SPOKANE, Wash. — The New Year of 2022 started promisingly enough for the Chiefs with a win at home over rival Tri City on New Year's Day to give Spokane a sweep of their home and home with the rival Americans and push the team past the Ams in the standings by a point. Who knew that win on day one of 2022 would be the last game for the Chiefs for nearly two weeks as the combination of severe winter weather and the Omicron variant of Covid knocked not just the Chiefs, but 14 other clubs in the league off the ice as players entered Covid protocols. Spokane lost 4 games on their schedule over the nearly 2 week period as a home game with Everett and three road games at Seattle and Victoria will now have to be rescheduled over the next 3 months. Spokane will have a packed back half of the schedule as they will have to play 38 of their 68 game schedule between now and April 3rd. With the number of teams that were shut down due to Covid though, the league has broached the idea of extending the regular season past the 3rd if necessary. We shall see. As we have seen over the past 2 years during this pandemic, the one thing I've come to expect is the unexpected.
If there was one good thing to come out of the shutdown, it was the lay off gave the team an opportunity to have a number of their injured players heal up while not losing any points in the standings. Spokane would also make some moves on their roster in the down time as forward Copeland Fricker and defenseman Ben Bonni were re-assigned to teams in Canada while forward James Form was released. Meantime, the Chiefs welcomed back defenseman Raegan Wiles after missing the first 4 games after the holiday break and forwards Grady Lane and Michael Cicek after missing the past 2 months. The team needed to get as many back as possible as Spokane was back in action against the top two teams in the Western Conference as they welcomed Everett and Kamloops to the Spokane Arena on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Chiefs had yet to beat the division leading Silvertips in their previous 7 meetings, going 0-5-2 in the season series thus far. Spokane had been hammered in the two December matchups, losing 9-2 and 7-2 in the two games in Everett. The club was hoping to change that on Friday night. Everett dominated the first half of the first period, but goalie Mason Beaupit kept the Tips off the board as the Chiefs killed off 3 Everett power play chances. Spokane would seize the lead late in the first when leading scorer Bear Hughes scored his 11th of the year at 15:24 to make it 1-0 Chiefs. Just when it looked like the Chiefs would kill off a 4th Everett power play in the period and take a 1 goal lead to the second, a costly turnover in Spokane's end of the ice led to a Ronan Seeley goal at 19:06 of the frame to send the game to the second tied at one.
The Silvertips took the momentum of that late goal and then rung up 3 goals in the first 12:03 of the second to take a commanding 4-1 lead. Turnovers were costly for Spokane as it seemed every mistake the Chiefs made with the puck in their own zone ended up in the back of the net. The Chiefs would cut the margin to 4-2 with just under 7 minutes left in the period when Wiles scored his second of the season at 13:13 to make it a 4-2 game. Spokane would take back to back penalties in the final minute of the stanza though and give the Silvertips a 5 on 3 power play to start the third period.
Like all good teams do, Everett made the Chiefs pay for their lack of discipline at the beginning of the final period. The Silvertips scored just 27 seconds into the final 20 minutes to take a 5-2 lead. The Tips would then put the Chiefs away with another goal at 5:38 to close out Spokane 6-2 for Everett's 8th straight win in the season series. Spokane was out shot 31-20 in the game, and went 0-4 on the power play. The big problem for the Chiefs came as they gave Everett 8 power play chances in the game. While Spokane killed off 7 of them, the Chiefs spent far too much time on the penalty kill against the 5th rated power play in the league. It was far from an ideal start for Spokane, and the club also lost defenseman Graham Sward midway through the game, leaving short handed on the blue line for much of Friday's contest.
Things weren't going to get any easier on Saturday as the team welcomed the B.C. Division leading Kamloops Blazers. It was Blazers only visit to the Spokane Arena this season and they didn't arrive in good humor, as they had blown a 4-0 first period lead the previous night in Tri Cities and watched the Americans score 5 straight for a come from behind 5-4 victory. The win by the Ams lifted them a point ahead of the Chiefs for 4th in the U.S. Division as well. The Chiefs were in need of a good start on Saturday, and they would go toe to toe with the Blazers in the first period, as each team put up just 6 shots on goal in a scoreless opening twenty minutes. The second period would end up being the deciding moment of the contest as the Blazers came out and out shot Spokane 14-7 in frame. Kamloops would break the ice with a goal at the 8:03 mark to take a 1-0 lead. The Blazers would then score two more goals in the next 2:17 to take command at 3-0. Kamloops would finish off a 4 goal period with a power play tally with less than 2 minutes remaining in the period to go up 4-0 after two.
Any hopes for a Chiefs comeback would be squashed in the third, as Kamloops would score a short handed goal on a Chiefs power play midway through the period to put the game away at 5-0. The Blazers would close out the scoring on a goal on a 4 on 4 late to wrap up a decisive 6-0 shutout victory, handing Spokane their second shutout loss of the season. The other shutout occurred at Portland in October at the end of a 3 games in 3 nights trip by a 3-0 margin. The loss was also costly in the standings for Spokane as Tri City won at Portland in a shootout 2-1 to move 3 points up on the Chiefs in the U.S. Division standings. The good news for Spokane was Victoria lost both games this past weekend, so the Chiefs remained 5 points out of the final playoff spot in the West.
Spokane is getting to a cross roads point in their season. The Chiefs now face a grueling 4 games in 5 nights road trip through the division this next week as they travel to Seattle, Tri City and Portland. The game at Tri is a must win in regulation for the Chiefs, and in my mind, must win one of the three games at Seattle and Portland to realistically remain in the playoff conversation. If the club goes winless on the trip, the possibility of falling 8 to 10 points out of the playoffs is no longer remote. Spokane is getting healthier but they will need contributions from all hands this next week to start making a move up the standings rather than down them.
The Chiefs will start the road trip Friday at Seattle before heading to Tri City for a key matchup with the Americans on Saturday. Spokane will then finish a 3 games in 3 nights stretch at Portland on Sunday before finishing the road trip Tuesday with another game at Seattle. I'll have the call for all 4 games on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA. Friday and Tuesday's games in Seattle will be 7:05 pm starts with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm. Saturday's game from Tri Cities will be a 6:05 pm with the pre-game at 5:30 pm. Sunday's game from Portland is a 5:05 pm start and a 4:30 pm pre-game. It's a huge road trip for Spokane and could very well determine if they challenge for a playoff berth or start looking to building for next year. We hope to see you on the radio!