The break that comes at Christmas time every year in the Western Hockey League is always welcomed by the 22 teams who have gone through 3 months battling each other. Some teams really welcome the respite as the unofficial first half of the season hasn't gone exactly the way they had forecast in September. For other clubs, they view the break with a bit of wariness as they have been going well and hate to see their momentum stymied by taking a protracted vacation. For the Chiefs, they may have been leaning more towards the latter than the former point of view, as the team had won 7 of their last 10 and had gained points in 9 of their last 10 contests. Spokane began the second half 8 points behind first place Everett in the U.S. Division, in large part in having lost all 6 meetings with the Silvertips in the first half. The Chiefs were 6 back of second place Portland, with a number of match ups with the Winterhawks set for the second half of the season. Perhaps more importantly for Spokane, the Chiefs had opened up a 14 point lead on 4th place Tri City and 15 over 5th place Seattle, giving the club some wiggle room over those two teams heading into the second part of the campaign.
Spokane would start the second half without starting goalie Lukas Parik and defenseman Ty Smith, who were playing for the Czech Republic and Canada in the World Junior Tournament that will end in early January. While those two helped their teams to opening round wins the day before, the Chiefs headed to Seattle to begin the second half of the season against the Thunderbirds on Friday night. Spokane had the first 4 meetings of the 7 game season series in the first half, including 3 games in December. The Chiefs were hoping to continue that trend as well as start the second half on a positive note. Campbell Arnold, who had played the final 2 weeks of the first half, would again get the start on Friday in Seattle.
Friday night's start could not have gone any worse for the Chiefs. Arnold gave up a rebound and Seattle's Henrik Rybinski scored 33 seconds into the game to make it 1-0 Thunderbirds. Seattle went on a 3 on 1 break less than a minute later, and Rybinski buried his second of the night at 1:17 to put Seattle up 2-0. Even worse for Spokane, Arnold suffered a right leg injury trying to make the save and had to leave the game. Back up Brett Balas, who was just called back up by the Chiefs, struggled in his first game back since October. Seattle put up 3 more goals in the first to take a commanding 5-0 lead after one.
The Chiefs came out firing in the second, scoring back to back goals from Luke Toporowski and Bear Hughes to cut the margin to 5-2. Seattle scored on a net front scramble after a power play chance to go back up four at 6-2, but Jack Finley got Spokane within 6-3 with a goal less than 2 minutes later. The back breaking goal came 13 seconds later as Balas failed to seal the near post and allowed a goal at 18:22 to make it 7-3. Cordel Larson scored the Chiefs 4th goal of the period with 30 seconds left to draw Spokane within 7-4 at the end of two. The Chiefs played a good period in the second, but gave up 2 very savable goals that left them down 3 instead of 1 heading into the third.
Seattle scored on a tip midway through the third to take an 8-4 lead. Spokane would answer when Adam Beckman scored a goal in his 7th straight game at 11:38 to make it 8-5. Eli Zummack notched an assist as his points scoring streak went to a team high 11 consecutive games, but that would be the end of the highlights for the Chiefs on the night. Seattle scored again after a bad turnover in the Spokane end and the Thunderbirds had secured their first win over the Chiefs this season with a 9-5 victory. Spokane gave up a season high 5 goals in a period, 9 goals in a game and 41 shots on the night. Other than the offensive explosion in the second, it was a forgettable night all the way around, particularly marred by the loss of Arnold, as the team will now have to play a third string goaltender for the next two weeks barring a trade.
Spokane turned to rookie Mason Beaupit in net as he made his WHL debut when the Chiefs hosted Tri City in Spokane's first home game in 3 weeks. The Americans were coming off a tough overtime loss at home the night before to division co-leader Portland. Tri City had dropped 7 straight, and three in a row to the Chiefs, and were looking to take advantage of Spokane's shortage in net to snap those streaks. Unlike the night before in Seattle, the Chiefs would jump out on top of the Americans as Adam Beckman scored just 4:32 into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. The goal extended Beckman's league best goal scoring streak to 8 straight games as he continued his barrage midway through the period with his second of the night on a back hand to give the Chiefs a 2-0 advantage. Luke Toporowski then made it 3-0 with a score 9 seconds after Beckman's goal as Spokane totally turned around their first period from the night before. The lead no doubt helped Beaupit in his debut as well, as he turned aside all 8 Tri City shots in the first.
Tri City would break through on Beaupit and the Chiefs in the second as the Americans scored on their first power play chance of the game at 4:37 of the period. Spokane would answer right back though as Leif Mattson scored just 37 seconds later off a beautiful pass from Toporowski to put the Chiefs up 4-1. The goal extended Mattson's scoring streak to 6 in a row as he continues to show what a valuable pick up he has been to Spokane. Tri City would cut the margin in half with a goal 4:42 into the third period, but Spokane would shut down the Americans most of the period after that. The Ams pulled their goalie in the last 2 minutes but Beckman would cap off the hat trick with his league leading 27th goal of the year to put the Chiefs up 5-2. Tri City scored on a rebound with just 11 seconds remaining to cap the scoring as Spokane secured their 4th straight win over the Americans at 5-3.
Beaupit turned away 25 Tri City shots to notch his first career win in goal as the Chiefs got a huge bounce back victory after the previous night's loss at Seattle. Spokane remains 8 points back of co-division leaders Portland and Everett. The Chiefs will have another two game week coming at them as the club travels to Tri City for the 30th annual New Year's Eve game before hosting Portland in their first game of 2020 on Friday, January 3rd. The Chiefs will have an opportunity to gain ground in the division, but they need to pick up all 4 points this week to do so. I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm and the puck drops at 7:05 pm. We'll see out the old and ring in the New Year this week, and we hope to see you at the rink!