the Chiefs home ice. It's a big week for Spokane, as the team will have just 2 weeks left in the regular season after this road excursion. Wednesday and Friday's games will be on 1510 KGA, beginning with the pre-game show at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7pm. Saturday's contest from PG will be on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game, but the times will remain the same at 6:30pm for the pre-game. Hopefully the rest of the trip will go as well as the opener on Tuesday, and we hope you'll tune in to see how the boys do!