When teams talk about having championship seasons, the rule of thumb is you win your home games and try to go at least .500 on the road. This season, the Chiefs have turned that equation into the exact opposite, going 7-3-1 away from the Spokane Arena, and a dismal 3-4-0-2 on home ice. The most surprising stat of the early campaign was the lack of offense at home, with the Chiefs managing only 24 goals in 9 home games, while racking up 47 goals in their 11 road contests. With those stats in mind, Spokane returned home after a two game road sweep at Lethbridge and Kootenay, to take on Victoria and Prince Albert in a pair of games over the weekend. First up were the B.C. Division and Western Conference leading Victoria Royals on Friday. The first meeting between the two teams saw Spokane come away with an 8-6 win in an offensive shootout. After putting up 12 goals in their 2 game road trip the previous week, it was probably safe to assume that more offensive fireworks were coming in the two teams second match-up.
The first period was anything buttt offensive for either team, as the Royals out shot the Chiefs 4-3 in the first 20 minutes. Neither team got much going in the O zone as the two teams traded possessions and blocked shots endlessly. The second period would see the Chiefs take things over offensively as they would out shoot Victoria 10-5 in the period. Unfortunately for Spokane, the Chiefs couldn't find the net as the two teams battled to a scoreless tie through two periods. Spokane was hoping to take their offensive momentum into the third, but the Chiefs would take 3 minor penalties between the end of the second and into the third period. Victoria slowly took over offensively and would dominate puck possession in the final 20 minutes. The Royals would out shoot the Chiefs 15-6 in the third, but Chiefs goalie Dawson Weatherill denied the Royals at every turn for the first 18 plus minutes of the period. The game would turn late as a missed opportunity by the Chiefs led to an odd man rush for the Royals, and defenseman Jared Freadrich beat Weatherill with a shot from the right wing with just 1:06 remaining to give the Royals a closely fought 1-0 win.
It was a tough loss to swallow after Weatherill's performance, but Spokane put up just 19 shots on goal, the second lowest performance offensively of the year. There was no question the team got off the rails in their team game, as there was wayyy too much individuality and a lack of structure to the team's offense. The frustrating part was it was a game that was very winnable, and not only did the Chiefs fail to get the victory, they managed to come away with 0 points in the standings. It's the type of game teams look back at the end of the season and hope doesn't cost them a place in the standings...or the playoffs. If there was any good news, the Chiefs didn't have to wait long to try and rectify the ship, as they would welcome the Prince Albert Raiders to the Arena the very next night. The Raiders were finishing off their 5 game road trip through the U.S. Division, having lost 3 of their 4 contests through the lower 48. Prince Albert had lost 4-1 at Tri City the night before, and playing their 4th game in 5 nights, it would be important for the Chiefs to come out with some energy and get the Raiders on their heels early.
After a terrific performance the night before, Weatherill would get a rare night off, as rookie netminder Donovan Buskey got the start in goal. The Chiefs gave the rookie a big boost early as Hudson Elynuik scored just 1:12 into the game to put Spokane ahead 1-0. Spokane just took off from there, as they out shot the Raiders 17-3 in the period and would cap off a 2 goal stanza as Luke Toporowski got his first career assist as he set up Dalton Hamaliuk's third career goal late in the period to give Spokane a 2-0 lead after one. The Chiefs kept the pressure coming in the second as they out shot Prince Albert 18-4 in the middle 20. The team would be rewarded with the period's only goal as Nolan Reid converted an Eli Zummack feed from between the circles early in the second to give the Chiefs a 3-0 lead heading into the third. After such a decisive edge in play through 40 minutes, the great fear was the team letting off the gas in the third. After all, in the two teams previous meeting at the Arena two years previously, the Chiefs coughed up a 4-2 third period edge as the Raiders would score 5 in the third on their way to a 7-4 win.
There was no need to fear that happening on this night. The Chiefs picked right up where they left off in the final period and extended the lead to 4-0 when Tyson Helgesen batted a puck out of mid-air and into the net early in the third. Elynuik and Zach Fischer then hooked up for Spokane's next two goals as Elynuik would set up Fischer for his 6th and 7th goals of the year just 4:09 apart to blow the game open at 6-0. Toporowski then capped the night with his first career goal in the final two minutes of the play as the Chiefs enjoyed their biggest win of the season with a 7-0 blanking of Prince Albert. Spokane out shot the Raiders by an astounding 48-13 margin, while Buskey pitched his first career shutout with a solid effort in goal.
The win was Spokane's most complete effort of the season, and was a great answer to the performance the Chiefs had put on the night before. Now the quest for the Chiefs is to repeat that effort and commitment in everyyy game. Consistency is always the watch word, and if this team can put forth these kinds of games on a regular basis, they will be fighting for the top of the division rather than the middle or the bottom. Spokane will get three good tests this week as they're back at home Wednesday to host the Kelowna Rockets. After taking Thanksgiving off, Spokane will head to Everett on Friday to take on the Silvertips and then return home Saturday to host the defending Eastern Conference champion Regina Pats. It will be a challenge to say the least and let's hope the Chiefs answer the bell. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA for all 3 games this week. Wednesday and Saturday's games we'll have the pre-game at 6:30 pm and the puck drop at 7:05 pm. Friday's game at Everett will see the pre-game at 7 pm and the start slated for 7:35 pm. Let's hope for a successful week and we'll see you at the rink!
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