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CHIEFS BLOG: Chiefs wrap up five game home stand

Spokane will travel to the Rose City Wednesday before returning home for back to back home games with the Winterhawks Friday and Saturday.

SPOKANE, Wash — No team in the Western Hockey League was happier to see January come to an end than the Chiefs. After winning on New Year's Day to bring in 2022, the club was then put on a 13 day hiatus with games postponed due to mountain passes being shut down and COVID-19 protocols. Four games were lost in that span and have yet to be rescheduled. When the Chiefs did get back on the ice, it was nothing short of a disaster, as the club went a dismal 0-6-1 over a season high 7 game losing streak. That skein came to an end in the team's final game in January as Spokane defeated Tri City to send the Chiefs into February on a high note. The team was in the middle of its' longest home stand of the season as they would start the first week of February in game 3 of the 5 game stand with a Groundhog's Day matchup with the Prince George Cougars.

The last time the two clubs met was almost exactly two months earlier on December 3rd at the Spokane Arena. Things didn't work out too well for the home club as the Chiefs dropped a 4-2 decision. Much had changed for both clubs in their lineups since then, as three of the Chiefs leading forwards, Jack Finley, Luke Toporowski and Cordel Larson had been traded, while the Cougars had dealt the winning goalie from that night, Taylor Gauthier, to Portland. While the Chiefs were coming off their one goal win over Tri in their previous contest, the Cougars had started their 6 game U.S. trip with a 2-0 shutout victory over the Americans the previous night in Kennewick. Spokane was 12 points back of PG for 6th in the West going into Wednesday's tilt, but more importantly, were just 2 points back of Tri for 4th in the U.S. Division and just 3 behind Victoria for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West.

Spokane went with the same lineup they had in their last game with the exception of defenseman Brayden Crampton returning to the lineup after dealing with some illness, replacing 15 year old third round pick Nathan Mayes, who had played the previous 2 games on the back end for the Chiefs. The club picked up where they left off from Saturday's Tri City win, as the Chiefs controlled much of the first period, outshooting the Cougars 15-7. Neither team was able to score though as goaltenders Mason Beaupit of the Chiefs and Tyler Brennan of Prince George were sharp in the opening twenty. Spokane would get the first power play of the game just over 7 minutes into the second and would convert as Bear Hughes one timer at 8:08 of the period would give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead.

Prince George would tie the game on a controversial goal late in the second. The Cougars Koehn Ziemmer went on a breakaway, only to cut down by back checking forward Blake Swetlikoff as Ziemmer put the puck on goal. Ziemmer crashed into Beaupit in the crease, knocking over the Chiefs goalie and dislodging the net. The puck crossed the goal line after the net went off its' pegs and a penalty shot was awarded. After a discussion amongst the referees and the linesman, they called a goal for Prince George. It's the first time in my 20 years I've seen a goal awarded in that manner. There is an obscure rule that if the referee feels the puck would have gone in the net regardless of the net being dislodged first, a goal can be awarded. I welcome anyone to watch the video from the game on the WHL site and tell me that was the case. Beaupit was knocked back, along with the net, back to end wall. Of courseee, the puck will go in under those circumstances. To award a goal based on an assumption is a bad rule and one the league needs to reassess going forward.

As it was, the game was now tied at one despite Spokane dominating the possession of the game as they were out shooting Prince George by a 2 to 1 margin. The Chiefs would get a huge goal just 2 minutes after the tying tally, as Chase Bertholet finished off a rush on a great net front feed from Nick McCarry with just 27 seconds left in the period to give Spokane a 2-1 lead after two. Spokane would hold that lead until late in the third, when a careless penalty led to a Prince George power play goal with just 5:03 remaining that would tie the game at two. The two clubs would head to overtime, where the Chiefs would dominate the extra period. Spokane never lost possession of the puck and would draw a Cougar penalty 2.5 minutes into OT. The Chiefs would convert the man advantage opportunity when forward Reed Jacobson would score his first of the year on a shot that deflected off a Cougar skate net front at 4:28 to give Spokane their second straight win with a 3-2 overtime victory.

It was just the second time this season the team had won 2 in a row and now the club had a chance to get a season high 3rd straight win against a red hot Kelowna Rockets team that came to the Arena on Friday. Kelowna had won 6 straight and had moved firmly into second place in the B.C. Division. The two teams had split a home and home series over Thanksgiving in November, as Spokane won 2-1 on home ice before dropping a 2-1 shootout loss in Kelowna two days later. Friday's game would see the second number retired in the history of the Chiefs as Tyler Johnson's #9 was raised to the rafters, joining Ray Whitney's #14. It was great to be a part of Johnny's night as he is one of the rarest of players to win a Memorial Cup, a Calder Cup, a World Junior gold medal and a Stanley Cup. In the pre-game ceremony, captain Bear Hughes, who grew up watching Tyler play, took off his #9 jersey and will now wear #8 for the rest of the season. The best part of the evening for me though was seeing former Chiefs General Manager Tim Speltz and head coach Bill Peters. It brought back a lot of fond memories from the Memorial Cup season of 2007-08.

The Chiefs were hoping to use the emotions of the pre-game ceremony to get off to a quick start against the Rockets. The two teams went back and forth in the first, as Spokane controlled the first half of the period, while Kelowna controlled the back half of the frame to outshoot the Chiefs 10-8 in a scoreless opening 20 minutes. Kelowna would break through early in the second as Mark Liwiski scored on the rush just under 5 minutes in to give the Rockets a 1-0 lead. Kelowna would expand the lead just under 3 minutes later off an odd man rush to take a 2-0 lead. Spokane would cut the lead in half late in the period as Bear Hughes scored his 14th of the season at 15:37 to make it a 2-1 game after two periods.

Any hopes of a Chiefs comeback were dashed in the third, as Liwiski scored his second of the contest with just over 6 minutes left to give the Rockets a 3-1 advantage. Kelowna would close it out with another goal just 26 seconds later to finish off Spokane's two game win streak with a 4-1 victory. The Rockets took the season series over the Chiefs 2-1 as Spokane managed just 4 goals in the three games with Kelowna this year. The win was Kelowna's 7th in a row as they are charging up the West standings. Fortunately for Spokane, they didn't lose any games in the standings as both Tri City and Victoria also lost. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they lost an opportunity to move past both teams in the standings if they had won on Friday. The weekend wasn't going to get any easier for Spokane either as they welcomed the red hot Portland Winterhawks to the Arena on Saturday to finish off the five game home stand. Portland had earned points in their last 15 games, winning 14 of them and losing once in a shootout.

Saturday's game was the start of 5 straight against the second place Winterhawks, who had beaten Spokane 5 of 6 this season. Things didn't go well at the start as Portland scored on a power play goal just over 5 minutes in on their first man advantage opportunity to go up 1-0. The Chiefs would respond midway through the period when rookie defenseman Brayden Crampton scored his first career goal to tie the game at one apiece. Chase Bertholet would then tally just 15 seconds later to give Spokane a 2-1 lead. The lead would turn out to be short lived though as Portland came right back and scored only 24 seconds after Bertholet's goal to even the game back up at 2-2. Portland would then score their second power play goal in just three tries late in the first to go up 3-2 after one.

The torrid offensive pace would resume in the second as Chiefs defenseman Graham Sward would score his 7th of the season just 4:43 into the period to re-tie the game at 3-3. Once again, Portland would strike back quickly as the Hawks would score their 3rd power play goal of the game just 26 seconds later to take the lead at 4-3. It turned out Portland would never lose it. The Winterhawks scored their 4th power play goal of the game at 9:01 of the period to go up 5-3 and would hold that lead into the third. Portland was a robust 4-6 on the power play through two periods as they out shot the Chiefs 31-15 through 40 minutes. Any hopes of a Chiefs comeback would be quickly dashed in the third as Portland scored just 1:16 into the period to go up 6-3. The Hawks Jaydon Dureau would finish off a hat trick late in the third as Portland scored 4 unanswered goals to secure points in their 16th straight game with a 7-3 victory.

Portland dominated offensively in the game, outshooting Spokane 45-20 while winning the special teams battle on the power play and a perfect 4-4 on the penalty kill. The Chiefs have now dropped 6 of 7 to the Hawks and have been outscored 31-16 in the series. Spokane will have little time to figure out how to turn things around as they will face the Winterhawks 4 straight times and 5 times overall in the next 2 weeks. Spokane will travel to the Rose City Wednesday before returning home to the Spokane Arena for back to back home games with the Winterhawks Friday and Saturday. I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA for Wednesday's and Friday's games, while Saturday's game will be on 94.1 FM the Bear and 790 AM KJRB due to Gonzaga basketball. Pre-game shows will be at 6:30 pm with the puck drops set for 7:05 pm. Let's hope the Chiefs find a way to earn some points vs. Portland and we hope to see you at the rink!

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