The Chiefs had a relatively light week with just 2 games over last weekend, but that would all change for Spokane this week as the club played 4 games in 5 nights starting with two on the road in the B.C. Division with games Tuesday and Wednesday at Kamloops and Kelowna. Spokane began the week tied with Seattle for 4th in the U.S. Division with 45 points, but were just 5 points back of first place Everett. First up were the Kamloops Blazers, a team that beat the Chiefs in the two teams first meeting back in October with a 3-2 shootout win in the Spokane Arena. The Chiefs lost 3 of 4 to the Blazers last season, but picked up their only win in Kamloops. Spokane was still without forward Kailer Yamamoto, but had welcomed back Filip Kral from the World Junior Tournament. The Chiefs had started their 3 game road trip with a lackluster loss at Seattle and were hoping to turn that around against the Blazers Tuesday.
Spokane was without starting goalie Dawson Weatherill, who was injured in Saturday's loss at Seattle.Donovan Buskey got the start in net Tuesday against the Blazers, and things didn't start as well as the Chiefs hoped. Kamloops would score on a rebound on Buskey just 2:49 into the game to jump out to a 1-0 lead. The Chiefs got things going offensively, generating 2 power plays and putting up 19 shots, but could not find the net on Blazer goalie Dylan Ferguson. To make matters worse, Kamloops would extend their lead to 2-0 on a Luc Smith goal with just 50 seconds left in the first. Neither team would score in the second as the Chiefs were out shot 13-12. Spokane would finally get on the board just 1:10 into the third when Riley Woods scored his 18th of the season to cut the lead in half at 2-1.
The Chiefs then went on a 4 minute power play after a double minor penalty was assessed to the Blazers, but Spokane would come up empty to keep it a one goal game. The Chiefs would fail on two more power play opportunities later in the period, as Spokane went 0-7 on the night with the man advantage. The Chiefs put up 17 shots in the third and 48 for the game, but still lost the game 2-1 as Ferguson finished with a season high 47 saves in the Kamloops victory. To say it was a frustrating loss would be the ultimate in understatement. After ringing up 9 goals in a home win vs. Portland the previous Friday, the Chiefs have scored just two goals in two road losses. The news got even more dismal for the team when Seattle picked up a point after a shootout loss to Portland, giving the Thunderbirds a key point to pass Spokane in the U.S. Division standings. For the first time this season, the Chiefs have fallen into last place in the U.S., but the good news is they are just 6 back of first place Portland.
Spokane then headed down the road to Kelowna Wednesday to take on the first place team in the B.C. Division in the Rockets. The Chiefs had split two games at the Spokane Arena with Kelowna in November and December, and would take on a Rocket team that had just seen their 13 game home winning streak snapped last week by Seattle. It was going to be the Chiefs toughest game of the road trip, so the team knew they had to play their best game...and find their scoring touch in a hurry. Wednesday would be the league trade deadline day, and Spokane would stand pat as their only acquisition all week was goalie Bailey Brkin from Kootenay for a draft pick. The Chiefs were still down Dawson Weatherill in net, so Buskey picked up his second straight start. Things didn't start well in the first for the second straight game for Buskey or the Chiefs, as Kelowna scored two goals to take a 2-0 lead. The Chiefs would get back in the game when Jeff Faith scored on a rebound in the final two minutes of the first to bring Spokane within 2-1 after one.
The team would come out firing in the second, as Tyson Helgesen scored just 19 seconds into the period to tie the game at two. Jaret Anderson-Dolan's power play goal, his team leading 23rd tally of the year, at 2:11 would give the Chiefs their first lead of the contest at 3-2. It would be the Chiefs only lead though as Kelowna scored just 1:26 later to tie the game at 3. A Rockets power play goal late in the second made it 4-3 Kelowna after two, and when they scored off a 4 on 4 midway through the third, the Chiefs were down 5-3 with time running out. Spokane would close the margin to 5-4 on a Zach Fischer goal at 15:41, but Kelowna would score two goals 49 seconds apart in the final two minutes to close out a 7-4 win. Buskey struggled in net, giving up 7 goals on just 25 shots, including 3 in the third on just 5 chances. While the team finally found its offense in the final game of the road trip, goaltending and defense let the Chiefs down as they returned home in 5th place in the U.S. Division to begin a 5 game home stand.
While dropping their last 5 on the road, the Chiefs had won 5 of their last 7 on home ice, so they were hoping to continue that trend as they hosted Prince George Friday night at the Spokane Arena. The two teams had not met since the opening weekend of the season up in Prince George. Spokane had swept that 2 game series, but the rosters had changed mightily for both clubs since then.
With Weatherill still injured, the Chiefs started newly acquired goalie Baliey Brkin in net on Friday. The team also welcomed back forward Kailer Yamamoto after he helped the U.S. team win bronze at the World Junior Tournament. It didn't take Yamamoto long to make an impact either, as he scored on his first shift on the ice, putting his 3rd goal of the year in the net just 1:11 into the game.to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Jake McGrew then finished a rush as he netted his 8th of the season at 4:39 to make it 2-0. Riley Woods one timer from the left wing at 9:27 put the Chiefs up 3-0 and it looked like a rout for Spokane. Brkin though had several tough saves to make as the Chiefs defense got loose after the early lead, and Brkin turned away 12 of 13 shots in the first, allowing only one goal late in the period after a Spokane turnover led to an easy chance net front. Prince George then netted a short handed goal just 26 seconds into the second period to cut the lead down to 3-2. The Chiefs responded with a McGrew power play goal at 5:11 to go up 4-2 and then Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored his team leading 23rd of the season and his league leading 5th shorthanded goal of the year at 17:49 to give Spokane a commanding 5-2 lead heading into the third.
Spokane would cap the scoring in the third when Ethan McIndoe finished off a great individual effort from Luke Toporowski, who bulled his way down the right wing and hit McIndoe with a perfect net front feed late in the game to cap a 6-2 victory. Brkin continued to stone wall the Cougars in the final 20 minutes, turning away all 13 shots and turning aside 36 shots overall in picking up his first win as a Chief. The newest Spokane player was a huge reason the team was able to go a perfect 7-7 on the penalty kill, while being out shot 38-28 on the night. Yamamoto had a goal and an assist in his first game back, providing a nice spark to the team's performance. Spokane had little time to celebrate as they welcomed Everett to the Arena on Saturday. The Silvertips got a boost themselves when they welcomed back World Junior gold medal winning goalie Carter Hart to their lineup. Spokane had little success against Hart in the first half of the season, but hoped to turn that around with a win in regulation Saturday.
The Chiefs jumped out to the exact start they hoped for as Jake McGrew re-directed a Kailer Yamamoto pass past Hart 7:24 into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. The advantage held until Garret Pilon tipped a shot past Bailey Brkin at 13:23 to tie the game at one. The game then swung forever in Everett's favor in the final 2.5 minutes of the period. A turnover by Yamamoto led to a defensive breakdown in the Chiefs zone and led to a rebound goal from Matt Fonteyne at 17:51 to give the Silvertips a 2-1 lead. Everett then scored a power play goal on Pilon's second of the evening just 54 seconds later to give Everett a 3-1 margin heading to the second. The Tips then scored on a Fonteyne power play goal in the second to take a commanding 4-1 lead into the third. The Chiefs would cut the gap in half early in the third when Hudson Elynuik scored 4:42 into the period to make it a 4-2 game. Pilon would seal the game though with an empty netter to cap off a hat trick for the night and a 5-2 Everett victory. It marked the first win by a visiting team in the season series as Everett now leads 3-2 in the 10 game match up.
The loss dropped the Chiefs 8 points back of Portland at the top of the division and 7 behind second place Everett going into the showdown for first between the Winterhawks and Silvertips Sunday night in Portland. The good news, if you could take any out of the loss, was both Tri City and Seattle lost Saturday, keeping Spokane 2 back of Tri for 3rd and 1 point up on Seattle for 4th. The Chiefs get a bit of a break in the schedule as well this week, as they only have two home games. Spokane will host Brandon, the #6 team in the CHL, on Wednesday, before entertaining rival Tri City in a key contest Saturday night at the Spokane Arena. Tri City, Portland and Seattle all have games in hand on Spokane, so the Chiefs are hitting a stretch where they have to start winning games in regulation and putting together a winning streak longer than two. Spokane has been hovering around .500 all season, and has been a picture of inconsistency. Quite frankly, the team is underachieving from what they are capable. The Chiefs have 3 home games through Tuesday the 23rd, and then head out for 7 games on the road. It's going to be a critical juncture for the team and I, along with the fans, will be very interested to see how this team deals with it. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA for Wednesday's game and on 94.1 FM the Bear for Saturday's tilt, with both contests starting at 7:05 pm. Pre-game shows begin at 6:30 pm and we hope to see you at the rink!