The Chiefs truly were a roller coaster last week, reaching the highest of highs with a huge win over the defending league champion Calgary Hitmen, and then coming right back down to earth in their final game of the week with a loss to the Red Deer Rebels. Spokane knew it would be a challenging week and certainly found that to be the case.
Wednesday's game with the Hitmen produced a result that noooo oneee could have forecast. Calgary had dropped a game to division co-leading Tri-City the night before in Kennewick by 3-1, in a game that the Hitmen could have easily won. With Calgary wrapping up their U.S. Division swing in Spokane, the Chiefs expected the Hitmen to finish with a flourish.
The Chiefs came out flying instead, as Tyler Johnson's net front pass to a wide open Blake Gal just 43 seconds into the game gave Spokane a 1-0 lead. Jared Cowen's shot from the left point was redirected by Darren Kramer at 2:27 and suddenly the Chiefs had a quick 2-0 lead. Spokane would extend the lead midway through the period when Gal would come up the left wing and put home a beautiful backhander top shelf for his second goal of the night to make it 3-0 Chiefs. It was a stunning start to the game.
Calgary would respond with a power play goal late in the period to make it 3-1. Instead of sitting on that lead though, Spokane would counter the goal with one of their own, as Cowen's shot from the point,was tipped by Kenton Miller to give the Chiefs a 4-1 lead after one. It was a huge goal, as any momentum that Calgary built up was quickly dissipated.
The second period was all Chiefs, as Gal would get the period off to a wacky start. Gal would gather the puck in the neutral zone and bang the puck off the wall, just a pool shot, hoping to send the puck down behind the Calgary net. Calgary goalie Juraj Holly thought so too, as did everyone else in the building. The puck had other ideas though, as Holly went behind the net, the puck bounced into the open goal to not only give Spokane a 5-1 lead, but also Gal's first career WHL hat trick. It also seemed to take the life out of the Hitmen, as Spokane would jump on Calgary for two more goals in the period.
Miller's second of the night would make it 6-1 as he took a Tyler Johnson pass net front and put home the power play goal. Mike Aviani would then score his first of the year as the Spokane crashed the net midway through the period to make it 7-1 Spokane after two.
The one thing you always worry about is the team coasting from there and letting the opponent back into the game. The Chiefs didn't do that in the third, as Tanner Mort made a nice play at his blue line, then led a rush up ice and dropped a pass to a trailing Mitch Holmberg, who scored his 4th goal of the year midway through the third to cap a 8-1 Chiefs win.
It was far and away the most impressive win of the year for Spokane, and showed me, and many others, what this team is capable of if it works hard for 60 minutes and plays a structured game. After a win like this though, the one thing you worry about a young team is how do they follow it up.
The Chiefs showed their youth in the next meeting with Red Deer on Saturday. The Rebels, who came in as the 7th ranked team in the entire CHL, showed why. Red Deer had dropped 2 straight during the week, including a 4-1 game the night before to Kootenay, so they came ready to play.
Red Deer would get on the board early, as a net front pass would hit John Persson's stick and he would roof it home to make it 1-0. Spokane would come back late in the period, as Collin Valcourt would lay out a Rebel defender, as well as a linesman, on a hit at center ice, freeing up the puck for Mitch Holmberg. Holmberg would find Anthony Bardaro open on the left wing, and Bardaro did the rest, streaking to the net and beating Red Deer goalie Darcy Kuemper to tie the game at one. It was a huge boost for Spokane going into the intermission.
Unfortunately, it was the Rebels who came out in the second period with a boost, as Red Deer scored just 3:21 into the period on an odd man rush. Red Deer would then cap the period with a power play goal in the final 1:05 to take a 3-1 lead after two. The most disappointing part to the second period for me was how farrrr the Chiefs got off their game plan and tried to play Red Deer's style of game. It was theee one thing Spokane couldn't afford to do, yet they did so, and found themselves down two goals.
In the third, Red Deer would strike again, scoring a late goal to take a commanding 4-1 lead. The Chiefs didn't quit though, as Levko Koper would score on a 5-3 advantage at 17:56 to bring Spokane within 4-2. It looked like Spokane had moved within 4-3 when the puck slid past Kuemper into the net with just over a minute remaining. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the referee blew the whistle while there was a battle for the puck and Spokane was denied a chance to move within one.
Spokane ended up outshooting the Rebels 33-25, but there was no question, at least in my mind, the just result came out of the game. Spokane didn't give the physical commitment necessary for 60 minutes to beat Red Deer on this night. It was a great lesson for the team though, and hopefully the boys will look at the video and move forward.
The road doesn't get any easier, as Spokane entertains improved Prince George on Wednesday at the Arena at 7pm. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA beginning at 6:30pm.
Right after the game, the boys, as well as myself, will board the bus for the longggg drive to Moose Jaw for Friday night's game with the Warriors. Saturday, the Chiefs will be in nearby Regina to take on the Pats.
It's the first two games of a six-game Eastern Division swing, one that will take the boys a week and a half to complete and put about 3,000 miles on the bus. I'll keep you posted on the goings on with the boys here on KREM.com and also on Spokanechiefs.com. See you at the rink!