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Spokane Chiefs stay in playoff race

Spokane picks up home win vs. Victoria to win season series.
Credit: Larry Brunt/Spokane Chiefs

SPOKANE, Wash. — After dropping two of three contests the week before, the Chiefs had a chance to work on their team game and practice most of the next week as they headed into the second week of January. With just 29 games left in the season over the next two months, Spokane was in a major pickle as the Chiefs found themselves 9 points out of 9th and 10 back of 8th place Kelowna, who holds the final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings. In their final 29 games, only 8 of the Chiefs contests come against opponents outside of the U.S. Division. 

Spokane's division is probably the toughest in the Western Hockey League, with the top two teams, Seattle and Portland, nationally ranked in the latest top 10 poll, and Everett and Tri City sitting 4th and 5th in the West. Spokane has only won twice in 15 division games, with both victories over Tri City. 

Needless to say, things are looking bleak for the Chiefs to make a post season run like they did last year unless they suddenly find a winning formula amongst its' young group. This week's schedule wasn't going to get any easier, as the team had a demanding 3 games in 4 days over the weekend with a home game sandwiched between two division road trips. 

First up was the Everett Silvertips, the same club who handed the Chiefs their second worst loss of the season with a 9-3 thrashing the week before in Spokane. The team had seen zero success against the Tips this year, losing all 3 meetings by a combined 24-9. The Chiefs had lost 20 of 22 to Everett over the last three seasons and had only won once in Everett and that was 2 seasons ago in April of 2021.

Spokane was determined to change that Friday as they would come out and score just 59 seconds into the game when leading scorer Chase Bertholet scored from the right wing on the Chiefs first shot of the game to make it 1-0 Spokane. Everett would get 3 straight power play chances in the first half of the period and would convert the second one on a Beau Courtney goal at 7:18 to even the game at one. The Chiefs would get two power play opportunities late in the first and would score on the second one as rookie defenseman Will McIsaac scored his first career goal at 17:34 to hand Spokane a 2-1 lead after one. It was the first time the Chiefs had led Everett after a period this season. 

The lead didn't last though as the Silvertips scored just over 6 minutes into the second period to tie the game at 2-2. That goal jump started the Tips to a 3 goal period to give Everett a 4-2 lead after two. Everett scored 3:20 after the tying goal to take the lead for good at 3-2 and then the key moment of the game happened late in the period on an Everett power play. Chiefs goalie Cooper Michaluk was run into by an Everett player early in the power play, but no penalty was called. Right after the collision, Everett's Aidan Sutter fired a shot on net from the left blue line that found the net past the discombobulated Michaluk to give the Tips a huge insurance goal for a 4-2 advantage heading to the third. 

The third period was a back and forth battle between the two clubs, but it was Everett that scored the only goal of the stanza as a rebound net front midway through put away a 5-2 victory for Everett. The Chiefs struggles in the win loss column continue against the Silvertips, but for the first time this season, Spokane made a game of it against their U.S. Division rivals. Now the mission for the team is to do the little things defensively needed to get victories rather than close defeats. The team didn't have long to lick their wounds though as they headed back to the Spokane Arena to host Victoria in a crucial game for the Chiefs on Saturday. 

The Royals had handed the Chiefs a 6-3 loss two weeks earlier in Spokane and were sitting 10 points ahead of the Chiefs for 9th in the West. Victoria was 2 points back of Kelowna for the 8th and final playoff spot in the conference after suffering a disappointing 7-6 overtime loss the night before in Portland. With 28 games left in the season and this being the final head to head meeting with the Royals, this was a must win for Spokane if they entertained any hope of making a playoff run. The Chiefs went with Dawson Cowan in net in his first start in 4 games. The Royals greeted Cowan and the Chiefs rudely just under 6 minutes into the first period as they scored on an odd man rush to take a 1-0 lead. Spokane answered just over 3 minutes later as Ty Cheveldayoff scored his 17th of the year to tie the game at one. Victoria had one power play chance in the first and capitalized as a Jake Poole goal gave the Royals a 2-1 lead after one. 

Despite outshooting Victoria in the first, the Chiefs found themselves down one. Spokane would start the second period with a 5 on 3 power play and the Chiefs took full advantage of it as Chase Bertholet's team leading 20th of the year came just 13 seconds into the frame to bring Spokane even at 2-2. Carter Streek gave the Chiefs their first lead of the night with his 10th of the season at 4:28 to make it 3-2 Spokane. Victoria came right back midway through the period though as they would equalize the game at three. The two teams headed to the final 20 minutes all even at three. I had the feeling the next goal would win it and that would prove to be true. The Chiefs came out with a great shift from the line of Tommaso DeLuca, Ty Cheveldayoff and Jake Gudelj, which resulted in Spokane winning the puck back to defenseman Mac Gross. Gross scored his 6th goal of the season, and 4th against Victoria 1:44 into the final period to give the Chiefs a 4-3 lead. 

It was a lead the team wouldn't lose. Cade Hayes scored on a great rush up the right wing at 9:36 to give the Chiefs insurance and a 5-3 lead. Victoria would pull their goalie with over 5 minutes left and Spokane would benefit as Hayes would score an empty netter on a shot nearly the length of the ice to wrap up a 6-3 victory. The win gave the Chiefs the season series with 3 wins in the 4 game set and helped Spokane gain ground in the standings on both 9th place Victoria and 8th place Kelowna. The Chiefs were now 8 points back of the Royals and 10 back of the Rockets, who hold the final playoff spot in the West. Spokane had one more game to wrap up the weekend, as they headed to Portland for their first meeting with the Winterhawks since early November. 

Monday's game was a noon start in the earliest game the Chiefs would play this season. Spokane had lost the first two meetings with Portland this year, having lost their last meeting in a shootout in Portland on November 6th. The Chiefs had fallen behind 4-0 in the first period before rallying with a 5 goal second to get back in the game. Portland was also in its' 3rd game in 4 days, having won both of them at home, including a 5-2 win over Lethbridge on Saturday. Dawson Cowan was back in net for Spokane but a turnover in the Chiefs zone would lead to an easy Gabe Klassen goal just 1:34 into the game to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead. Spokane came right back though as Berkly Catton would score his 13th of the year on a back hand midway through the period to pull the Chiefs even at 1-1. Ryan McCleary then deked the Chiefs defense and walked in to score from the left wing at 12:48 to give the Winterhawks a 2-1 advantage after the first.

Portland would get the power play to start the second and the league's 4th rated power play unit coming into the game would take advantage, scoring just 46 seconds into the period to pad their lead to 3-1. McCleary then scored his second of the game at 1:29 and suddenly the Hawks had a 4-1 lead. Portland's power play took over from there, as the Winterhawks scored twice with the man advantage, including Klassen's second of the game at 19:06, to wrap up a 4 goal period and lead it 6-1 after 40 minutes. Portland, who had scored 4 power play goals in each of their first two victories over Spokane, went 3-5 on the man advantage through two periods to take a commanding lead to the third. 

Cooper Michaluk, who was celebrating his 18th birthday, came on for Cowan to start the third and he was stellar. Michaluk stopped all 15 Portland shots in the third, including 2 breakaways, as Portland couldn't extend the lead. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they could only manage 10 shots in the period and went 0-2 on the power play as Portland secured their third straight win over the Chiefs with a 6-1 victory. Spokane was outshot 40-24 in the game, going 0-4 on the power play while just 5-8 on the penalty kill. Giving Portland 8 power play chances is never a recipe for success and the Chiefs learned that lesson the hard way. 

Spokane remains 10 points behind Victoria and Kelowna for the final playoff spot in the West with only 26 games left in the season. The Chiefs will have the week off until they begin a difficult 3 games in 3 nights stretch over the weekend against U.S.. Division foes. The weekend begins with a home game against the West's top team in Seattle on Friday at 7:05 pm. The Chiefs then hit the road for back to back road games, with Spokane visiting Tri City Saturday at 6:05 pm and then another trip to Portland Sunday at 5:05 pm. I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA for the games Friday and Sunday, while Saturday's game is on 94.1 the Bear FM due to Gonzaga basketball. I'll have the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm Friday, 5:30 pm Saturday, and 4:30 pm Sunday. No one said it would ever be easy for the Chiefs and this weekend will certainly be an example of it, but let's hope the boys find a winning formula and get points out of at least two games this weekend. We hope to see you at the rink!

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