SPOKANE, Wash. — The goals for the Chiefs coming into this past weekend were simple. First off, score a goal. Second, get a win. Spokane had failed to do either the previous weekend when they were blanked in back to back games with Seattle and Tri City, losing by 5-0 and 3-0 scores respectively. To make matters worse for Spokane, the team lost 2 defensemen to injury that weekend as top 2 blueliner Graham Sward and Mac Gross were both out for the week with upper body injuries. With this shortened 24 game season being one used primarily for development, both Sward and Gross were now going to miss out on gaining yet some more valuable experience heading into the 2021-22 season due to begin in October. The injuries did open the door for young D-men Jordan Chudley, Logan Cunningham and Chase Friedt-Mohr to see some increased playing time, which will certainly benefit them going forward.
Although the team is stretched out depth wise defensively, the team has played well enough overall on that end of the ice to win some games. Scoring has been the problem. After five games, the team had been shut out 3 times and had scored in a total of 3 periods in the 15 regulation and 1 overtime period they had played. Over half the forwards on the team had not scored a point yet, so it was getting time to see some of the younger players step up their games in the development process. The two teams that had shut out Spokane the previous weekend just happened to be the next two opponents for the Chiefs heading into this past weekend. First up was a re-match with Tri City down in Kennewick. Spokane had been blanked by 3 just a week earlier, so the defeat was still fresh in the minds of the club as they took the ice Saturday night.
If the Chiefs were hoping for a quick start offensively, it didn't happen for them. The Americans out shot Spokane 10-2 in the first, but goalie Campbell Arnold stood tall in net as he turned aside all 10 Tri City shots and the two clubs were scoreless after one. Early in the second, the Chiefs had a chance to take the lead on the power play, but Tri City spoiled those plans as they scored short handed 2:44 into the period to take a 1-0 advantage. The Chiefs didn't wilt though, and would answer on their next power play opportunity as Blake Swetlikoff netted his first WHL goal at 5:06 on a rebound net front to tie the game at one. Tri City came right back though as Tyson Greenway put home a partial breakaway tally just over three minutes later to give the Americans a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes. Spokane was outshot 24-9 through two periods, but only trailed by one as Arnold kept the Chiefs in the game with his play in net.
The Chiefs came out firing in the third as Cordel Larson sniped a wrister from the right wing, going top far corner past Tri goalie Talyn Boyko only 59 seconds into the frame to tie the game at two. Spokane would out shoot the Americans 13-7 in the third and get the only two power plays of the period, but would be unable to find the net as the two clubs ended regulation tied at two. The Chiefs got to overtime as Arnold stopped a breakaway with about 1:20 left in regulation, and Spokane used a timeout with just under a minute remaining to stem some Tri City offensive pressure in the last two minutes. Spokane had to feel good about getting to overtime though, and with Adam Beckman, Eli Zummack and Raegen Wiles on the ice for the 3 on 3 OT, I just had the feeling that one good look for that group and the game would be Spokane's. That never happened. Tri City got the puck off the face off, went on a rush up ice, and scored just 18 seconds into overtime to take a 3-2 victory.
It was a crushing loss for the Chiefs as Spokane had played well enough to win, but had fallen short for the 6th straight game to start the season. The club hoped to build on the positives from the loss though and turn them into a formula for winning the next night at home as the Chiefs hosted Seattle for the second time in just over a week. The last time out, the Thunderbirds had handed the Chiefs their worst loss of the season with a 5-0 whitewashing. Spokane looked determined to not let that happen again, as they would score first in a game for the first time since the season opener. Reed Jacobson put up his first of the year with a nice move net front at 13:59 to make it 1-0 Spokane. It looked like that lead would hold up until the second, but a lost puck battle on the wall in the defensive zone led to Keltie Jeri-Leon scoring his 5th goal against Spokane in 3 games this year with just 57 seconds left in the period to even the game at one after the first.
Seattle built on that momentum and scored on a Peyton Mount goal just 3:42 into the second to take a 2-1 lead. The Chiefs bounced right back though as the power play, which had gone just 2 for 22 over the first 6 games, scored on back to back chances to re-take the lead. Swetlikoff got things started with one timer from the left wing at 5:15 to tie the game at two. The next time out, Eli Zummack's slap shot was tipped by Erik Atchison for his second of the season at 15:28 to make it 3-2 Spokane. Seattle had a two man advantage in the final two minutes of the period after back to back penalties for 1:25, but the Chiefs penalty kill and goalie Mason Beaupit shut the T-Birds down and were able to maintain the one goal advantage heading into the third. With the penalty kill coming up big, it appeared the Chiefs could use that boost heading into the third.
That did not happen. Seattle defenseman Ty Bauer shot a puck off a Chief defender just 13 seconds into the third period and through Beaupit to tie the game at 3. The Thunderbirds looked like they were on their way to their 3rd straight win over Spokane when Jared Davidson, who scored 3 points against the Chiefs the last time they played, fired home his second goal against Spokane this year at 8:57 to give Seattle a 4-3 lead. Instead of hanging their heads though, Spokane would go back on the power play for the third time in the game. For the third time, the Chiefs would convert. Adam Beckman, who had gone goal less since game 3 at Portland, would scored his third of the season at 10:40 to bring Spokane back even at 4-4. The 4 goals marked a season high in a game for the Chiefs as did the three power play goals. When Spokane got their 4th power play chance late in the third, it looked like a great chance for Spokane to get a potential game winner.
It did not happen. Despite having the only power plays in the third, Spokane was out shot 15-8 in the third and would head to overtime tied at 4. The Chiefs seemed bound and determined not to give up a goal early in overtime, and in fact, would get yet another power play, their 5th of the contest, just 1:25 into the extra 5 minute period when the Thunderbirds had too many men on the ice. Unfortunately for Spokane, the Chiefs could not get a serious scoring chance with the 4 on 3 advantage and the game remained tied. Then the unthinkable happened in the waning seconds of overtime. With two 20 year olds and a 19 year old on the ice in the final half minute, Spokane gave up a Seattle rush that saw Connor Roulette end the game by scoring on a wide open chance in the low slot with just 13 seconds left to give the Chiefs their second straight overtime loss, this time by a count of 5-4.
Offensively, it was the Chiefs best game of the season by far. Seeing Jacobson, Swetlikoff and Atchison score is a big positive going forward and the power play scoring more goals in one game than they had the previous 6 contests is certainly a step in the right direction. Overall, the club has played well defensively, but it seems when the team makes a mental mistake in coverage or makes a bad decision with the puck at their blue line or in the neutral zone, the puck ends up in the back of the Chiefs net. Little things in the details of the game have been a rollercoaster in learning for this inexperienced squad through 7 games, but there are signs that improvement is taking place in the right direction going forward.
While the team played 7 games in the first 3 weeks of the abbreviated season, things will now pick up as the Chiefs will play 3 to 4 games a week for the next month plus, a total of 17 games in 34 days. Spokane will be at home all this week, as they host Tri City on Wednesday night before entertaining Portland on both Friday and Saturday. It's the first of 4 trips to the Spokane Arena for Tri City, while this will be the only trip to Arena for Portland. I'll have the call on 1510 AM KGA and 103.5 FM the Game for all three games this week. Wednesday and Friday's games will be at 6:10 p.m. with the pre-game show starting at 5:30 p.m. Saturday's game with Portland will have the pre-game at 4:30 p.m. and the puck drop to follow at 5:10 p.m. Let's hope the Chiefs take some more steps in their game and get their elusive first win...or two...or three of the season. We hope to see you on the radio!