SPOKANE, Wash. — With the season just past the halfway mark, the Chiefs are now at a point in the season where they have to start making a move in the win-loss column if they hope to make their way out of last place in the league's Western Conference and towards a playoff berth. Last week Spokane attained just one point out of eight during a tough 4 games in 5 nights road trip through the U.S. Division with road games at Seattle, Tri City, and Portland. The club was now 5 points out of a playoff berth and 4 points back of 4th place Tri City in the division as they headed into their longest homestand of the season. The Chiefs headed home to the Spokane Arena for the next 5 games, starting with a pair of weekend tilts with Seattle and Tri City on Friday and Saturday.
The team also received news off of the ice on Thursday as General Manager Scott Carter announced he was stepping down for health and personal reasons on Thursday. What this means for the team going forward is anybody's guess right now. The Chiefs are in the process of rebuilding with a number of young players and with a number of high draft choices coming up in the next couple of years, it will be critical for the club to find a new GM to finish the process in a positive manner. The club also announced the promotion of third round draft pick Nathan Mayes, who joins second round selection Willie McIsaac as players called up in their 15 year old seasons to see some playing time this year.
The club had been off for just a couple of days when they hosted Seattle in a re-match of their game Tuesday in Kent. The Thunderbirds handed Spokane an 8-2 loss that night, and had beaten the Chiefs by a combined 15-2 margin in the two games played 5 days apart on the road swing. The Chiefs had been dominated in those two contests, particularly on special teams, where the T-Birds were a combined 3-4 on the power play and a perfect 9-9 on the penalty kill. Spokane fell behind early in both games and were hoping to avoid that same fate on Friday. Home ice has not been particularly kind to the Chiefs thus far this season either as the club had gone just 5-12-2 at the Arena, including a dismal 1-4 vs. Seattle.
Spokane had seen the Thunderbirds jump out to quick starts in both wins in Kent and Friday night, the Chiefs seemed determined to prevent that happening in their 3rd meeting of the week. Midway through the first though, Seattle broke through with the first goal of the contest to jump out to a 1-0 lead. The T-Birds then got a Jared Davidson goal with just 2 minutes left in the first to seize momentum of the game and a 2-0 advantage after 20 minutes. Seattle then turned up the pressure in the second and would score two goals in the first 5:57 of the period, including a power play tally from Davidson to take a 4-0 lead into the third. Davidson would keep the goal scoring parade going as he scored two more power play goals in the third to put the game away at 6-0. Seattle would cap off a dominant 7-0 win with their 4th power play goal in 5 chances late in the third to secure their third victory over the Chiefs in the last week.
Special teams were owned by Seattle in the three contests this past week as the Thunderbirds went an astounding 7-9 on the power play and a just as impressive 14-14 on the penalty kill against the Chiefs. Spokane was out shot in the 3 games by 110-60 and were outscored 22-2. Perhaps overlooked in all of the numbers was the fact the Chiefs had now dropped 7 games in a row and had not won since New Year's Day. No telling how much the 13 day unexpected break for Covid and weather had on the team at the time, but the Chiefs had won 3 of 4 before the break, so it's become apparent the club has not adjusted very well since the time off. Of the 7 losses, Spokane had only picked up one point by going to overtime, that coming in a 5-4 defeat in the third game of the 4 game road trip last weekend. The Chiefs have been outscored 43-9 in the losing streak, losing by an average score of 6-1, and have been shutout 3 times in the losing streak. Spokane had a lot to overcome as they headed into game 2 of the 5 game home stand as they hosted Tri City for their second match up over the last week.
The Americans had handled the Chiefs 4-1 last Saturday in Kennewick to notch their first win over Spokane since the season opener on October 2nd. Tri had lost 3-0 to division leading Everett the night before, so both teams were anxious to get on the scoreboard early in this one. Spokane looked like a different team Saturday as they would come out and outshoot Tri City 13-6 in the first period, putting up just 6 shots less than they did the entire game the night before. The Chiefs would break through with the first goal of the night as well, as Nick McCarry, acquired from Kamloops in the Luke Toporowski trade, scored his first goal as a Chief at 16:49 of the first to give Spokane a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes. Tri City would quickly answer in the second as they would score just 2:15 into the period to tie the contest at one. Spokane would come right back as rookie defenseman Logan Cunningham scored his first career goal at 4:32 to put the Chiefs back up by 2-1. The Chiefs would expand the margin to 3-1 as Raegan Wiles scored off a 4 on 4 at 17:27. Tri City would get back in the game on a shorthanded tally with just 1:05 remaining in the second to cut the lead to 3-2 after two.
The Ams would pull back even on a Sam Huo goal 5:40 into the third to make it a 3-3 game. Chase Bertholet would put the Chiefs back up by one with a rebound at 6:43 to give Spokane a 4-3 lead. Wiles would then record his first multi-goal game as a Chief with his second of the game at 7:14 to give the Chiefs a 5-3 lead midway through the period. Huo would score his second of the contest at 12:21 to bring Tri City back within 5-4. Spokane would buckle down immediately as they would hold the Americans to just 7 shots in the third and would never be seriously threatened as Tri City pulled their goalie in the final minute but never got a shot on net. The Chiefs would snap their season high 7 game losing streak with a 5-4 victory, which was the same score they got in their last win New Year's Day over the Americans. The victory was the 6th in 8 meetings with Tri City this season and pulled the Chiefs within 2 points of Tri in the U.S. Division and within 3 points of Victoria for the last playoff berth in the Western Conference.
The win could not have come at a better time for Spokane, as they now head into a busy month of February where the club will play 12 games in 24 days. The Chiefs will have a challenging month as well as they will face 2nd place Portland in 6 of their 12 games, including 5 straight starting on February 5th. Ten of the 12 games will be within their own division with the two contests outside of the American division coming this week as Spokane finishes up their season long 5 game home stand. The Chiefs will face Prince George and Kelowna from the B.C. Division Wednesday and Friday before finishing up the week by hosting Portland on Saturday. I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA for Wednesday and Friday's games while Saturday's game will be on 94.1 the Bear and 790 AM KJRB due to Gonzaga basketball. Game times will be at 7:05 pm with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm. Let's hope the Chiefs build off the win and move themselves closer to a playoff spot heading into the final 2 months of the season.
We hope to see you at the rink!