SPOKANE, Wash. — Trade deadline time is always a time for anxiety and apprehension for many players in the Western Hockey League. No one is really off limits from seeing their career end in one city and moving on to another. There are always teams looking to upgrade their position in the standings, while others are looking to sell older top end players to get young and up and coming talent for future years. The Chiefs found themselves doing the latter this season as they would make two moves on Monday's trade deadline day, dealing away two 20 year old forwards. The first trade of the day saw Cordel Larson sent to Moose Jaw for forward Cade Hayes and a third round draft pick. Then later in the morning, leading goal scorer Luke Toporowski was dealt to Kamloops for forward Nick McCarry and a second round draft pick. No question the team is loading up for the future after these two trades and the trade last month with captain Jack Finley being sent to Winnipeg. The Chiefs named a new captain this week as well, as Post Falls native Bear Hughes named the 35th captain in team history. Spokane also got some good news off of the ice as forward Reed Jacobson, who broke his leg in October at Tri City, was taken off the injured list and cleared to play this week.
Spokane was needing all the players they could get too. After a 13 day layoff, the Chiefs had been handed back to back defeats at home by the top two teams in the West in Everett and Kamloops last weekend by a combined 12-2 margin. Things were not going to get any easier this week either as the Chiefs headed out on their first road trip of 2022 with a grueling 4 games in 5 nights journey through the U.S. Division with games at Seattle, Tri City and Portland. Spokane started the week 5 points back of Victoria for the final playoff spot in the West and 3 points behind Tri City for 4th in the division. Needless to say, the new guys weren't going to get a lot of time to acclimate to their new surroundings as the Chiefs were needing every point they could get to start making a move for a playoff spot midway through the season.
First up was second place Seattle, who was coming off an impressive 5-1 win over Everett in their last game. Spokane had won in their last game in Seattle, scoring a 6-3 victory on December 28th. The Thunderbirds had defeated the Chiefs in the two teams last meeting though, beating Spokane at the Arena December 30th 6-2. Friday night's game would show the importance of a good start as Seattle would take advantage of early goals in all three periods. The Thunderbirds scored just 1:07 into the game to jump out to a 1-0 lead. Seattle would then convert their first power play at 5:27 to go up 2-0 after the first period. Spokane had some opportunities to score in the latter half of the first period, including a breakaway, and they turned out to be their best offensive chances of the game.
Seattle would take over in the second as they out shot Spokane 16-4 and would once again strike early in the period with a power play goal just 1:32 in to take a 3-0 lead. The Thunderbirds would score again midway through the period to take a commanding 4-0 advantage to the third. Spokane had chances in the second to get back in the contest as they had 3 of the 4 power play opportunities between the two teams, but the Chiefs managed just one shot in those three power plays. The third period would see Seattle put the game away with 3 goals, including another tally early in the period at the 1:03 mark, to wrap up a dominating 7-0 shutout victory. It marked the second straight shutout loss for Spokane as they had been outscored 19-2 over a 3 game losing streak. The Chiefs had now put up just 88 goals in 33 games, the lowest goal output in the WHL. Spokane went 0-6 on the power play in this contest, and just 1-3 on the penalty kill, as the special teams had a rare off night.
If there was good news to come out of this night, it was both Tri City and Victoria, the teams Spokane are chasing in the standings, both lost home games to Portland and Vancouver, respectively. The Chiefs then hit the road for Tri City for a huge game with their division rivals on Saturday. A win over the Americans in regulation would bring Spokane within a point of 4th place in the division and give the Chiefs their 5th straight in Kennewick. The Chiefs also getting the good news that defenseman Mac Gross, who had missed a month of action, would be back in the lineup. Spokane was still without their top defenseman Graham Sward, so Gross being back in the lineup was a boost. Tri City was short handed as well as they had just 9 healthy forwards going into Saturday's tilt, so this match up appeared to be pretty even heading in.
It certainly looked that way early on as the two teams traded chances in the first. Tri City would break through after a Chiefs turnover inside their blue line as Sasha Mutala scored on an easy net front tap in at 15:53 to give the Americans a 1-0 lead after one. The second period would end up deciding things, but unfortunately for the Chiefs, it was the Americans that seized control of the game. Despite out shooting Tri City 14-12 in the period, the Ams would score three goals to put the game on ice. Mutala would score two of the goals, capping off his first career hat trick vs. Spokane, as Tri City led it 4-0 after two. After going over 8.5 periods without a goal, the Chiefs finally broke the goal drought at 17:54 of the third when Timafey Kovgoreniya scored his second goal of the season to avert the shutout. Spokane still ended up losing their fourth straight though, as Tri City scored their first win over Spokane since the season opener with a 4-1 victory. The Chiefs now found themselves 5 points back of both Tri City and Victoria for the final playoff spot in the West as they headed to Portland for their 3rd game in 3 nights.
Portland had moved into second place in the division with an impressive 5-1 win over Seattle the night before on home ice. The Chiefs got a boost with Sward being cleared to be back in the lineup for the first time since the Everett game on the 14th. Spokane had struggled with the Winterhawks in the season series, losing 4 of 5 previous contests, including all 3 in Portland by a combined 14-4 margin. The first period Sunday looked like more of the same for the Chiefs as the Winterhawks jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. Spokane was out shot 11-4 in the period and it looked like a long night for the Chiefs. Things would change in the second though, as Bear Hughes scored his 12th of the year on a rebound midway through the period to make it a 2-1 game. The Chiefs then converted a power play chance at 16:41 when Carter Streek scored his 5th of the year to bring Spokane even at 2-2 at the end of the second.
Spokane would kill off two Portland power plays at the end of the second and start of the third period. The Chiefs then seized their first lead of the game when Erik Atchison scored a power play goal at 5:49 of the third to put Spokane up 3-2. Portland answered with a power play goal of their own at 9:27 to tie the game at three. The Winterhawks then took the lead with a goal 1:06 later to go up 4-3. Spokane pulled goalie Manny Panghli in the final minute and a half and the move paid off as Blake Swetlikoff tipped in a Bear Hughes shot with just 12 seconds left to tie the game at four and send it to overtime. In the OT, Portland would score at 2:44 to win their fifth in 6 games with Spokane by a final of 5-4. The Chiefs were able to pick up a point in the standings as they now trailed Tri City and Victoria by 4 points for the final playoff spot in the West. The biggest part of the game though was Spokane breaking out of their offensive slump as they scored more goals Sunday than they had scored in their previous 4 contests.
The Chiefs were hoping to carry that offensive momentum to Seattle on Tuesday as the club closed out its' 4 games in 5 nights road swing. Spokane had been drilled 7-0 the previous Friday in Seattle to start the trip, so the the Chiefs were hoping to turn that result around as they took on the Thunderbirds for the second time in the week. The team was without defenseman Timafey Kovgoreniya, who suffered an ankle injury in the loss Sunday to Portland. Spokane hoped to avoid another quick start by Seattle, but the Thunderbirds would get a Henrik Rybinski goal just 5:35 into the contest to take a 1-0 after one. Seattle would add to the lead with a goal just 1:27 into the second to jump up 2-0, but Spokane would answer with Chase Bertholet's 5th goal as a Chief at 5:15 to cut the lead to 2-1. Spokane then had a power play to try to even the game midway through the period, but a bad pass and then turnover inside their blue line led to a short handed goal at 10:35 to give Seattle a 3-1 edge. The Thunderbirds then scored just 24 seconds later and looked primed to blow out Spokane for the second straight game at 4-1. The Chiefs would respond though, as just 36 seconds after the T-Birds goal, rookie defenseman Saige Weistein scored his first career goal at 11:35 to cut the lead in half at 4-2.
Just when it looked like it would be a two goal game heading to the third, Seattle would score with just 12 seconds left in the period to take a 5-2 advantage to the final 20 minutes. It was a devastating goal, and lifted Seattle to plenty of momentum as they would come out in the third and put up three more tallies to pull away to their second straight rout of Spokane 8-2. The Chiefs have now dropped 7 of 9 to Seattle this season and are now 5 points back of Victoria for the final playoff spot in the West and 4 points behind Tri City for 4th in the U.S. Division. The road trip saw Spokane go just 0-3-1, garnering just 1 point out of a possible 8. The Chiefs were beat up pretty good on this road swing as well, getting outscored 23-7, with 4 of those goals in the one game they got a point; the 5-4 overtime loss at Portland. Seattle was particularly tough on Spokane, beating the Chiefs twice in 5 days by a combined 15-2. Ouch.
The team's losing streak is now at a season high 6 in a row, and Spokane has not won a game since coming back from the 13 day layoff in early January. Time is starting to run out on the team if they have any illusions of making the playoffs this season. The team now heads home for a season long 5 game homestand that will start with a pair of games this weekend. Spokane will hope the home cooking will help as they host Seattle and Tri City this Friday and Saturday nights. I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA on Friday, while the Tri City game Saturday will be on 94.1 FM the Bear and 790 AM KJRB. The pre-game shows will be at 6:30 pm and puck drops at 7:05 pm. Let's hope the Chiefs find some wins and soon.
We hope to see you at the rink!