Spokane Chiefs Blog: Playing it close

Spokane came out slow in the first period, as you might expect for a team that hadn't played in 10 days. The Chiefs missed on 4 power plays in the first as Seattle scored on a power play goal late in the first to take a 1-0 lead after one. Spokane responded in the second as Zach Fischer tipped a Jaret Anderson-Dolan pass in early in the period to tie the game at one. The Chiefs controlled most of the period offensively, but after Seattle killed off a Chief power play, the Thunderbirds seized the momentum and scored twice in the final 6 minutes of the second to grab a 3-1 lead after two. Things were looking bleak for Spokane at this point as the team had played better for than their opponents for the majority of the game but were down two. Spokane would come out in the third needing a quick score, and they would get it on the power play. After going 0-5 in the previous two periods, the Chiefs scored on their 6th chance as Hudson Elynuik scored off a Ty Smith pass to cut the lead to 3-2 at 6:28 of the period. Spokane would pull even midway through on Anderson-Dolan's 18th of the year at 11:02. Seattle would come right back and re-take the lead as a shot from the left wall fooled goalie Donovan Buskey and the T-Birds led it 4-3 at the 14:18 mark.

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Just when it looked like the Spokane comeback would fall short, the Chiefs answered as Elynuik hit an open Riley Woods net front. Woods would top shelf his 14th of the year at 16:12 to get the Chiefs tied at 4-4 and eventually force overtime. Spokane controlled the later end of the third as they would out shoot Seattle 14-4 in the period. The Chiefs would keep the momentum going in the overtime as they controlled the puck and got all 5 shots of the extra period. Spokane would pick up a turnover at their blue line and Zach Fischer would lead a 2 on 1 rush with Hudson Elynuik. Fischer would fire the puck past Berlin at 3:46 to give the Chiefs their second straight OT win in December. It was a great start to the second half as Spokane stay tied with Tri City for third in the division and moved within two points of second place Portland. Spokane then headed to Seattle on Friday to face the Thunderbirds for the 4th time in their last 7 games.

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The Chiefs came out and out shot Seattle 11-5 in the first, but trailed 1-0 after a turnover by defenseman Luke Gallagher ended up on Nolan Volcan's stick and in the net. Spokane answered with a Riley Woods goal just over 2 minutes into the second period which tied the game at one. Spokane then took the lead on a Jaret Anderson-Dolan breakaway from Woods at 17:34. Seattle would then tie the game on the most brutal call I've seen in 16 years. Goalie Donovan Buskey was cross checked in the crease by Seattle's Noah Philp down to the ice. The puck was then shot from the right wing off Philp into the net with Buskey under Philp in the crease. The referee standing at the net immediately waved off the goal and then went into a conversation with other referee and both linesman. At this point, you figured a penalty would be called for goaltender interference. The play had been blown dead and the goal waved off. But nooo, the goal was awarded even the goalie had been clearly interfered with and had nooo chance to play the puck. So instead of a power play and a one goal lead, it was now a tie game at two.

The call only seemed to fire up the Chiefs though, as Woods scored his second of the night just 22 seconds later to give Spokane a 3-2 lead. Eli Zummack then scored a short handed goal with just 35 seconds left in the period to make it 4-2 Chiefs heading into the third period. The third didn't go well for Spokane from the outset. Seattle scored less than 2 minutes in to cut the lead to 4-3. Another turnover in the defensive zone led to a tip on a shot from the point midway through the period to tie the game at 4. Yet another miscue with the puck led to a 2 on 1 rush for Seattle, as Turner Ottenbreit's shot eluded Buskey's glove and Seattle capped off a come from behind 5-4 win. The season series was now even at 2-2, and the loss dropped Spokane a point back of Tri City for third in the U.S. Division heading into Spokane's second straight home and home series as they entertained Tri City Saturday night at the Spokane Arena.

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The Chiefs were still 5 back of Everett for first, and now 4 behind Portland for second entering the weekend. Spokane had won at Tri City in the two teams last meeting, so the Chiefs were hoping to keep up the momentum and even the season series at 2-2 with a win Saturday. Spokane got good news prior to the game as they welcomed back starting goalie Dawson Weatherill, who returned after being out 5 weeks after an appendectomy. The Chiefs helped their goalie out early too, as Hudson Elynuik scored his team leading 19th goal of the year just 56 seconds into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Tri City turned right around and scored on their first shot of the game 2:26 in to even the contest at one. Then a Jordan Topping goal late in the first off a delayed penalty on the Chiefs would stake the Americans to a 2-1 lead after one. Spokane out shot Tri City 17-8 in the first and had shut down 3 Ams power plays, only to find themselves down one.

Spokane would not help their cause by taking a penalty with 10 seconds left in the first, and then 27 seconds into the second, to put Tri City on a 5 on 3 advantage for nearly a minute and a half. The Chiefs would knock out the 5 on 3 though, and then while defending the 5 on 4 Ams power play that followed, Jaret Anderson-Dolan was hauled down on a breakaway. He would convert the first penalty shot goal of the year for Spokane, and score his league leading 4th short handed goal in the process to get the Chiefs even at two at the 2:04 mark of the period. Tri City would take a 5 minute major penalty early in the second as well, and the Chiefs would score less than a minute into the man advantage when Riley Woods scored off a tip to give Spokane a 3-2 lead. Both Anderson-Dolan and Woods have scored goals in 5 straight games, with Woods extending his points scoring streak to 8 straight. However, right after Spokane finished their 5 minute power play, the Chiefs turned the puck over at their blue line, and Tri's Morgan Geekie scored on his own rebound after a rush to the net to tie the contest at 3 heading into the third.

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Neither team got on the board in the final 20 minutes of regulation, sending the two clubs to an overtime for the third straight game in the season series. For the second consecutive outing, it would be the Chiefs Ty Smith who would decide things, as he scored the game winner in OT, this time at 4:09 on an Elynuik feed, to give Spokane their second straight 4-3 OT win over the Americans. The win would push Spokane into a third place tie with the Ams with 43 points, 5 back of first place Everett, and 3 back of second place Portland. Tri City still had 3 games in hand on Spokane though, so the Chiefs would need to keep their push up the standings alive with a win the next night in Kennewick as the two teams met in the annual New Year's match-up. Tri City won last year's edition, snapping a 3 game Spokane winning streak in the tradition that started over 25 years ago. The two teams had played a tough, exhausting game the night before in Spokane, so Sunday's night's capper to a 4 games in 5 nights and a 3 in 3 weekend was going to be a true test of mental toughness and stamina for the two rivals.

New Year's Eve in Tri Cities is always entertaining, and more often than not, a sellout crowd. It was no exception Sunday as the Chiefs hoped to avenge last year's 3-1 loss. Dawson Weatherill got his second straight start, but the Americans struck first as Riley Sawchuk scored just over 12 minutes in to give Tri City a 1-0 lead. Spokane struck right back as Jake McGrew scored his 6th of the year just 1:02 later to make it a 1-1 game. The Chiefs then converted on their second power play chance of the period only 59 seconds after McGrew's goal as Eli Zummack scored his 10th of the season to give Spokane a 2-1 lead. Spokane would build off of that tally, as Zach Fischer scored on a rebound of a Riley Woods shot in the final minute of the period to give the Chiefs a 3-1 lead after one. The Chiefs out shot Tri City 17-8 in the first, and were off to about as good a start as you can ask for on the road.

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The second period would turn out to be the exact opposite for Spokane as the Chiefs were put on their heels from some questionable officiating in the period. Spokane went on the penalty kill after Ethan McIndoe was given 2 minor penalties in a skirmish early in the period. The problem was McIndoe didn't start the tussle with Tri defenseman Roman Kalininchenko, and when the Americans Nolan Yaremko put himself into the battle by challenging McIndoe to drop the gloves, an even strength situation should have ensued. Instead, the Chiefs were on the penalty kill. Spokane had a chance to extend the lead short handed, but a turnover led to a Tri breakout and Dylan Coghlin scored on the power play at 5:19 to cut the lead to 3-2. Thing went downhill from there for the Chiefs as Spokane had the puck in their own zone, but a turnover net front led to a goal from Yaremko midway through the period to tie the game at three. Thennnn, another case of head shaking officiating, as a battle in front of the team benches led to another Tri City power play. The Chiefs Milos Frafrak was cross checked in about as defenseless manner as I've witnessed by the Americans Brett Clayton. Meantime Spokane's Jack Finley, who was a side participant at best, was handed two minor penalties. Clayton got 2 minutes for roughing. I'd love for someone at the league to look at the tape and tell me how Tri City got a power play out of the sequence.

The fact is, the Americans did, and they took advantage as Isaac Johnson scored on a rebound at 12:44 to score what turned out to be the game winner. Weatherill would depart after giving up 4 goals on just 13 shots. Donovan Buskey would come on and stop all 13 shots he faced the rest of the way. The Chiefs would exert pressure throughout the remainder of the game, as they out shot Tri City 46-26 in the contest, but Spokane couldn't get the equalizer on goalie Patrick Dea. The two power play goals handed to Tri City in the second turned out to be the difference as the Chiefs fell to 4th place in the division with a 4-3 loss. Spokane remains 5 points back of division leading Everett, 4 behind second place Portland, two back of Tri City, and now have just a 2 point lead on 5th place Seattle heading into the New Year. The Chiefs started the second half with two come from behind overtime wins, and lost two games with the lead midway through regulation. While showing they have great comeback traits, the team also demonstrated they're not very good leading games....not a good trait to acquire.

Spokane will now finish up a 13 game stretch through the U.S. Division this week as they host second place Portland and travel to 5th place Seattle Saturday to begin a 3 game road trip. Another huge week through the division as the Chiefs try to make some head way into what has turned out to be the most balanced division in the league. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA Friday night from the Spokane Arena, while Saturday's game will be on 94.1 FM the Bear due to Gonzaga basketball. The pre-game shows start at 6:30 pm, while the puck drops will be at 7:05 pm. Let's hope the Chiefs get a much needed sweep, and we'll see you at the rink!