There was one thing certain about 2019 for the Chiefs. They wanted to start the New Year a lot better than they ended 2018 after they were thumped 6-1 at Tri City in the two teams annual New Year's Eve contest.
2019 began with a lot of news off of the ice for the team, as they found out back up goal tender Dawson Weatherill was lost for the season with a hip injury. After calling up goalie Campbell Arnold from the Spokane Braves, the team made a trade with the Lethbridge Hurricanes as they acquired 19 year old Reece Klassen in exchange for a 7th round pick. The acquisition enabled the Chiefs to send Arnold back to the Braves for the rest of his 16 year old season as he will be in line to be one of the two goalies next year. Spokane also traded defenseman Tyson Feist to Regina for two future draft picks as the team addressed an overabundance of defense. The team also got some good news, although not so good for Canada and the Czech Republic, as Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Ty Smith and Filip Kral's teams lost in the quarterfinals of the World Junior Tournament. With their tournaments coming to an earlier than expected end, the Chiefs got the pleasant surprise when all three came back to Spokane to be in the lineup over the weekend.
After Monday's game in Tri, the team only had a two game weekend to start off 2019 as the Chiefs hosted Kamloops on Friday before heading to Cranbrook to play the Kootenay Ice Saturday. With Feist traded, the team also called up this year's #1 draft pick Graham Sward to join the club to help with the depth on the blue line. Spokane faced a Kamloops club for the second time this season on Friday in the two teams final meeting in Spokane this year. The Chiefs knocked off the Blazers 3-1 the last time the two teams played on November 24th in a game in which current Chief Luc Smith started for Kamloops. It also marked the return and the final game in Spokane for former Chief Jeff Faith, who was dealt for Smith. The game marked the first time Spokane had fielded a full lineup this season, so there was an air of excitement with the club on the ice.
The Chiefs started well as Spokane converted their first power play of the game as Luc Smith scored against his former club with his 15th of the season midway through the first to make it 1-0. Ty Smith scored in his first game back with an assist on the first tally of the night. Kamloops answered with a power play tally of the own with just 1:08 left in the period to even the contest at 1-1 after the first. The Chiefs lost leading scorer Riley Woods to a hit at center ice at the end of the period as the ensuing penalty on the play on the Blazers gave Spokane the power play to start the second. The Chiefs converted as Jake McGrew scored a goal in his 3rd straight game just 1:28 into the period to put Spokane up 2-1. Kral would get into the scoring act as he scored on his own rebound at 7:02 to give the Chiefs a 3-1 advantage heading into the third.
Spokane kept the Blazers at bay the rest of the way, as Bailey Brkin turned aside 20 shots to secure his 15th win of the season. Anderson-Dolan also got a point as he assisted Luke Toporowski's empty net goal in the final half minute to put away a 4-1 victory for the Chiefs over Kamloops. The Chiefs kept pace with Portland in the U.S. standings as the Winterhawks also won Friday to lead Spokane by 3 points for second place. It was a positive start to 2019 for the team and they hoped to keep it going the next night as they headed to Cranbrook, B.C. to face the Kootenay Ice. The Ice had dropped 5 in a row heading in as they are in a rebuilding year and the Chiefs had won all 3 meetings this year, including the last visit to Kootenay when Spokane won 7-4 on September 28th. The team was without Riley Woods, who was still feeling the effects of the hit he took the night before. The team did welcome Graham Sward to the ice on Saturday, as the 15 year old defenseman played his first WHL game.
The Chiefs got off to a quick start as they scored 2 goals off a 4 on 4 midway through the first. Noah King got things started with his second goal as a Chief at 7:02 of the first to make it 1-0. Luke Toporowski followed with his second goal in as many nights 1:22 later to give Spokane a 2-0 lead. Kootenay scored late in the first to cut the Chiefs lead to 2-1 after one. In the second, Spokane took over the game. Jake McGrew scored for the 4th straight game as he scored off a great play from Ty Smith at 6:52 to put the Chiefs up 3-1. Jaret Anderson-Dolan's power play goal midway through the period make it 4-1 and Ethan McIndoe capped a three goal period with just over 3 minutes left to give the Chiefs a 5-1 lead after two. Ty Smith put up 4 assists on the team's first 5 goals, to come within one assist of his career high in a game.
Luc Smith's rebound 3:38 into the third was his second goal in as many games and put Spokane up 6-1. After a Kootenay power play goal, Sward would get into the act as he scored in his first game on a shot from the left point to give the Chiefs a 7-2 lead. Kootenay scored 2 goals in less than 3 minutes late to make it a 7-4 game, but McGrew scored his second of the night with just a minute remaining to cap off an 8-4 win. Luc Smith, Toporowski, and Anderson-Dolan each had a goal and an assist on the night as the Chiefs remained 3 points back of Portland for second place in the U.S. after the Winterhawks won in Moose Jaw. Spokane will now head home to open a 4 game home stand as they start with games with Prince George and Tri City next week. The Chiefs host PG on Wednesday and then entertain the Americans on Saturday. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA on Wednesday and 94.1 FM the Bear on Saturday. The pre-game shows start at 6:30 pm and the puck drops at 7:05 pm both nights. Let's hope the Chiefs continue to improve from their performance this past weekend and we hope to see you at the rink!