Even though the Chiefs had seen their previous week end with a disappointing loss at home to division leading Everett, Spokane had to feel really good about the way they were playing, as the club had moved into third place in the U.S. Division and had earned points in every game of a season long 7 game road trip. Now the mission was to maintain the consistency that the team had built up over the course of the past 3 weeks, as Spokane played 3 huge games against the three teams they were battling with in the playoff race standings. The Chiefs would host Kamloops and Tri City, while traveling to Seattle during the week. It was an opportunity for the Chiefs to separate themselves from these 3 teams which are closest to them in the U.S. Division and Western Conference. First up were the Kamloops Blazers, who were on the outside of the 8 Western playoff spots, but they trailed the Chiefs, who had the 6th spot, by just 9 points. Kamloops led the season series 2-1, but Spokane had won the last meeting the week before in Kamloops, so the Chiefs were hoping to even the season series with a home win Wednesday.
Spokane was still without forward Zach Fischer, but the team welcomed back forwards Eli Zummack, Riley McKay and defenseman Jeff Faith off the injured list. The Blazers were desperate for a win, and they came out and scored just 3:26 into the game on a shot from the right wing to take a 1-0 lead. The Chiefs answered right back as Zummack, in his first game in a month, scored on a nice wrap around midway through the period to even the contest at one. Spokane then converted their second power play of the period on a Kailer Yamamoto pass off the skate of Jake McGrew net front late in the first to take a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes. Neither team scored in the second as the Chiefs out shot Kamloops 10-7 in the period. The Blazers would draw even late in the third when a breakaway was stopped by goalie Dawson Weatherill, but Kamloops Jackson Shepard scored on the rebound to make it 2-2 with less than 6 minutes left.
The Chiefs, who had been on their heels most of the period killing off Kamloops power plays, would get things going offensively again and their persistence would pay off when Yamamoto re-directed a Tyson Helgesen shot past Blazer goalie Dylan Ferguson with just 28 seconds left to give Spokane a hard earned 3-2 victory. The win not only evened the season series at 2-2, but put the Chiefs 11 points up on Kamloops with just 16 games left in the year. It was a huge win, and left one of the clubs chasing Spokane for a playoff spot with a lot more work to do going forward. For one of the rare times this season, the Chiefs got a Friday night off as they got to watch the rest of the league play. Fortunately for Spokane, Tri City lost their game at Kootenay as a win would have vaulted the Americans past the Chiefs into third place in the division. Tri City would get another crack at it Saturday as they faced the Chiefs for the second time in a week. Last Saturday in Kennewick, Spokane scored their first regulation win vs. the Americans with a 6-3 victory that evened the season series at 4-4. Since the head to head is the first tie break, winning that is huge for both clubs.
Unlike Wednesday, it was the Chiefs that jumped on top in Saturday's match up as Ethan McIndoe scored on a rebound on the power play just 7 seconds into the man advantage to give Spokane a 1-0 lead just 3:54 into the game. Only 20 seconds later, Riley Woods set up Ty Smith for his 10th of the season and the Chiefs had a quick 2-0 lead. Tri City came charging back 30 seconds later on a Maxwell James goal and the lead was 2-1 after one. Spokane expanded the lead back to two early in the second on a Luke Toporowski goal at 4:33 to make it 3-1 Chiefs. Jake McGrew then tipped a Woods feed in at 17:05 to stake the Chiefs to a 4-1 lead after two. After killing off a Tri City power play early in the third, the only on the game for the Americans, Spokane capped the scoring on a Dalton Hamaliuk goal at 7:06 to wrap up a convincing 5-1 win over their arch rivals.
It was the Chiefs second straight win in a week over Tri City, enabling Spokane to take a 5-4 series lead. That is pretty impressive when you consider the Americans took 10 of 12 from Spokane last year, and were considered by many, including myself, to be a favorite with Portland in the division when the season began. One team that I didn't think would be in the thick of the playoff hunt was next up for Spokane as the Chiefs took on the defending league champion Seattle Thunderbirds. Seattle had lost their entire top line from last year's team, and were without both of their goaltenders, yet were sitting just 4 points back of Spokane in the division entering Sunday's game in Kent. The Chiefs had lost the last two to the T-Birds in Kent as Seattle now led the season series 3-2. Again, it was a key game for Spokane to not only put some more distance between themselves and Seattle, but to also bring themselves even in the series that serves as the first tie break at the end of the season if the teams tie in the standings.
Seattle was playing their 3rd game in 3 nights, so the Chiefs were hoping to get out to a quick start. They would do exactly that as Hudson Elynuik scored on a short handed break away 16:40 into the first period to take a 1-0 lead. Just 1:11 later Nolan Reid would score his first goal since December 15th as the Chiefs took a 2-0 advantage after the first 20 minutes. Goalie Dawson Weatherill made a couple of one on one saves in the period to help Spokane take the 2 goal cushion to the second. The Chiefs expanded the lead on a Kailer Yamamoto power play goal late in the middle frame to go up 3-0. Seattle would score a minute after Yamamoto's goal to cut the margin to 3-1 after two. The two teams started the third on a 4 on 4 and Spokane would go back up by 3 when Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored his team leading 34th of the year just 1:02 in to make it 4-1 Chiefs. Yamamoto would cap the scoring and a 3 point night as he scored on an Ethan McIndoe pass midway through the third to wrap up Spokane's second straight 5-1 win over the weekend.
The wins this week solidified Spokane's third place standing in the U.S. Division as they now lead Seattle by 6 points and Tri City by 5 in the division. The Chiefs have now moved within 3 points of second place Portland as Spokane has won 3 in a row and 8 of their last 9. The team is still 10 points back of first place Everett, but have two meetings with the Silvertips this upcoming week. The Chiefs open a 3 game home stand with Everett on Tuesday night before hosting Prince George and Kootenay on Friday and Saturday at the Spokane Arena. The week will finish out as the team starts up a 6 game road swing at Everett on Sunday. The home games Tuesday, Friday and Saturday will start at 7:05 pm, while Sunday's game at Everett will have a puck drop at 4:05 pm. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA for Tuesday, Friday and Sunday's games, while Saturday's will be on 94.1 FM the Bear. Pre-game shows will start at 6:30 pm Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from the Arena, while Sunday's will be at 3:30 pm. Let's see if the boys can keep things rolling as we head into the final 13 games of the season, and we hope to see you at the rink!