Back in August when I first looked at the Chiefs schedule, this road trip the last week of January was one of the first to catch my eye. Four games in 5 nights going through Kamloops, Kelowna, Portland and Everett. Not only is playing 4 in 5 tough...but on the road, andd against these teams in buildings that are tough to win in, made me think the Chiefs better be playing some pretty good hockey, or it would be a longggg week. Fortunately for Spokane, the Chiefs were able to sweep two home games the weekend before, beating Moose Jaw and then Tri City in a shootout. Spokane was 5 points back of Seattle for second in the division, so a good road trip was very necessary to have any hope of making up some ground on the team holding the last home ice spot in the playoffs.
The trip began Tuesday in Kamloops, a place where the Chiefs had lost the last time they had played there in October 5-4. Spokane had started horribly in that game, falling behind 3-0 before rallying to make a game of it. The Chiefs seemed determined not to repeat history, as they played one of their better first periods of the season on this night. Mitch Holmberg scored on a 5 on 3 power play at 15:55 to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Then Dominic Zwerger scored as the 5 on 4 advantage ended at 17:26 to put the Chiefs up 2-0 at the end of one. Spokane outshot Kamloops 11-6 in the period, and if not for the play of goalie Bolton Pouliot, the Blazers could have been down 3 or 4 goals after one.
With the Chiefs having to kill off 5 minutes of a Kamloops power play, things looked like the game was changing in the Blazers favor. Spokane would change that quickly though as Liam Stewart stole the puck at the Chiefs blue line and was taken down going on a breakaway. Stewart was awarded a penalty shot and he converted just 11 seconds into the penalty kill to give Spokane a 4-1 lead. Kamloops would score on the power play at 10:44 to make it a 4-2 game, but the Chiefs would score their second short handed goal in the 5 minute penalty kill when Adam Helewka finished a breakaway off a Marcus Messier pass at 12:14 to give Spokane a 5-2 lead after two. In what could have been a huge turnaround for Kamloops, the Chiefs instead scored twice while short handed to take the air out of the Blazers.
Kamloops would score their 2nd power play goal of the night at 11:05 of the third period to cut the lead to 5-3, but Carter Proft would cap the scoring for Spokane with his 6th of the season at 16:20 to wrap up a 6-3 win. The Chiefs would end up outshooting Kamloops 28-27 in the game, including a 22-10 margin over the first and third periods. While only going 1-3 on the penalty kill, the two short handed goals scored off-set the PK performance to give the Chiefs their 3rd straight win. The task would not get any easier though as Spokane headed down the road to Kelowna to take on the #1 team in the CHL.
Spokane had won the first match-up with the Rockets with a 6-3 win at home back in early October. Since that defeat, Kelowna had only lost 6 times in 48 games in regulation. Pretty impressive performance no matter how you look at it. The team that had scored first had won the last 5 games between the two teams, so it looked good for the Chiefs when Reid Gow scored from the left wing just 7:47 in to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Kelowna would even things on the power play at 10:50 to tie the game at one, but Mitch Holmberg would score short-handed, Spokane's third in 2 games, at 14:58 to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead after one. The Chiefs outshot Kelowna 11-7 in the period despite not getting a power play chance.
After taking the one goal lead into the second, the Chiefs then saw why Kelowna had rose to the top of junior hockey. Ryan Olson scored off a failed Chiefs clearance out of their zone to tie the game at two at 3:40. Goals would follow at 7:14, 16:20 and again at 19:21 to give the Rockets a commanding 5-2 lead heading into the third. Spokane had just gone 4-12 when trailing after two periods and had never come back from 3 goals down. Kelowna had gone 28-0-0-2 when leading after two, and had not lost a 3 goal lead all year. Let's just say things didn't look good for the Chiefs heading into the third.
Spokane would bring in Garret Hughson for Eric Williams to start the period, hoping to get a bit of a jump start and the Chiefs did just that in the period. Liam Stewart converted a Holmberg pass just 25 seconds in and the Chiefs were within 5-3. Proft would finish off a rebound of a Jason Fram shot at 4:53 to make it a 5-4 game, and Spokane was right back in the contest. The Chiefs would generate their only 3 power play chances of the game in the third, and would finally convert on the last opportunity when Gow scored his 2nd of the game off a Holmberg pass at 15:24 of the third to tie the game at five. Gow's goal would eventually send the game to overtime, a mighty accomplish that seemed impossible 20 minutes earlier. Neither team came close to scoring in overtime as the Chiefs went to a shootout for the second time in their last 3 games.
Now the game came down to the goalies, Hughson, who had turned away all 8 shots he had seen, and the Rockets Jordan Cooke, who had made 26 saves thus far. Those two dominated the first 5 rounds of the shootout, as Spokane had seen Holmberg, Helewka, Stewart, Zwerger, and Keanu Yamamoto fail to beat Cooke. Hughson would make it 6 for 6 when he turned back Kris Schmidle, setting the stage for Fram to win it. Fram, who had scored the game winner in the 6th round of the shootout in Calgary in October, would do it again, as he went top shelf to give the Chiefs the 1-0 shootout win and a 6-5 victory.
Who da thunk? Spokane had every reason to pack the bags after the second, and without Aviani to help, the team rallied huge for their biggest comeback since December of 2012, when the Chiefs rallied from a 6-2 third period deficit to beat Seattle at home in a shootout 7-6. The one down note was the team lost Stewart when his foot was hit by a Damon Severson shot in the third. He would now be out of the line-up for the rest of the road trip as well, as Spokane headed to Portland to face the first place Winterhawks. Spokane had gone 0 for 6 against Portland this year, and this after getting swept 4 straight in the playoffs last year by Portland.
The one thing in common in all the losses, were Portland getting the early lead as they had scored first in every win. It's become a mental thing with Spokane that perhaps they aren't as good as Portland, but as Wednesday's game demonstrated, the Chiefs can play with..and beat any team in the league..if they are committed to playing their game hard. This would definitely have to be the game plan against a Winterhawks team that had won 14 straight against Spokane dating back to January of 2013. The Chiefs came out and played pretty well in the first, outshooting Portland 12-8, but couldn't find the net on Portland goalie Brendan Burke. Portland would get 3 power play chances in the period and would break through with 9 seconds left on their second one on a Keegan Iverson backhand to take a 1-0 lead after one.
The Chiefs got off to a good start when Colton Bobyk scored his 3 goal of the season 7:08 into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Everett would answer though on a Patrick Bajkov goal at 14:26 to tie the game at one. The goal would trigger a 3 goals in 1:30 session, as Spokane came right back on Markson Bechtold's second goal of the year 22 seconds after Bajkov's goal as the Chiefs re-took the lead at 2-1. Back would come the Silvertips as Ivan Nikolishin scored on a rebound at 15:56 to tie the game at two heading into the second period.
It was more offense in the second, something I had not seen in the previous 3 games in Everett this year. Bobyk would notch his multi-goal game of his Chiefs career with a power play tally at 2:35 of the second to make it 3-2 Spokane. Everett would get a Josh Winquist goal at 4:44 to get back even at 3-3, and then Kole Bauml's power play goal at 8:40 of the second would give the Silvertips their first lead over Spokane in Everett this season at 4-3. For the third straight game, Garret Hughson took over in net for Eric Williams as the team looked for a little spark to tie the game once again.
Spokane finished off the 4 games in 5 nights trip at 2-1-1, garnering a possible 5 out of 8 points. If you had told me before the trip began that the Chiefs would get that, I would have said..'Great!'. It sure would have been nice to get the extra point with a win in Everett, but as shorthanded as the Chiefs are right now with their injury situation, it's a win for Spokane on this road swing. Now the team gets one game back at home as they head home Wednesday to play Seattle.
The Thunderbirds have been a major thorn, along with Portland, for the Chiefs this year. Spokane has gone 0-5 against Seattle, but are still right on the T-Birds heels for 2nd in the U.S. Division and 4th in the Western Conference. The home game Wednesday is the only one this week for Spokane as the team hops right back on the bus for 3 games in 3 nights on the road in the U.S. Division this weekend. Spokane will be at Seattle on Friday, Tri City on Saturday and finish up at Everett on Sunday. Another tough road swing for Spokane. Let's just hope the team heals up fairly quickly. The good news is that Mike Aviani's suspension will be over, so that will be a big boost as he'll be raring to go.
I'll have the call on Wednesday on 1510 KGA from the Spokane Arena with the pre-game at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7:05pm. Friday's game from Seattle will be a 7pm pre-game and 7:35pm puck drop on 1510. Saturday's game from Tri City will be on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game, with the pre-game at 6:30pm and puck drop at 7:05pm from Kennewick. Sunday's game is back on 1510 KGA with a 3:30pm pre-game and 4:05pm puck drop. Here's to a big week for the Chiefs and we hope to see you at the rink!