SPOKANE, Wash. — One month of the season was in the books, and the Chiefs were not exactly setting the world on fire. They weren't off to a slow start either, as Spokane was sitting at 5-4-1 after their first 10 games of the season, right at the .500 mark. Despite splitting a 2 game series in Prince George over the past weekend, the Chiefs had slipped in the U.S. Division standings, falling down to 4th, 5 points back of division leader Everett. Spokane is still trying to find some consistent efforts in their games, as they seem to play well one night and then turn around and put together an average to below average performance the next time out. This past week was a chance for the club to start to find that consistent effort that has eluded them as Spokane returned home to open a 7 game home stand. First up was the first team from the Eastern Division to make a journey to the Spokane Arena as the Brandon Wheat Kings came to town on Wednesday.
The Wheat Kings were coming off an impressive 10-2 win over Tri City the night before on the Americans home ice, so Spokane knew they had to come out ready or suffer the same fate. Both teams were fairly ragged offensively in the first period as the two clubs only combined for 10 shots in the opening 20 minutes. The Chiefs broke out on the board first as Luke Toporowski fired home his 3rd of the season at 14:21 to make it 1-0 Spokane. Just 1:32 later, the Chiefs added to the lead when Matt Leduc scored his first of the year to give Spokane a 2-0 advantage after one. In the second, leading scorer Adam Beckman, who had assisted on the first two goals, scored his team leading 5th of the season at 6:59 to make it 3-0 Chiefs. Spokane would open up the game late in the second as Bear Hughes and Eli Zummack scored just 27 seconds apart to give the Chiefs a commanding 5-0 lead after two.
Brandon got on the board with a power play goal just over two minutes into the third period to spoil the shutout of goalie Campbell Arnold to make it 5-1. The Chiefs answered right back though with a Filip Kral power play goal at 6:02 to go back up five at 6-1, and then Michael King scored for the second straight game midway through the period to cap off a decisive 7-1 victory. Spokane out shot Brandon 30-19, going 1-3 on the power play and 4-5 on the penalty kill. Adam Beckman moved into second in the league in scoring with a career high 5 point night with a goal and 4 assists. The win was Spokane's second in a row and the Chiefs were hoping to get their season high third win in a row as they hosted division rival Portland on Friday. It was the first meeting between the two this season, and was the first since the opening round of the playoffs last year when Spokane beat Portland in five games.
Portland entered Friday's contest in second place in the U.S., one point back of leader Everett, and two points up on the third place Chiefs. While the season was just 11 games old, this was a prime opportunity for the Chiefs to push themselves right in the thick of the division race and tie Portland for second. The Winterhawks jumped out to a 1-0 lead just over 5 minutes into the game, but Spokane came right back as Filip Kral scored his 4th of the season at 13:28 to even the game at one. Portland, which had the league's top power play entering the game, took all of 14 seconds to score on their first attempt late in the first and the Hawks took a 2-1 lead into the second. The Winterhawks then pushed the lead to 3-1 midway through the second as several Chiefs turnovers in their own zone led to Cross Hanas second goal of the game. Spokane then pulled back within one on a great effort by Cordel Larson late in the period to make it a 3-2 game.
In the third, a questionable penalty shot awarded to Portland's Seth Jarvis changed the complexion of the game, as Jarvis buried the chance to put Portland up 4-2 early in the period. The Winterhawks then got a Jake Gricius goal 1:21 later to take a commanding 5-2 lead. Luke Toporowski scored in his second straight game on a rebound at 8:32 to cut the margin to 5-3, but Gricius scored his second of the night at 15:21 to salt away a 6-3 victory for Portland and drop the Chiefs 4 points back of the Hawks for second in the division. To compound things, Spokane was the only team in the league to not earn a point on the night, so the Chiefs found themselves tied with Tri City for third and just 2 points ahead of Seattle for 5th in the division. Spokane then had to re-group for the defending league champion Prince Albert Raiders the next night.
Prince Albert had won their first game on their U.S. Division trip with a shootout victory at Tri City the night before and were hoping to wrap up their swing on an up note. Spokane had won 2 of the last 3 from the Raiders, but had lost last season in P.A. The last time the two teams had met in Spokane two years ago, Spokane had blanked Prince Albert 7-0. That kind of result was not going to happen this time around as the two clubs squared off on Saturday. The Raiders jumped out to a 1-0 lead midway through the first period after getting a wide open shot from the slot. The Chiefs came right back just under 3 minutes later as Bear Hughes notched his 5th goal of the season and a point in his 4th straight game, to tie the game at one. It was the last time Spokane threatened in the contest. Two straight turnovers in the neutral zone led to a shorthanded goal in the final 2 minutes of the first to give Prince Albert a 2-1 lead after one.
Spokane would control play in the second as the Chiefs out shot P.A. 11-4, but the Chiefs failed to score as the Raiders held a one goal lead heading into the third. Prince Albert would put the game on ice as Spokane surrendered two Raider goals in a 19 second span early in the third as Spokane dropped their second straight at home 4-1. The Chiefs managed only 22 shots on goal in another lackluster offensive performance. While the effort and compete level were much better against Prince Albert than they were against Portland the night before, the Chiefs once again didn't get a 20 man effort in either game over the weekend. In other words, while some players were putting it all out there, others were just going through the motions. Against top level teams in the league, those kind of performances will not cut it. Spokane is now an abysmal 3-5 on home ice, a winning percentage that won't have the Chiefs at the top of any playoff performers.
The Chiefs have 4 more games on their season long 7 game home stand, including two this weekend as they host Prince George and division leading Everett on Saturday and Sunday. Spokane lost at home to both the Cougars and Silvertips in their first visits to the Spokane Arena earlier this season, and the Chiefs need to bounce back with two straight wins if they hope to show they're a serious contender in the U.S. Division. The Chiefs have a lot of work to do to get to the level they attained at the end of last season, and this weekend's games could be the start of turning things around....or continuing to slide the other direction. Spokane is 4th in the division and just two points out of last entering the week, and could be surpassed by last place Seattle this week. A big week ahead for Spokane and I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA beginning with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm and the puck drops at 7:05 pm. We hope to see you at the rink!