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Chiefs go out of division but struggles continue

Spokane faces Kelowna and Calgary in challenging weekend
Credit: Larry Brunt/Spokane Chiefs

SPOKANE, Wash. — With a win under their belt against their biggest rival that helped snap a season high 9 game losing streak, the Chiefs began what is to be 3 straight games outside the U.S. Division with a challenging back to back sequence against Kelowna and Calgary this past weekend. Spokane would begin the weekend in Kelowna and then travel all night back home to face a Calgary team that was playing well in its U.S. Division swing. The win over Tri City had brought the Chiefs into a tie with Victoria for 9th in the Western Conference playoff race, 4 points back of Kelowna for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West, and 5 back of Tri City for 7th. Friday's game against the Rockets would be huge for the team to bring them within 2 of Kelowna, but also give the club some much needed momentum heading home on Saturday.

The Chiefs got some good news with the return of head coach Ryan Smith and top centerman Berkly Catton from the Under 17 Tournament in Canada. Smith and Catton had been gone for the team's last 5 games, in which the club had gone 1-3-1. The Rockets are always tough at home and were more than anxious to get some redemption after being humbled 6-1 at rival Kamloops in their last game the previous weekend. The Chiefs meantime were hoping to build off of last Saturday's 7-3 win over rival Tri City, a game in which 20 year old Cade Hayes, who has filled in for Catton on the team's top line, scored a career high 4 points on 2 goals and 2 assists. The 7 goals tied the top spot in goals for the team this season and was the second time in their last 3 games Spokane had achieved that mark.

The team had battled getting off to slow starts most of the season, but knew they couldn't afford one on the Rockets home ice. Spokane went with goalie Cooper Michaluk for the third straight time after he split his two starts last weekend at home. Once again, the Chiefs were plagued by a slow start, this time from their power play. Spokane would get 4 man advantage opportunities in the opening period, yet would come up with nothing on the scoresheet. In fact, Spokane would be out shot 16-9 in the opening frame despite having 4 of the 5 power play chances in the first. Kelowna would score first on their only power play of the period, and just a 17 second one at that, as they would take a 1-0 lead just over 7 minutes into the game. The Rockets Andrew Cristall would begin a 4 point night for him with a goal from below the goal line that ricocheted off Michaluk's back pad and in to give Kelowna a 2-0 lead. Marcus Pacheco then scored the first of two on the night with a rebound in the final minute of the period and the Rockets had a 3-0 lead after one.

If Spokane had any thoughts of getting out to a quick start in the second period and getting back into the game, they were quickly dispelled as the Rockets scored just 1:07 into the period to get out a 4-0 advantage. A Chiefs turnover in front of their own net just 2 minutes later led to a Kelowna lead of 5-0. Cristall then tipped in a shot from the right point 6.5 minutes into the period and just like that it was 6-0 Kelowna. The competitive phase of this contest was now history. Spokane didn't quit though, as Ty Cheveldayoff scored his team high 9th goal of the season off the rush at 8:42 of the period to get the Chiefs on the board at 6-1. Kelowna answered as they scored on their second power play of the night with just under 6 minutes left in the frame to go up 7-1. The Chiefs would finallyyy convert their first power play attempt, in 9 chances in the first 40 minutes, as Berkly Catton scored in the final 18 seconds to make it a 7-2 game heading into the third.

The Chiefs would come out in the third and get the first goal of the period as Jake Gudelj scored his 4th of the year with a bar down rocket from the right circle to bring Spokane with 7-3 midway through the third. My though process was get another goal in the second half of period and win the period to carry some momentum into Saturday's game. The Rockets had other ideas though, as they turned up their play and scored 3 goals on back up goalie Dawson Cowan in the final 10 minutes to hand the Chiefs their worst loss of the season at 10-3. Spokane lost every facet of the game, the most important being the physical end, as they were pushed around and outmuscled all night by the Rockets. The Chiefs were out shot in every period and lost the special teams battle as well. To make matters worse, Tri City also won on this night as they beat Calgary in overtime.

Spokane was now 6 points back of Kelowna for 8th in the conference and 7 behind Tri City for 4th in the division. To make matters worse, the Chiefs then got an all night ride back home to face a Calgary team that was waiting for the Chiefs after a short ride from Tri City. The Hitmen weren't in a good mood either as they had coughed up a 2 goal lead in their overtime loss to Tri, so they were anxious to finish their U.S. Division swing on a winning note against the Chiefs. The Chiefs started Dawson Cowan in goal in his first start for the club since he was acquired in the Mason Beaupit trade with Winnipeg. Spokane was able to come out and get on the board just over 5 minutes into the game as Carter Streek scored his 4th of the season to give the Chiefs a quick 1-0 lead. Rookie Cam Parr picked up his first WHL point with an assist on the goal. Calgary came back and evened the game late in the period on a shot that squirted through Cowan's pads. The Hitmen then took the lead in the final minute of the first on a shot from the blue line that Cowan lost in the lights as Calgary led it 2-1 after the first.

The Hitmen out shot the Chiefs 18-9 in the first and it set a pattern for the rest of the contest. The second period would see the Hitmen control the puck offensively as they would put up a season high allowed shots total by Spokane of 29, while the Chiefs managed but 8 shots on goal. Calgary would take a 3-1 lead early in the period, but Spokane came right back 56 seconds after that goal as Jake Gudelj scored for the second straight game to bring the Chiefs within 3-2. Calgary would score two goals just over 2 minutes apart late in the period though to take a commanding 5-2 lead into the third period though. Spokane would narrow the shot differential to just 13-12 in favor of Calgary in the third, but the Hitmen got the only goal on a rebound off an odd man rush early in the frame to wrap up a decisive 6-2 victory. Calgary put up 60 shots on Spokane, a season high allowed by the Chiefs, as the Hitmen finished their U.S. Division swing 3-1-1.

The Chiefs are now 4-13-0-1 after their first 18 games of the season and find themselves 7 points back of Tri City for 4th in the U.S. Division and the final and 8th place spot in the Western Conference. Spokane has dropped 11 of their last 12 and are definitely going the wrong direction in the standings. Defensively, Spokane has given up 101 goals, just one fewer than Victoria for the most in the league. The Chiefs have 12 games left in the first half of the season to start to right the ship. Spokane will have 3 contests this week as they will host Vancouver at the Spokane Arena on Wednesday before traveling to Tri City on Saturday and finishing off the week on Sunday hosting Everett. I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA with Wednesday's game starting with the pre-game show at 6:30 pm and the puck drop at 7:05 pm. Saturday's game from Tri City will be a 5:30 pm pre-game and a 6:05 pm start. Sunday's contest with Everett will be a 4:30 pm pre-game and a 5:05 pm puck drop. The Chiefs are in need of some points and they need them now. Let's hope they start to turn things around before they're too late to make a playoff push, and we hope to see you at the rink!

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