After dropping 3 out of 4 to start the second half of the season, the Chiefs found themselves 6 points behind Seattle for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference of the Western Hockey League standings. With the team in danger of sinking further in the race, the Chiefs made some moves before the WHL trade deadline to help shore up the roster. First, Spokane moved forward Wyatt Sloboshan to Regina for forwards Riley Woods and Rykr Cole. Sloboshan had told the Chiefs he was not going to come back to Spokane after playing one game for the Chiefs following his trade from Saskatoon. Spokane then sent forward Curtis Miske to Prince Albert for a 4th round pick in 2018. With Alex Mowbray joining the team last week, the Chiefs are transforming the roster for the second half of the year and hoping to get a spark through what will be a tough month of January. Spokane will have just 4 home games this month, with two of them this weekend.
First up was a road trip to Canada as the Chiefs headed to Kelowna for a meeting with the Rockets on Wednesday. Spokane had knocked off Kelowna in an exciting 2-1 overtime win on December 2nd in Spokane, and were hoping to keep the momentum of that win going on the Rockets home ice. The first period needless to say, was a slow and dull one offensively, as neither team seriously came close to scoring. The second stanza would be a different story though. Spokane would convert their first power play of the period on Kailer Yamamoto's team leading 23rd goal of the season at 10:36 to make it 1-0 Chiefs. A mere 35 seconds later, Tyson Helgesen would score his 6th of the year to put Spokane ahead 2-0. Kelowna would get back in the game though with a goal in the final 2 minutes of the period to cut the lead to 2-1 after two.
The Rockets would pull even late in the third off the rush and would nearly take the lead in the final minutes, but goalie Jayden Sittler made a couple of point blank saves to save the game and send the contest to overtime. In the OT, Spokane would break through as Jaret Anderson-Dolan found Woods for the game winner at 3:19 to give the Chiefs their second overtime win over Kelowna this year by a 3-2 score. It was a huge two points for Spokane as the Chiefs moved within 4 of Seattle for the final playoff spot in the West, and stayed 4 up on Vancouver for 9th in the conference after the Giants win in Edmonton that night. Woods had a huge debut with his game winning tally and Cole contributed solid minutes with efforts on the power play and penalty kill.
Now the Chiefs hoped to keep the good vibes going as they headed to Cranbrook to face the Kootenay Ice on Friday. In the two teams last meeting in December, the Chiefs had to pull out a last minute win in a 4-3 victory, so Spokane knew it would not be an easy task in the first game of a home and home between the two regional rivals. The first period would provide the clue this contest wasn't going to be easy, either. Spokane would out shot Kootenay 15-10 in the first, but trail 1-0 after a turnover at the Kootenay blue line led to a partial breakaway for the Ice. The Chiefs would out shoot the Ice 20-4 in the second, yet manage to only tie the game as Kailer Yamamoto tipped a Hudson Elyniuk shot in midway through the period.
With the game knotted at one, Kootenay went on the power play to take the lead. Spokane would get a great effort from Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who dove and swiped the puck to Elyniuk for a breakaway. Elyniuk would beat Ice goalie Payton Lee for his 4th short handed goal of the season to give the Chiefs the lead for good at 2-1. Elyniuk would find Yamamoto on a rush at 9:24 of the third to make it a 3-1 game. Yamamoto would then return the favor, to hit Elyniuk for an empty net tally to cap off a 4-1 victory over Ice. Spokane would out shoot the Ice 50-25 in the game as Elyniuk scored 4 points and Yamamoto 3 to lead the way. Jayden Sittler got his second straight win on the road trip as the team returned home hoping to sweep the home and home against the Ice.
It's always tough to beat a team on back to back nights, but with the team 3 points back of Portland for the final playoff berth, the Chiefs needed to get on a win streak to get themselves back in the thick of race. Playing their 3rd game in 4 nights, Spokane got off to a slow start in the re-match on Saturday. The Chiefs managed just 4 shots on goal, and to make matters worse, gave up a short handed goal in the final half minute as the Ice took a one goal lead after the first period for the second straight night. Like they had the night before, Spokane came out in the second period and took the game over offensively as the Chiefs got 3 power plays and out shot the Ice 16-5 in the stanza. Spokane pulled even at 1-1 on their final power play of the period as Keanu Yamamoto scored his 16th of the season. The Ice would come right back though as once again Kootenay would score in the final seconds as a Michael King goal with 18 seconds left sent Kootenay to a 2-1 lead heading to the third.
Spokane would have to put up 17 more shots in the third to get back to a tie contest. Jaret Anderson-Dolan swiped in a rebound of his own shot at 7:57 to make it a 2-2 game. Spokane had several chances to take the lead but Ice goalie Jakub Walter was superb, turning away 16 shots in the third, including a couple breakaways, and 35 in regulation. In overtime, Walter was even better, as he saved all 10 shots Spokane threw at him, making 45 saves on the night. He would save his best for last though in the shootout. Chiefs goalie Jayden Sittler matched Walter save for save, as both teams failed to score in 8 rounds. After Spokane failed in the 9th round, Kootenay's Reed Morrison beat Sittler to give the Ice the 1-0 shootout win and a 3-2 victory. Spokane out shot Kootenay 47-23 in the game and went a perfect 6-6 on the penalty kill, but the Chiefs inability to beat Walter cost them the valuable extra point.
The Chiefs were now 2 points back of Portland for the final playoff spot, and 3 back of Seattle, as Spokane welcomed the Thunderbirds to the Arena in their 4th game in 5 nights on Sunday. Seattle was off Saturday, so they were much better rested than Spokane coming into a key division game for both teams. The Chiefs looked like a team playing their 4th game in 5 nights in the first period, as Spokane managed just 6 shots on net. Spokane goalie Dawson Weatherill was sharp for the Chiefs though, as he turned away 10 Seattle shots and two power play chances early for the T-Birds to keep the game scoreless. Spokane would get their offense going in the second period, as the Chiefs generated 2 of the 3 power plays for the two teams and out shot Seattle 11-6. The Chiefs would also break the scoreless dual on their second power play as Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored his 20th of the season at 15:42 to give Spokane a 1-0 lead after two periods.
Spokane had been 9-0 when leading after two periods this season, but Seattle came out in the third period on a mission. The Thunderbirds put the Chiefs on their heels on the very first shift of the period and never let up. Seattle would tie the game at 6:21 of the third to make it a 1-1 game. At one point, the T-Birds had out shot Spokane 17-3 in the period. The team struggled badly to get the puck out of their own zone, and in the end, the Thunderbirds broke through as Ryan Gropp tipped an Ethan Bear shot past Weatherill at 15:39 to give Seattle a 2-1 lead. Spokane couldn't get Weatherill out of the net until less than a minute left and couldn't get the equalizing goal as Seattle took a huge 2 points with a 2-1 win. Spokane was out shot 22-11 in the third as the hockey gods usually reward the team that outworks the other, and that was the case in this one.
The Chiefs were only able to earn 1 point out of 4 at home over the weekend, and remain 2 points back of Portland for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Seattle is now 5 points up on Spokane as the Chiefs now embark on a difficult 4 game road trip through the U.S. Division this week. The Chiefs will start at division leading Everett on Wednesday, before playing back to back games in Portland on Friday and Saturday before finishing the road swing at Seattle on Sunday. Four games in 5 nights, with 3 in 3 to cap the weekend. This is going to be a trip that could make or break the Chiefs playoff chances this season, so let's hope the Chiefs continue their good play on the road. After all, Spokane just won two straight in Canada this past week, so the team hoping to continue that success. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA for the games on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, while Saturday's game in Portland will be on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game on 1510. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday's games will be a 6:30pm pre-game with 7:05 puck drops. Sunday's game in Seattle will be a 4:30 pre-game and a 5:05pm puck drop. We hope to see you on the radio!