After the previous weekend's roller coaster ride with losses to Everett and Seattle around a big win against Tri City, the Chiefs were hoping to find a little more consistent play to their game going into a three games in three nights weekend with U.S. Division front runners Tri City and Portland. Looking at that gauntlet, I was hoping the Chiefs would be able to get three points, maybe 4 of the possible 6 if things went right and the stars aligned. Winning at Tri City is always a formidable task, and Portland has had a great deal of success against the Chiefs at the Spokane Arena the last two seasons, winning 2 playoff series on Spokane's home ice.
When you go into a weekend like that, the first game is usually a pretty big tone setter as to how the rest of the weekend will shape up. Let's just say it didn't look good early in Friday's opener with Tri City when the Americans scored just 7:19 into the first period on a Brian Williams goal to take a 1-0 lead after one. Fortunately for the Chiefs though, goalie Mac Engel looked sharp early, as he turned away 12 of 13 Ams shots to keep the Chiefs within one. Spokane had generated just 5 shots in the first, so there was no doubt the offense had to pick up soon, or Tri Cities pressure would overwhelm the Chiefs at some point. Spokane was able to start to get some offense going in the second, outshooting Tri 8-7, but couldn't get a puck past Ams goalie Eric Comrie. The Chiefs were able to keep Tri City off the board as well, as Engel turned away an Ams breakaway while the Chiefs were on the power play midway through the period.
To be down one going into the third period was a testament to Engel, as he had to stone Tri City on several occasions over the first 40 minutes. The Chiefs had done a good job taking the crowd out of the game going into the final period, and would really quiet the crowd when Collin Valcourt tucked one home 5:08 into the third to tie the game at 1. Thanks to Mother Nature's freezing rain, the usual sellout crowd wasn't on hand on this night, leaving the house about half empty from normal, so the somewhat subdued rink was even more pronounced. The Chiefs power play, which had been reallyyy struggling over the previous month with the exception of their win over Tri City the previous weekend, would put Spokane on top for good midway through the third. Brenden Kichton's shot from the point did the path of the Kennedy bullet, changing directions twice, before getting past Comrie at 10:56 to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead.
Dominick Uher would put in a herculean effort with Spokane on the penalty kill late in the third, stealing the puck and banking a shot from the right side off an Ams defender past Comrie at 17:20 to put the Chiefs up 3-1. Engel and the defense would do the rest, turning away the Ams while they had a 6-4 advantage with a power play and an empty net in the final two minutes, as Spokane secured their first win in 4 tries at Tri Cities with a 3-1 win. Engel turned away 37 shots on the night, a season high, including 18 in the third period. It was a tremendous start to the weekend, and the hope was the team would carry the energy of the third period into the next night's game at home with Portland.
The Winterhawks have been a nemesis for the Chiefs over the past two plus years, eliminating Spokane in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, and beating the Chiefs in 4 straight contests in the 8 game season series this year. The Hawks had beaten Spokane in back to back games in Portland in mid-November, so the Chiefs were hoping to return the favor this time around. Portland had not played since beating Tri City the previous Monday, but their bus trip to Spokane took nearly 12 hours due to weather and a flat tire on their bus, so the Chiefs were hoping the Hawks would bring some bus legs to the rink on Saturday.
Unfortunately for Spokane, Portland came out with anything but in the first period. Portland put the Chiefs on their heels throughout much of the first, controlling the puck in Spokane's defensive end, and putting up 10 shots to just 5 for the Chiefs. On this night, backup goalie Eric Williams would put in a performance as good as Engel's the night before, as he gave up just one goal in the period, a Ty Rattie power play tally at 14:56 of the stanza to give Portland a 1-0 lead after one. Again, the Chiefs were extremely fortunate to be down just one goal after the first, so the hope was the team wouldn't wait until the third to get things going offensively because the Hawks could render the outcome moot before then with another strong period in the second.
The Chiefs came out in the second with their offensive game in full ready mode as Steve Kuhn scored on a rebound net front just 5:09 into the period to tie the game at one. The goal came less than a minute after the Chiefs had a goal waved off on the power play when the referee ruled the Chiefs Darren Kramer interfered with Portland goalie Mac Carruth's ability to play the puck. It was a tough call to swallow, but Kuhn's goal seemed to render some justice for Spokane. Kichton would score his second go ahead goal in as many nights as his shot from the right point found its way through at 13:43 to make it 2-1 Chiefs. Kuhn would then score shorthanded when he and Uher combined to get the puck up ice when Portland had a chance to tie the game late in the second. It turned out to be a huge goal, as Rattie would score just 17 seconds after Kuhn's goal to bring the Hawks within 3-2 after two periods.
Once again, as it so often does with these two teams, it would come down to who would win the third period. Spokane seized the initiative early, as Dylan Walchuk put home a rebound on a great individual effort after a Uher shot at 2:28 of the third to make it 4-2 Spokane. To have that insurance goal turned out to be the game for the Chiefs, as Williams and the defense shut out the Hawks the rest of the way on Portland's 10 shots in the period. Uher would wrap up the win with a great shot from the right circle at 16:52 as the Chiefs secured their first win against Portland in 5 tries with a 5-2 victory.
It was greatttt back to back efforts for the boys, as securing 4 points against these two teams was a triumph of the weekend already in my mind. But when you get the first two games, you definitelyyy want to win the third. The Chiefs knew Portland would come out with guns blazing the next night, but Spokane came out firing a bit themselves. On the very first shift of the game, Kramer found Mike Aviani wide open in the slot, and Aviani buried it past Carruth just 26 seconds into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. The Chiefs would extend that lead to 2-0 when Liam Stewart scored on a backhander while the team was shorthanded at 7:20 of the first, as Spokane notched their second shorthanded goal against Portland in as many nights. It was a terrific start for the Chiefs as they outshot the Hawks 15-5 on their way to a two goal advantage after one.
In the second period, the Chiefs came out with more of the same. Aviani would score just 5:07 in with a shot from the right side for his second two goal game of the season. Mitch Holmberg would score off a beautiful set up by his linemates Dylan Walchuk and Uher at 12:33 to put Spokane up 4-0. When Walchuk scored an easy power play goal less than 3 minutes later, it was 5-0 Spokane and spelled the end of the night for Carruth, who was on his way off the ice before the backup Brendan Burke had put his mask on. You could sense the frustration from Portland, a team that was not used to winning in Spokane of late, but had won 4 in a row, and 9 of their last 10.
That frustration came out at 18:15 of the period, when the Hawks Brad Ross hit Spokane's Marek Kalus upside the head net front, and then rode him into the end wall behind the Portland goal. As you would expect, the Chiefs didn't take to it too kindly as Darren Kramer and defenseman Corey Baldwin came in to rescue Kalus and give Ross a piece of his own medicine. It started a fracas that involved everyone with the exception of the goalies. Only 4 players were given penalties, and Kramer, in an astonishing piece of poor officiating, was the only one given a game misconduct, while Ross, who starteddd the whole melee, was given just a 10 minute misconduct on top of his other transgressions. Ross even tried to go after the Chiefs trainer Todd Daniels while Daniels was trying to attend to Kalus. The whole situation wasn't handled too well, and it left a lot of bad blood on the ice...not to mention the stands.
The third period would see Portland get on the board with their 3rd power play goal of the weekend when Sven Bartschi scored at 7:51 to make it a 5-1 game. Engel would shut down the Hawks from there as he turned away 9 of 10 Portland shots in the period. Holmberg would seal the 6-1 win with a breakaway at 12:48 to wrap up a three point night for himself. All that remained was for the clock to wind out, but that would be wayyy to much to expect between these two teams. Portland's Joe Morrow, who knocked Holmberg out for 4 games with a check from behind in the first two game series in November in Portland, was back at again, as he cross checked Liam Stewart head first into the boards right after Holmberg's goal. Somehow, don't ask me how, Morrow got off with a 2 minute minor. The Chiefs Carter Proft objected, as well as he and the Chiefs should have, and took Morrow to task. Proft was given 17 minutes in penalties to end his night, but the message was sent that the Chiefs were not going to put up with Ross or Morrow's shenanigans.
The fireworks continued after the game, as the fans got into it with the Portland bench. An altercation with Head Coach Mike Johnston as well as some of the players, eventually led to Portland Captain William Wrenn being suspended one game. Now how Ross escaped anyyyy punishment out of all of the night's activities is a mystery Sherlock Holmes would have fun solving.
It will definitelyyyy make for an interesting rematch when the Hawks come back to the Arena on Friday night. Let's just say you don't want to miss this one. First up though is a road trip to Everett for the final meeting of the season with the Silvertips. The last time the Chiefs were in Everett, it was a Friday the 13th nightmare resulting in a 4-3 overtime loss after the Chiefs led 3-0 midway through the third. The game will be on 1510 KGA beginning with the pre-game show at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7:05pm. Then comes the Portland game on Friday, followed by the defending league champion Kootenay Ice paying their first visit to the Arena on Saturday. Both games will be on 1510 with the same 6:30 and 7:05pm times on pre-game and puck drop.
Let's hope for another 3 for 3 week, and we hope to see you at the rink!