The Chiefs couldn't have started the trip any better as they rolled over Edmonton last Sunday with a convincing 6-0 win. The big question then became...How do the Chiefs improve upon that performance? Spokane would try and see if they could keep up their good play over the last week as they embarked on a 3 games in 4 nights stretch through Calgary, Medicine Hat and Red Deer. If you looked at the standings, the 'easiest' game of the three would be in Calgary Tuesday night. The Hitmen had struggled out of the gate, winning just 4 of 12 as they were in last place in the Central. Being in last though, Calgary was just 3 points out of first in a tightly packed Central. Besides, after losing to Kamloops...who owned the worst record in the league...just last Friday, the Chiefs couldn't take anything for granted.
For Tuesday's game in Calgary, the Chiefs would send out rookie back up goalie Donovan Buskey, who was starting just his second game in relief of reigning WHL goalie of the week Dawson Weatherill. Things didn't start so great for Buskey or the Chiefs as Calgary scored just 1:49 in to take a 1-0 lead. It became 2-0 Hitmen when Calgary scored a power play goal at 6:38. Just when things looked bleak, the Chiefs responded with a power play goal of their own when Zach Fischer scored his first goal as a Chief on a wraparound at 8:39 to bring Spokane within 2-1. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Calgary came right back and scored midway through the period to re-establish a two goal lead at 3-1. Spokane would score a huge goal late in the period when Hudson Elynuik scored his team leading 7th of the year at 18:03 on assists from linemates Fischer and Riley Woods to cut the margin to 3-2 after one.
Despite being out shot 18-9 in the first, the Chiefs were just a goal down. Spokane started to take control of the game offensively in the second as they out shot the Hitmen 12-8 in the period. Unfortunately, the Chiefs couldn't solve Calgary goalie Nick Schneider as he turned away every chance for Spokane in the second to keep Calgary on top 3-2. The Hitmen then extended the lead to 4-2 on Matteo Gennero's second power play goal of the game 5:27 into the third. Spokane would bounce right back though as Nolan Reid scored a goal in his 4th straight game at 7:18 to bring the Chiefs within 4-3. After battling up hill all night, Spokane finally pulled even on a Riley McKay goal at 13:04 to make it 4-4. From that point on, it was all Chiefs. Eli Zummack would score on a 4 on 3 power play with just 2:20 remaining to give Spokane a lead they'd never lose at 5-4. Woods would cap the scoring on an empty net power play goal with 10 seconds remaining to put the cherry on top of a big come from behind 6-4 victory.
Reid would secure a career high 4 point night, with 3 of those points in the 4 goal third. Elynuik, Fischer, Woods, and Zummack would have a goal and an assist apiece, and Buskey would get his first career win with a 30 save effort as the Chiefs moved themselves past Tri City into second place in the U.S. Division. With Portland's loss at home to Moose Jaw, Spokane was now just one point back of the Winterhawks for first in the division. The Chiefs didn't have a lot of time to celebrate their come from behind win as they headed to Central Division leading Medicine Hat the next night. Spokane would face former teammate Hayden Ostir for the first time since he was dealt to the Tigers for Fischer last week. I was curious to see how the two would fare against their former teams and I would find shortly.
The Chiefs fell behind 1-0 after one as Josh Williams finished off a rush after a Chiefs turnover late in the period. Spokane would bounce right back though, as Riley Woods would score his team leading 8th goal of the season early in the second to make it a 1-1 game. Medicine Hat came right back to take a 2-1 lead, but Fischer would get his revenge with his second goal in as many nights as he tied the game at two. Ostir then came back to haunt the Chiefs with a power play goal to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead. Medicine Hat then scored 55 seconds later to go up 4-2 and knock starting goalie Dawson Weatherill out of the game. Donovan Buskey came in relief, and when the Chiefs got a power play goal from Nolan Reid a couple minutes later to cut the lead to 4-3, I had the feeling the Chiefs had a second straight comeback coming. By the way, the goal was Reid's fifth in as many games, the longest current goal streak in the league.
So with the Chiefs on the comeback going into the third, Spokane would take the only penalty in the third period early in the stanza. It proved to haunt the Chiefs, as Medicine Hat scored their second power play goal of the night to go back up by two at 5-3. Unlike the previous night in Calgary though, the Chiefs did not come back from the two goal deficit. Instead, the Tigers scored two goals 42 seconds apart to blow the game open at 7-3. Hudson Elynuik capped a 3 point night with his 8th goal of the year later in the period, but that was as close as Spokane got as they dropped their first game on the road trip 7-4. The loss was the Chiefs first in Canada this year, as Spokane is now 5-1 North of the Border.
The Chiefs would try to improve upon that on Friday as they closed out the road swing in Red Deer. Spokane got to enjoy a day off Thursday, which came at a good time after some sickness came over the team on bus trip from the Hat to Red Deer. The Chiefs would be down five players heading into the last game of the trip, as forwards Jake McGrew, Eli Zummack, Ethan McIndoe and Luke Toprowoski and defenseman Filip Kral were all laid low with the bug. The Rebels had not played since losing at home to Medicine Hat on Tuesday, so they were definitely the more rested team heading into Friday's meeting. You wouldn't have been able to tell from the start of the contest though, as Spokane jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead when Elynuik scored a goal in his 4th straight game just 4:30 into the game. Elynuik would come back with his second of the night with a rebound at 14:02 and suddenly the Chiefs were up 2-0. Red Deer would counter with a power play goal in the waning seconds of the period to cut the lead to 2-1 and pick up some momentum.
That momentum would be stymied going into the second though, as the Chiefs would hold the Rebels off the board in the period. Unfortunately for Spokane, the Chiefs would fail to get on the board as well, as their 2-1 lead would hold going into the third. Red Deer's Lane Zablocki would notch his second power play goal just under 5 minutes into the third period to bring the Rebels back even at 2-2. Spokane got on their heels a bit at this point, but slowly started to turn things back in their direction. With less than 6.5 minutes left, Nolan Reid fired home a goal in his 6th straight game, the second longest streak in the league this season, and the Chiefs looked to be in the driver's seat with a 3-2 lead. Red Deer would pull their goalie in the final minute and a half, and the move paid off when a shot from the right point was tipped by Dawson Weatherill with just 38 seconds remaining and Spokane was headed to overtime.
The OT didn't start well, as the Chiefs took a penalty just 32 seconds into the frame. Spokane, who had struggled on the penalty kill the final 3 games of the trip, did not in this circumstance. The Chiefs got some gutty performances with 3 straight shot blocks to keep Red Deer off the scoreboard on the 4 on 3 advantage. Spokane got the puck up ice, but a turnover in the Chiefs offensive zone led to a rush for the Rebels and a pass from the right wing hit a cutting Jared Dmiytriw net front, and he scored the game winner at 3:39 of overtime to give Red Deer a 4-3 victory. It was a disappointing finish to the game, and the road trip, as Spokane was just 38 seconds from going 3-1 on a tough road swing...and being short handed at that.
As tough as the finish was, it was a successful road trip for this club. Zach Fischer, Elynuik and Riley Woods have proven to be a top flight line for Spokane. Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Jake McGrew are blending together as well. So the line combinations are starting to come together. If the team...and that's if..they get back Kailer Yamamoto from the NHL, Spokane is going to have 2 top flight lines...and 3 good ones for sure. That will be huge going forward as the matchups with Portland and Tri City have already shown the Chiefs that the Winterhawks and Americans have two of the top lines in the league, so Spokane needs to have the ability to match-up in they hope to compete with those two at the top of the U.S. Division. Going into the week, the Chiefs are tied for 2nd in the division with Portland, just 2 points back of leader Tri City. As it turns out, Spokane gets to play those two teams this week at home in their only games of the week. A sweep would be huge for the team going forward, especially since they've lost all 4 meetings with the two teams this season. The Chiefs will find out early if they're contenders...or pretenders for the top of the division this season. Spokane will host Portland Friday and Tri City Saturday at 7:05pm. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA starting with the pre-game show at 6:30pm. We'll see you at the rink!
Mike Boyle "The Voice of the Chiefs"