When I looked at the schedule at the beginning of the season, I thought the month of January appeared to be a little busy. Now that the Chiefs are in the midst of the month, I was wrong. It's been crazy. It's easily the busiest stretch I can remember the team undertaking since the wacky 7 games in 9 nights the team went through on their Eastern swing in the 2006-07 season.
This time around, the boys went on a 5 games in 7 nights trip, with the 5 games in 5 different cities. Let's just say I stilll have a hard time remembering where I was when, but I'll do my best to recap the week that saw Spokane go 4-1 and a tie for first in the U.S. Division and Western Conference.
The week started at division leading Portland against the Winterhawks. The trip didn't start real well, as the team bus got stuck for just over 4 hours sitting on I-84 outside Hood River after a tanker truck decided to jack knife and take out 5 cars in the process. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, but the delay was a pain in the rear back of my front if you get my drift. After getting to the hotel around 12:30am, the team got a team meal and got to their rooms around 1am.
It didn't seem to hurt the boys game the next night at the old Memorial Coliseum. Just 1:15 into the game, Dominick Uher put home a rebound out netfront, and the Chiefs had a quick 1-0 lead. Spokane would build on it in the second when Tyler Johnson converted a 2-1 rush with Uher to score a shorthanded goal to make it 2-0. Portland would score to cut the lead in half on a Joe Morrow goal, but the Chiefs would come right back when Blake Gal scored on a redirect off a Corey Baldwin shot to give the Chiefs a 3-1 lead after two.
Brendan Kichton would score off a beautiful pass from Jared Cowen just over 3 minutes into the third period to make it 4-1 Spokane. When it looked like an easy win was in the offing, the Hawks put home two goals in just 31 seconds past the midway point of the third to make it a 4-3 game.
Coach Don Nachbaur called timeout, and after that point, the Chiefs settled down and got back on their game to keep Portland at bay and come away with a big 4-3 win in the Rose City. It was the Chiefs 7th straight victory, their longest streak of the year, and 4th in a row against the CHL's 7th ranked team in Portland, as the Chiefs pulled within 2 points of first place in the division.
The team then headed North of the Border on Friday to face the Central Division leading Kootenay Ice, who were ranked #9 in the latest CHL poll. Just like in Portland, the team ran into a truck accident on the way to the rink on the highway about 20 minutes outside Cranbrook. This time, the team sat for about hour and 45 minutes and didn't get to the rink until 6:35pm. The game was supposed to start at 7pm, but got pushed back to 7:50.
The Chiefs got started a little later than that unfortunately, as the Ice put home two goals 11 seconds apart beginning 5:38 into the game to jump out to a 2-0 lead. Spokane would get back into the game when Johnson scored his league leading 32nd goal of the year from Uher at the 9 minute mark to make 2-1 Kootenay after one.
The start of the second wasn't any better than the first though, as the Ice's Kevin King scored 2 goals 2:33 apart early in the period to leave Kootenay with a 4-1 lead. Steve Kuhn's power play goal midway through the second would cut the lead to 4-2 after two, but I never got the feeling the team was back in the game.
The third period proved that correctly, as the Ice put home two more goals on the power play to close out a convincing 6-2 win. The Chiefs penalty kill, the top unit in the league, surrendered a season high 3 goals in the loss, and the defeat made for a longg ride back to Avista Stadium to drop off the gear for the following day's Outdoor Classic. The team got back at close to 1:30am, and with a 1pm start the next day, it didn't leave a lot of time to rest or recuperate.
The outdoor game had been talked about for months, and the excitement of it really didn't hit me until the team's media day at the stadium on Thursday. I knew the team's chance to practice on the ice had to have helped a ton, especially since Kootenay had not seen the surface, let alone worked on it. After the beat down the night before, Spokane could use any advantage it could get.
The weather was perfect for the game, and so was the Chiefs start. Collin Valcourt scored just 4:20 into the contest to get Spokane to a quick 1-0 lead. Blake Gal would score just over 4 minutes later on the power play and the Chiefs were off and running. Brendan Kichton and Matt Marantz would add two more and Spokane jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Not even a goal from Kootenay's Elgin Pearce in the final minute of the period could dampen the sellout crowd of 7,075 as Spokane was up 4-1 after one.
Little did anyone know it was just the beginning for the Chiefs. After the night before, I couldn't believe Spokane was jumping all over the Ice, getting to every loose puck and winning every battle. It was the complete opposite of the night before. The second period would show the Chiefs were not done with their assault on the Ice defense.
Gal scored his second of the night just 1:43 in to make it 5-1 Spokane. Johnson smacked one home at 5:27 to give the Chiefs a 6-1 advantage. Then it was time for the Chiefs power play to do unto the Ice, as the Ice had done unto them the night before. Dominick Uher and Tyler Vanscourt scored on power play tallies just 28 seconds apart to end the competitive end of this contest as Spokane led 8-1. Steve Kuhn and Jared Cowen would tack on two more goals just over two minutes apart midway through the second to cap a 6 goal second as the Chiefs had a commanding 10-1 lead after two.
The third saw the Ice score early, but Marantz tallied his second of the night to cap a 3 point night as Spokane routed the Ice 11-2. The 11 goals tied a season high with the 11 Spokane notched in a win in Regina in November, and saw a number of season high marks in scoring. Anthony Bardaro notched a career 5 assists, while Kuhn had a goal and 2 assists, and Brady Brassart had 3 helpers.
It was a nice result for a fun day for the fans and the City of Spokane to celebrate the first outdoor game in WHL history. All I can say to the fans who decided not to come...you misseddd outttt. The atmosphere was fun, and the Chiefs certainly rewarded the fans with a lights out performance.
Now the big question was...could the team keep in going with two more road games set over the next 3 days? The team got on the bus righttt after the outdoor game and headed West to Everett to face the Silvertips. The Everett Events Center has been a house of horrors for the Chiefs since the Tips came in the league in 2004. Spokane's only shutout loss this year had been in Everett in December by a tune of 2-0.
On this Sunday, there wasn't going to be any shutout. Cowen sent a blast from the left circle just 1:11 into the game that was hit so hard, it burst through the net. The goal judge never saw it...the referee at the goal line never saw it, but the Chiefs bench did. After a stop in play, the video review booth took a look and saw that indeed, Cowen scored to make it a 1-0 game. Thank goodness for video review. Two years earlier, Cowen put one so hard in the net in Saskatoon, it kicked straight back out, but no one saw it, and there was no review to overturn it, and the Chiefs lost a 2-1 game.
This time, the goal not only counted, but seemed to fire the team up. Johnson would score just 17 seconds later on a backhander to make it 2-0 Spokane. The Chiefs then converted their first power play chance of the game on a Uher rebound, and 3:08 into the game, it was 3-0 Chiefs. A 3-0 lead is the perfect way to take the rowdy Everett crowd out of the game and Spokane did just that. In Everett though, the visiting team isn't just playing the Tips or the crowd. For some reason, the referees alwaysss find a way to get the home team crowd in it, and this time was no exception. The Chiefs took 3 straight penalties to give the Silvertips 3 power play chances. Spokane was perfect on the penalty kill though, and it remained 3-0 after one.
Marantz would tally his 3rd goal in 2 days with a shot just 13 seconds into the second period to give the Chiefs a 4-0 lead. It was all James Reid needed as he only gave up a Ryan Harrison goal midway through the second on the way to a 4-1 win. It was Reid's 77th career win, tying with Dustin Tokarski for the most wins in franchise history. It also marked Spokane's first win in Everett for the season, and sent the team on a high note to Chilliwack for the road trip finale.
Chilliwack has always been another tough building for the Chiefs to get a win. Spokane had lost earlier in the year 2-1 to the Bruins, so the Chiefs were hoping to salvage a win up North in the team's final appearance at Prospera Centre this season.
Once again, the Chiefs got off to a great start. Levko Koper's power play goal just over 6 minutes in gave Spokane a quick 1-0 advantage. Mike Aviani would score on a breakaway later in the period to make it 2-0, then Brady Brassart converted a great feed from Collin Valcourt in the final 3 minutes to give the Chiefs a 3-0 lead after one.
The second period was more of the same, as Jared Cowen's power play goal 4 minutes in made it 4-0. Matt Marantz then scored from his knees on a rebound net front to give the Chiefs a commanding 5-0 lead after two. The chance for Reid to pick up the shutout disappeared just 25 seconds into the third when Ryan Howse scored after a Chief turnover, but Koper capped a 2 goal performance with a shorthanded tally late in the third to cap a convincing 6-1 win. The win pulled the Chiefs even with Portland for first place in the U.S. Division and the top spot in the Western Conference.
It also capped a great week for the boys, as they went 4-1 in a veryyyy demanding road trip. Spokane has no time to gloat though, as another tough week awaits, with 3 games in 3 nights coming up for the team. The Chiefs will host Kootenay in a rematch of last week's outdoor game on Friday at 7pm. Kelowna comes to the Spokane Arena on Saturday at 7pm, and the Chiefs then head back to Portland to face the Winterhawks in a first place showdown Sunday at 5pm.
Friday and Sunday's games will be on 1510 KGA beginning with the pregame shows a half hour prior to start time. Saturday's game will be on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game. It's another challenge for this young Chiefs team, but one thing I've learned with this bunch. Give them a challenge and they'll usually respond. See you at the rink!