SPOKANE, Wash. — It's been over a year since the pandemic of COVID-19 began but its effects are still being felt throughout the world. I imagine it's going to be a little while longer as well until life as we knew it socially will be getting back to a level we're accustomed. The sports industry, in particular the minor league levels, have felt the full impact of shut downs and adjusted ways of life.
The Chiefs are no exception. Spokane saw the 2019-20 season postponed, and then canceled as some players junior careers ended abruptly. No playoffs, no goodbyes...just head home and we'll see what happens. The Western Hockey League has been able to put together an abbreviated schedule for 2021 and for that, we are very thankful. Unfortunately, Covid has continued to rear its' ugly head as the Chiefs have lost 3 games vs. Tri City due to positive tests in the Americans team. The latest cancellation came this past Sunday the 25th, when Spokane's game in Kennewick was shut down. With those games forever lost, the Chiefs got some good news this week when the league cleared Tri City to play again, and it thus put Spokane's home game with Tri back on the schedule for this Wednesday.
Spokane had a lot to bounce back from after the team was drubbed in two straight losses to Everett at home on back-to-back nights Thursday and Friday. The Chiefs were simply outclassed in those games as they were outscored 11-1 and came within 1:58 of being shut out in consecutive tilts. The team now had an opportunity to bounce back against a Tri City team that had not played a game in 2 weeks and had just had their first practice in 10 days on Monday. Tri City was still without their top goalie Talyn Boyko, so had to go with back up Mason Dunsford in their game against the Chiefs. Spokane goalie Mason Beaupit served as the emergency back up for Dunsford in an unusual arrangement that saw the possibility of the Chiefs facing their own goalie in a game. Fortunately that scenario never arrived as the two clubs would play a close and entertaining game in their next to last match up of the shortened season.
The Chiefs were hoping to come out and force the pace on a rusty Tri City squad, but it was the Americans who would strike first as Sasha Mutala's shot from the right side beat Chiefs goalie Manny Panghli 4:39 into the game to make it 1-0 Tri. Panghli was making his first WHL start and just his second appearance after coming on in relief in the 3rd period for Beaupit in Friday's 6-1 loss to Everett. Things settled for Panghli and the Chiefs through the rest of the period as the rookie tender stopped 11 of 12 Americans shots and Spokane would pull even late in the period when Eli Zummack scored on a rebound at 16:15 to make it a 1-1 game after one.
Tri City would re-take the lead just 1:09 into the second on a Booker Daniel tally, but Spokane would answer when leading scorer Adam Beckman would go far top corner from the left circle at 3:51 to even the game at two. The Chiefs would take their first lead of the night when Zummack scored his second of the game with a power play goal midway through the period, but the Americans would counter again as Nick Bowman scored his first of the year with just over 2 minutes left to send the game to the third all tied at three apiece. Despite getting three power plays in the first two frames as compared to one for Tri City, the Americans had out shot the Chiefs 27-23 through 40 minutes. The two clubs were back and forth throughout the game and that continued into the third.
The Americans would out shoot the Chiefs 9-4 in the third but neither team would score until the final 3 minutes of the game. Tri City put Spokane on the power play two more times in the third, and the second opportunity would decide the game. Zummack got the puck on the right wing and found an open Beckman on the left side. Beckman snapped home his second of the night short side at 17:05 of the period to put the Chiefs up for good at 4-3. The Americans would pull their goalie in the final minute but Spokane would cap the scoring when Beckman secured the hat trick with his third of the night into the empty net with 2 seconds left to wrap up a 5-3 victory. Beckman and Zummack ended up with 4 points apiece as Manny Panghli notched his first WHL win in net with 33 saves. It was a huge win for the Chiefs as they mentally bounced back from the back to back drubbings at the hands of Everett. The victory not only evened the season series with Tri City at 2-2, but brought the Chiefs within 1 point of third place Seattle in the division with 6 games left in the shortened season.
As luck would have, it was Seattle next up for the Chiefs as the Thunderbirds came into the Spokane Arena on Saturday for the two clubs 4th meeting of the year. Seattle had won the previous three, although two of the wins had come in a shootout and overtime. Now Spokane had a chance to not only get a win over the T-Birds for the first time, but move past them into third by a point with a regulation victory. The team got a huge boost with the return of forward Luke Toporowski from his stint in the USHL and defenseman Graham Sward, who was back after missing over a month due to an injury. Campbell Arnold was in net for the Chiefs as he sought his first win since April 7th. The Thunderbirds had been struggling, having lost 5 straight. Seattle had lost forward Matt Rempe for the season due to injury and had lost high scoring forward Connor Roulette and goalie Thomas Milic to the U-18 World Junior Tournament.
Quick starts have not been a common practice for the Chiefs in this abbreviated season, as the Chiefs had scored the first goal only twice in their first 15 games entering Saturday's contest. That would become 3 in 16 as Eli Zummack got Spokane on the board just 3:48 into the game with his 3rd goal in 2 games as his rebound of a Raegan Wiles shot made it 1-0 Chiefs. Spokane's third line combined for a highlight reel goal midway through the first when Brandon Reller brought the puck into the Seattle zone. Reller hit Owen MacNeil in stride and MacNeil drew the Seattle defense to him on the left wing. MacNeil then hit a wide open Copeland Fricker on the right wing, who scored his second goal of the year into an open net to make it 2-0 Chiefs. Seattle then countered with a tip from Jared Davidson past Arnold at 10:49 to cut the Spokane lead to 2-1 after one.
The second period would turn into one of Spokane's finest of the season thus far. The Chiefs fot a rare on 5 on 3 power play chance when Seattle took simultaneous penalties just 2 minutes into the period. Spokane took all of 27 seconds to take advantage as Adam Beckman continued his torrid scoring pace as he scored his 4th goal in 2 games with his 13th of the year at 2:28 to make it 3-1 Chiefs. Seattle came right back as defenseman Cade McNelly scored his first of the year at 4:37 to cut the margin to 3-2. It was as close as Seattle would get as Spokane ripped off three straight goals to open up the game. Blake Swetlikoff scored a power play goal on a 2 hop shot from the right side to make it 4-2 Chiefs. Yes, you read right...2 hop shot. I've never seen a puck bounce, hit a stick, then bounce again and into the net, but that's what happened on this one. When you get an unusual bounce or bounces in this case, it usually means it's your night. It certainly was for defenseman Matt Leduc as he scored his first goal of the season less than 2 minutes later to put Spokane ahead 5-2. Beckman then stole the puck and backhanded home his second of the night late in the period to cap a 4 goal explosion to give the Chiefs a commanding 6-2 lead heading into the third.
Seattle would score just over 6 minutes into the third to cut the margin in half at 6-3, but that would be the last hurrah from the Thunderbirds. Beckman would secure his second hat trick in as many games as his short handed tally at 13:24 put the game away at 7-3. Rookie Ben Thornton then scored his first career goal at 16:08 to wrap up an 8-3 victory. The 8 goals marked the highest total for Spokane in a game this season and the win moved the Chiefs past Seattle into third place in the U.S. Division with 15 points. Arnold picked up 25 saves for his second win of the season, and a number of Chiefs had big offensive nights. Besides Beckman's second straight hat trick, Eli Zummack and Blake Swetlikoff finished with a goal and an assist apiece. Defensemen Bobby Russell and Raegan Wiles had 3 and 2 assists, respectively. It was Spokane's first win vs. Seattle this year, and gave the club a real boost heading into their next to last home game of the season as they hosted division leading Everett the next night.
The last time the Silvertips were in town a week and a half ago, the Tips embarrassed the Chiefs with 5-0 and 6-1 victories in back to back nights. Spokane was determined not to let that happen again as the clubs met in their next to last match up. The Chiefs went with Mason Beaupit in goal as he hoped to pick up his second win vs. the Silvertips this season. Spokane would out shoot Everett in the first period, but it was the Tips who struck first as Cole Fonstad scored on a shot from the blue line early in the period to give Everett a 1-0 lead after one. The Silvertips then came out in the second period on the power play and would convert just 30 seconds into the frame to take a 2-0 advantage. It began to look as if the Chiefs were going to humbled by the Silvertips in their own building for a third straight time but Spokane began to get themselves back in the contest behind their power play. Less than 2 minutes after Everett's power play goal, Spokane's Blake Swetlikoff scored on a rebound net front at 2:12 of the period to bring the Chiefs within 2-1. Everett would put up 17 shots in the second but Beaupit and the Chiefs defense kept the Silvertips off the scoreboard as it remained a one goal game. The Chiefs would get another power play chance late in the second and once again they would cash in as Swetlikoff tipped a Matt Leduc shot in with just 57 seconds remaining to pull the Chiefs even at 2-2 heading into the third.
The two teams played a tight third period, combining for just 13 shots, but neither team could get on the scoreboard for the game winner. Spokane played their best period in the third but couldn't carry that momentum into overtime. Fonstad would go on a one man rush down the left side just over 3 minutes in and slide the puck through the pads of Beaupit to give Everett a 3-2 overtime victory and the Silvertips third straight win in Spokane. Everett has now won 4 of 5 from the Chiefs this shortened season and have now clinched the U.S. Division crown in the 24 game campaign. Despite the loss, Spokane picked up a point and are now tied for third place in the division with Seattle after the Thunderbirds beat Portland Sunday. It promises to be a tight and competitive final week of the season in the U.S.
Spokane now has just 4 games remaining in the season, starting with their home finale on Tuesday when they host Tri City at 6:10pm. The Chiefs will finish the campaign the same way they began, with 3 games in 3 nights over on the West side of the state, starting with the team's final match up with Everett on Friday at 7:05pm. Spokane will then head to Portland Saturday at 5:05pm and finish the season on Mother's Day Sunday in Seattle at 5:05pm. It's a busy finish to a season that many thought wouldn't happen, but I'm glad the players got a chance to get a mini season in rather than nothing at all. All of the games will be 94.1 the Bear and 790 KJRB as the Spokane Indians will starting their season on the Tuesday the Chiefs finish their home slate with Tri City. I'll be off to do Indians baseball starting Tuesday, but I'll recap the Chiefs season next week in our final blog of the year. Let's hope the Chiefs finish on a strong note and we hope to see you on the radio!