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Spokane Chiefs ready to start 2023-2024 season

The club is looking to erase last season's last place finish.
Credit: Larry Brunt/Spokane Chiefs

SPOKANE, Wash. — There is nowhere to go but up. You hear that saying a lot when something has not gone particularly well in sports...or in life for that matter. For the Spokane Chiefs, the 2022-23 season was a particularly forgetful one as the club suffered through its worst season in franchise history. The young club won just 15 of 68 games and missed the playoffs for just the 6th time in the franchise's 38 years. While the beginning steps of rebuilding were rough ones for the team, there is as another saying that goes, "there is light at the end of the tunnel" for the Chiefs and their fans as they look forward to the 2023-24 opener this weekend in Kamloops. 

Roster turnover is a fact of life in the Western Hockey League, and for the Chiefs, they were no exception in the offseason. The club saw defensemen Raegan Wiles and Mac Gross, as well as forward Cade Hayes graduate after last season. The Chiefs traded forwards Grady Lane to Victoria, Kooper Gizowski to Lethbridge, Michael Cicek to Kelowna and Jake Gudelj to Tri City. Third leading scorer Tomasso DeLuca signed to play professionally in Europe as well.

To help replace the departed, Spokane acquired 20-year-old forward Connor Roulette from Saskatoon for two draft picks. Roulette will join and young and talented forward group led by last season's leading scorer Chase Bertholet, who returns for his 20-year-old season. Seventeen-year-old Berkly Catton, who was second on the club in scoring last year, is also back after captaining Canada to a gold medal in the U-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup this past summer. Ty Cheveldayoff will be the third 20-year-old up front for Spokane and should be ready for a big year after attending camp with the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights.

The Chiefs also return up front Carter Streek, Cole Wadsworth, Cam Parr from the full time forward group from last season. Ben Bonni will also play up front as well as serve some duty on the back end. The team will welcome rookies Will Jamieson, Owen Martin, Coco Armstrong, Chase Harrington and Hayden Paupanekis to the front end. Import draft pick Lukas Kral will also join the forward group, giving Spokane a nucleus to grow over the next 2 to 3 seasons. It will be exciting to watch this unit grow and mature over the course of the season. 

Defensively, the Chiefs will have veterans Jaren Brinson and Brayden Crampton back for their 19-year-old seasons. Saige Weinstein is back for his 3rd year with the team as well, and will certainly benefit from attending camp with the Colorado Avalanche. Will McIsaac will see a lot of minutes in his 17-year-old season, and will be joined by rookies Nathan Mayes and Owen Schoettler in their first full time years. The D corp will be young but with a lot of upside in talent moving forward. 

In net, Spokane will have both goalies who manned the pipes last year in 18-year-olds Cooper Michaluk and Dawson Cowan. Last year was their rookie seasons, and both made major strides to give the team a lot to look forward to this year. There will be some added pressure early in the year for sure for the netminders as the youngsters on the back end and up front learn their roles, but both goalies showed the ability to carry the team when it was under pressure from opponents last season. 

The Chiefs, as you would expect from a young club, were up and down in the preseason. The team lost its opener to Wenatchee, the former Winnipeg and Kootenay Ice franchise who moved to Washington in the offseason after winning the Eastern Conference in Winnipeg last season. Spokane rebounded with back to back wins over defending league champ Seattle and Portland in the Everett tournament. The Chiefs then dropped a tough back and forth overtime affair in their only home game in front of fans with a 7-6 overtime loss to Portland. Spokane then ended the preseason in the Tri City tournament, beating Wenatchee before losing their finale against Portland last Saturday. Going 3-3 is a positive for this group though, and they hope to take those successful outings in their weekend opening road trip for the regular season at Kamloops and Everett. 

There are no easy games in the WHL, particularly on the road, but this opening weekend set is going to be a challenge for this young Chiefs outfit. Kamloops took Seattle to 7 games in last year's Western Conference final and return a number of their group from that outfit that swept Spokane in all 4 meetings last year.  Everett has most of their team back as well from a team that won 8 of 9 from the Chiefs last campaign. It will be a good test for Spokane that's for sure. 

I will be back to call the action this weekend on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA with the pre-game show from the season opener in Kamloops on Friday at 6:30 pm with the puck drop set for 7:05 pm. Sunday's game in Everett will be a 3:30 pm pre-game and a 4:05 pm puck drop. Let's hope for a positive start to the season and we'll see you on the radio!

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