Spokane Chiefs Blog: Welcoming the New Year
Posted on January 4, 2013 at 1:21 AM
Coming off the Christmas break, the Chiefs were anxious to not just get back out on the ice after a 9 day layoff, but also to wash the taste out after droppng 2 straight home games to rivals Tri City and Portland. It was the first time the team had lost 2 in a row at home all season, and the losses had put Spokane 10 points back of the Winterhawks in the U.S. Division. The Chiefs would open the second half of the year with a home and home series with the Kootenay Ice, who were the last place team in the Eastern Conference. It was the first of 5 games the two teams would play this year in the renewal of the traditional Spokane-Cranbrook, B.C. rivalry that dated back to the early 20th Century.
The Chiefs were still without Head Coach Don Nachbaur, who was off in Russia serving as the Assistant Coach for Team Canada in the World Junior Hockey Championships. For Acting Head Coach Jon Klemm, the trip to Cranbrook last Friday was a trip home, as he grew up there. After some inconsistent play over the last two weeks of the first half, Spokane went with goalie Eric Williams in the first game of the set with the Ice. It turned out to be a great decision, especially in the first period, as Williams turned aside 12 Kootenay shots in keeping the game scoreless after one.
The second period would see Spokane get on their game offensively, as they would outshoot the Ice by a 14-7 margin. Spokane would finally break through against Ice goalie Mackenzie Skapski, who was matching Williams save for save in the contest, late in the second. Todd Fiddler would steal the puck on the left wall and snap a shot from the circle at 18:17 of the period to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after two. The lead looked to be in serious danger early in the third when Spokane took back to back minor penalties to set up Kootenay on a 2 man advantage for 1:11. Williams and the defense denied the Ice over the power play chance and despite being outshot 10-3 in the period, the Chiefs would hang on for the 1-0 win. It was Williams that stole the show, turning aside 29 shots for his second shutout of the season.
It wasn't exactly an impressive start to the second half, but a road win is a road win, and the team was hoping to build off the momentum the next night when they hosted the Ice at the Spokane Arena. Williams was back in net once again, but it didn't take long for the Ice to solve him on this night as Eric Benoit snapped home a shot from the slot 7:20 into the game to make it 1-0 Kootenay. The Chiefs would come right back behind Fiddler, who would walk in on Skapski and score on a backhand at 13:15 to tie the game at one. Kootenay would answer just 2:34 later and score off a 2 on 1 when Austin Vetterl's shot hit off Williams and in the net to give the Ice a 2-1 lead. The Chiefs came right back at the end of the period when Dylan Walchuk put a backhander through the pads of Skapski at 18:11 to even the game at two after the first. Walchuk's goal was reviewed as it appeared Skapski had made the stop on the puck when the whistle blew. The referee ruled the puck had crossed before the whistle, which can't be reviewed and the goal ended up going on the board.
It was a huge break for the Chiefs, who would then get back to back penalties from the Ice at the end of the first and start of the second to go on a 5 on 3 in the first minute of the period. Fiddler would score his second goal of the night on the power play to put the Chiefs up 3-2 just 1:11 into the second. Kootenay though would answer with a power play goal Sam Reinhart, who beat a screened Williams at 4:26 to even the game back at 3. Just under 10 minutes later, the Ice would charge the Chiefs goal, putting pressure on the Spokane defense. The Chiefs Mitch Holmberg tried to clear the puck on a backhand net front and put it right off teammate Dylan Walchuk into the Spokane goal to give Kootenay a 4-3 lead. It turned out to be the decisive goal of the game, as the Ice would score on a wide open shot in the slot at 16:46 to take a 5-3 lead to the intermission.
Spokane would control things for about 17 of the 20 minutes in the third, but Skapski turned away all 19 Chiefs shots in the period to keep Spokane off the board. The Ice would score on 2 of their 7 shots in the period on backup goalie Garrett Hughson as Kootenay would score 5 unaswered goals on their way to an easy 7-3 win. Kootenay scored on 2 of 4 power play chances after entering the game with the worst power play in the league. The Ice also surpassed their game high for goals in a game by 2 in the win, leaving the Chiefs with a lot of head shaking after quite frankly, a poor effort in just about every phase of the game. The loss was also the third in a row at home, as now the team had to find a quick solution to their ills as they headed down Highway 395 to play Tri City in the annual New Year's Eve game.
It was the 23rd straight time Spokane had headed south to face the Americans on New Year's. Tri City had won 15 of the previous games in regulation, including every game since 2006. In other words, it was going to be a mighty challenge for Spokane to get out of their losing 3 of their last 4. The start of the game didn't exactly go well either as Marcus Messier scored from the left wing just 3:20 into the game to put the Ams up 1-0. Chiefs captain Brenden Kichton would even matters at one on his 10th goal of the year at 5:43. Tri City would regain the lead on a power play goal by Parker Bowles at 17:59 to take a 2-1 lead after one. It was the first power play goal given up by the Chiefs in 7 games against the Americans this season.
The second period was dominated by Spokane as the Chiefs outshot the Ams 17-6 over the 20 minutes. Blake Gal would convert a Mike Aviani feed midway through the period to tie the game at two. Spokane would pepper the Americans over the next 10 minutes until Mitch Holmberg would score on a rebound in the last minute to give the Chiefs a 3-2 lead after two. Spokane had gone 17-1 when leading after two periods coming in with the only loss coming in the Chiefs last visit to Tri City in November, a game in which Spokane led 3-2 after two. The thought did flash through my mind during the intermission and unfortunately for the Chiefs, the third period would be a nightmare of epic proportions.
Bowles scored his second of the night on a tip that fooled Williams just 2:06 into the period to tie the game at three. Defenseman Drydn Dow's shot from the left point was tipped by a Chief outfront of a screened Williams and found its way in to give the Ams a lead they wouldn't lose at 4-3. Connor Rankin's goal just 15 seconds after Dow's put Tri up by two and when Beau McCue scored on a partial breakaway midway through the period to make it 6-3, the outcome of the game was put to rest. Tri City finished the game with a 4 goal third, as the Chiefs gave up 4 or more unanswered goals to end a game for the second straight contest. Not exactly the kind of trend you want your team to be on.
The Chiefs now continue on the road for the next 3 games starting with the Everett Silvertips on Friday. Spokane will then visit the Seattle Thunderbirds for back to back games on Saturday and Tuesday. Friday's game will be on 1510 KGA with the pregame at 7pm and the puck drop at 7:35pm. Saturday's game will be on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game with the pregame at 6:30pm and the game start at 7:05pm. Tuesday's times will be the same but the game will be back on 1510 KGA. It's a hugeee three game stretch for the team as they now trail Portland by 16 points in the division, but also trail Kelowna for third in the conference by 7 points and the team's lead over Tri for third is just 4 points. Needless to say, if this weekend goes like the previous 5 games, this team could be seeing some shakeups by the trade deadline on January 10th.