SPOKANE, Wash. — The Chiefs began the abbreviated spring season with the slowest start in team history, losing their first 7 games. While the club began the 2021-22 campaign with back to back home losses to Tri City and Everett, the team was hoping to pick up their first win of the new season as they embarked on a grueling 3 games in 3 nights stretch through the U.S. Division. Spokane had picked up a point with an overtime loss to Everett, but a loss is still a loss, and the club were hoping to salvage the final game of a 3 game homestand to start the year as they hosted Seattle at the Spokane Arena on Friday night. Seattle had dominated the Chiefs in last year's season series, winning 4 of 5 from Spokane, so the Chiefs were looking to turn that around in the two teams first match up of the year.
The Chiefs would start quick as Eric Atchison would fire home a rebound of a Bear Hughes shot 4:14 into the game to get out to a 1-0 lead. Seattle would come back and even things though, as a Spokane turnover outside their blue line led to the Thunderbirds scoring the tying goal midway through the period to even the game at one after the first. Seattle was in position to take the lead midway through the second, as the Chiefs took back to back penalties to give the Thunderbirds a 5 on 3 power play for 1:22. Spokane would be the team to take advantage though, as Hughes would steal a Seattle clearance at mid-ice and roar in to score on a breakaway at 11:54 of the period to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead. Spokane looked to be heading to the third with the lead, but another turnover led to Seattle going on a 2 on 1 break, and Lucas Ciona snapped home the tying goal under the crossbar at 18:31 to make it a 2-2 game. The Thunderbirds would strike again just 27 seconds later after another Chiefs turnover at their blue line and Seattle would capitalize with a net front goal to take a 3-2 advantage after 40 minutes. This would prove to be a pivotal stretch in the game as instead of taking a one goal lead into the third, the Chiefs now had to play from behind in the final frame.
Spokane would get all 3 power play opportunities in the third and would capitalize on the final chance as Luke Toporowski would fire home a shot from the left wing with just 7:40 remaining to bring the Chiefs even at 3-3. The celebration wouldn't last long though as Seattle would bring the puck in the Chiefs zone off the ensuing face off and score just 46 seconds after Toporowski's goal to re-take the lead at 4-3. The T-Birds would put away the game with another goal just over 4 minutes later to secure a 5-3 victory and leave the Chiefs winless in their 3 game homestand. Spokane out shot Seattle 34-31 in the contest and had 5 power plays to 3 for Seattle, yet found themselves on the short end of the scoreboard. Far too many mistakes with the puck on defensive zone breakouts and through the neutral zone led to the Chiefs demise on Friday, and the team was hoping to minimize the mistakes as they headed out on the road for the first time with back to back games at Tri City and Portland.
First up were the Americans, as the Chiefs were hoping to avenge their opening night loss to Tri. Campbell Arnold would get the start in net as he faced Tri City for the second time in a week. The Americans would take the lead late in the first on a goal after a lost puck in the Chiefs zone to go up 1-0 after one. Spokane would come out in the second as a team on a mission as Bear Hughes would score on a net front drive just 28 seconds into the period to tie the game at two. Tri City would take back to back penalties midway through the second to give Spokane a 5 on 3 man advantage for 52 seconds. The Chiefs didn't take long to capitalize as Hughes scored his second straight goal of the period, and third in 2 nights 15 seconds into the power play to make it 2-1 Spokane. The power play unit then scored again on the back half of the man advantage as Luke Toporowski scored his team high 4th goal of the season 1:59 after Hughes goal to put the Chiefs ahead 3-1. Yannick Proske then capped a 4 goal second with his first WHL goal on a highlight reel shot to give Spokane a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Any hopes of a Tri City comeback would be squashed in the opening minutes of the third as Spokane took advantage of yet another power play opportunity, as Graham Sward's shot from the point went in 2:59 into the period to put the Chiefs up 5-1. Arnold took over from there as he turned aside all 12 Tri City shots in the frame to preserve Spokane's first win of the year with a 5-1 victory. The club finished 3-4 on the power play and 4-4 on the penalty kill, as Hughes had his second straight 3 point night with 2 goals and an assist. Toporowski and Sward finished with a goal and an assist apiece, and Arnold recorded 24 saves to pull Spokane up to 1-2-1 on the season and even with Portland in the division standings. Portland also won their first game of the season Saturday as they spoiled Seattle's home opener 3-2, so Sunday's meeting in the Rose City would establish who would move into first in the division, or who would fall into last.
Good starts are always essential on the road, but unfortunately for the Chiefs, they would not have one in Portland. The Winterhawks scored just 2:40 into the game to take a 1-0 lead. As it turned out, that goal would be all they would need. Spokane kept Portland off the board through two Winterhawk power play opportunities in the period, but the Hawks would capitalize on their third, as Robbie Fromm-Delorme scored at the 17:16 mark to make it 2-0 Portland. A defensive breakdown in the Chiefs end of the ice would free up Cross Hanas for an easy wrister from the high slot at 18:49 and suddenly Spokane was down 3-0 after the first period. The Chiefs only managed 5 shots in the period as Portland scored on 3 of 8 shots in the frame to put Spokane in an early hole.
In the second period, Mason Beaupit came on in relief of starting goalie Campbell Arnold and would turn aside all 11 shots he faced in the middle 20. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they failed to put up much offense in their 9 shots and would still trail by 3 heading into the third period. Spokane came out with more jump offensively in the final 20 and had a chance to score on a Luke Toporowski drive to the net a minute and a half in. Portland goalie Dante Giannuzzi made the big save and would continue to do so through the period as he cast aside all 15 Chiefs shots in the period to earn a 3-0 shutout victory. It was the first time Spokane has been blanked this young season as Portland got 7 power play chances against a frustrated Chiefs outfit.
The win propelled Portland into first place in the division by a point over Everett, Seattle, and Tri City, while the loss left Spokane a point back of those three clubs in 5th in the division. The Chiefs were only outscored 9-8 overall in the three games in three nights, but only earned 2 of the possible 6 points as their record is now 1-3-1 after the first 5 games of the season. Spokane has plenty to work on this week, and they'll get the time to do so as they only have one game as they travel back to Tri City to face the Americans Friday night at 7:05 pm. I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA, with the pre-game show at 6:30 pm on Friday from Kennewick. Let's hope the Chiefs play like the last time they traveled to Tri City and we will see you at the rink!