By Dylan Kitzen/For The Independent
With three games against teams they will be chasing for playoff spots in months to come, the Spokane Chiefs were only able to come away with one victory last week, but did so taking the ice with an injury-riddled squad.
Missing second-leading scorer Kailer Yamamoto and veterans Markson Bechtold, Curtis Miske and Tanner Wishnowski, the Chiefs battled hard while falling 2-1 at home to the Portland Winterhawks and 6-5 on the road to the rival Tri-City Americans, sandwiched around a 2-1 overtime victory over the Kelowna Rockets at the Spokane Arena.
The silver lining around the injuries is that young skaters are getting additional ice time and they’re taking advantage of it while the older players lead by example.
Kailer’s brother, 20-year-old Keanu Yamamoto, scored in all three games over the week, Carolina Hurricanes third-round draft pick Hudson Elyniuk scored the game-winning goal against Kelowna and added three assists in their loss to the Americans and 20-year-old netminder Jayden Sittler turned in two outstanding performances between their pipes against the Winterhawks and Rockets.
In Saturday’s 6-5 defeat to Tri-City, though, it was the young kids who helped give the Chiefs a chance to win. Ethan McIndoe, 17, led the charge with a pair of goals and an assist, 18-year-old import forward Pavel Kousal scored his seventh goal of the year and 16-year-old rookie Eli Zummack added an assist, while Keanu and 19-year-old defenseman Evan Fiala each tallied once on the evening.
With Bechtold, Wishnowski and Kailer Yamamoto out indefinitely, the Chiefs will only go as far as their youth lets them. Jaret-Anderson Dolan, just 17 years old, will be looked at to lead the charge and has had a solid season thus far with 21 points in 27 games. McIndoe and Spokane’s other import forward, 18-year-old Ondrej Najman each have 13 points, but after that, most of the scoring has come from Elynuik and the Yamamoto brothers.
It’s going to be up to players like 17-year-old forward Hayden Ostir and 16-year-old defenseman Ty Smith to make an impact while injuries heal up if the team is going to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot down the road. Ostir, who scored one goal in 53 games a year ago, has three goals and three assists in 19 games this season and gives relentless effort on the ice. Smith, meanwhile, has been trusted as the sole defenseman on the Chiefs’ top power play unit, a hefty responsibility for a rookie, but the team is seventh in the league in power play percentage. If Spokane keeps clicking during the power play, they will be competitive while some of their top players recuperate and be a force when they’re fully healthy.
This week, the Chiefs will face the Victoria Royals on Wednesday before hosting the Kootenay Ice on Friday in Spokane’s annual Teddy Bear Toss Night. Saturday, the Chiefs will travel north of the border to take on the Vancouver Giants. The Royals knocked Spokane out of the playoffs a season ago and currently sit one spot ahead of the Chiefs in the Western Conference standings. Kootenay is in 10th place in the 12-team Eastern Conference with just six wins in 30 games, while the Giants are dead last in the Western Conference, three points behind Spokane after playing three more games than the Chiefs.