SPOKANE, Wash. — The COVID-19 Pandemic has wreaked havoc on the sports world over the last year and a half, canceling and postponing seasons throughout every sport. In the case of the Western Hockey League, the 2021 season was an abbreviated schedule for every team in the league. Clubs in the Eastern Division were able to play over 30 games, while those in the U.S. and B.C. Divisions were playing games in the low 20's or even in the teens in the case of Tri City and Kelowna. For the Spokane Chiefs, they were able to get in 21 games in the final season for Adam Beckman, Eli Zummack, Bobby Russell and Matt Leduc. The abbreviated schedule though, gave the opportunity for the club's younger players to develop their games ahead of the upcoming 2021-22 season that started up just 4.5 months later. The new season started for the first time in October in over 20 years as a result of the quick turnaround, but no one was concerned about that, as for the first time since March 2020 there were fans in the stands to enjoy their favorite sport.
Just six days after the Seattle Kraken made their NHL debut in front of a sellout crowd at the Spokane Arena, the Chiefs got out in front of their home fans as they began the season hosting Tri City and Everett in back to back games over the league's opening weekend. Spokane would start up Saturday night in front of over 7,300 fans as they took on arch rival Tri City in the season opener. The Chiefs came out roaring too, as newly appointed captain Jack Finley scored just 3:08 into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Rookie Kooper Gizowski, making his Chiefs debut, picked up his first career point with the lone assist on Finley's net front goal. Spokane would dominate the first period offensively as they would out shoot the Americans 18-3 in the period. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Tri City would score on their second shot of the game as a shot from the blue line beat goalie Campbell Arnold to tie the game at one midway through the period. Spokane would come right back though as Raegan Wiles shot from the blue line on the power play just over 2 minutes later gave the Chiefs a 2-1 lead heading into the second period.
Tri City would get one power play in the second, and they would capitalize 7.5 minutes in the frame to even the game at two. Spokane would then get 3 straight power play chances and would take advantage on the first as Luke Toporowski's goal just over 3 minutes later put Spokane up 3-2 after two periods. The Chiefs out chanced Tri City 19-5 in the middle twenty, out shooting the Americans by a whopping 37-8 after two. Despite having such a major advantage in shots, the lead was only one, which is always precarious heading into a third period. The game would turn in the third period and unfortunately for the Chiefs, it wouldn't go their way.
Spokane would take consecutive 5 minute major penalties just over 4 minutes into the period when Cordel Larson ran into the goalie to draw a charging major, and then Timafey Kovgoreniya got a one man fighting major in the scuffle after Larson's penalty to give Tri City the ultra rare 5 on 3 five minute power play. The Chiefs penalty kill, led by goalie Arnold, gave up just one goal in that 5 minute period, but Tri City was able to tie the game at three heading into the final minutes of the game. Tri would take the momentum of that five minute power play and would score on a breakaway with under 5 minutes left to take their first lead of the game at 4-3. The Chiefs would get back to back power play chances in the final 4 minutes, but would be unable to get the equalizer as the Americans scored the final goal into the Chiefs empty net with over a minute remaining to come away with a 5-3 victory. Spokane out shot Tri City 45-20 in the game and would get 7 power play chances to just 3 for the Americans, but it was Ams that came away with the 2 points as the Chiefs suffered a gut punching loss on opening night.
The team didn't get a lot of time to mope about the defeat as they welcomed the defending U.S. Division champion Everett Silvertips to the Arena on Sunday. The Chiefs had not had a lot of success against the Silvertips the last 2 seasons, going just 3-12 over the last 15 meetings between the two teams. Unlike the quick start offensively the night before, the Chiefs came out flat in the first period as they saw the Tips jump out to a 2-0 lead on goals just over 2 minutes apart midway through the period. Spokane managed just 4 shots on goal, as Everett carried the two goal advantage into the second. The Chiefs would come out and get things turned around in the middle twenty as rookie Michael Cicek found an open Ty Cheveldayoff in the low slot to give Spokane their first goal of the night at 5:22 to cut the Everett lead to 2-1. Everett then went on a 4 minute power play after a double minor penalty was given to the Chiefs, but Spokane would score on a shorthanded goal from Toporowski that was awarded after a lengthy review.
The club would kill off the rest of the man advantage, but just 7 seconds after the successful penalty kill, Everett would get a man open net front and score with just 1:40 left in the period to take a 3-2 lead after two. The Silvertips would get two more power play opportunities in the third on their way to outshooting Spokane 9-4 in the frame. The Chiefs would turn away both Everett man advantage chances though, and would then get the equalizer with just 1:52 remaining with Mac Gross would score from the blue line to even the game at three. Spokane would get a great chance in overtime when Jack Finley's shot was deflected wide of an open net front in the opening minute. Everett would then score on a back door feed at 2:17 of the extra stanza to hand the Chiefs their second straight loss of the weekend, this time 4-3 in OT.
Spokane was out shot 32-17 in the game, so coming away with a point was a bonus for the Chiefs. Getting the two points though would have been a nice make up for being denied the two they should have garnered the night before. Now the team will try to rebound in week two as they will play three games in three nights this upcoming weekend. Spokane will host Seattle at the Arena at 7:05 pm Friday before heading out on the road for back to back games Saturday and Sunday. The Chiefs will look to avenge their defeat to Tri City on Saturday as they visit the Americans at 6:05 pm, and then take on the Portland Winterhawks for the first time Sunday in the Rose City at 5:05 pm. It's a demanding weekend for the Chiefs as they hopefully pick up their first win or two over the weekend. I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA starting with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm Friday, 5:30 pm Saturday and 4:30 pm Sunday. We hope to see you at the rink!