Chiefs pick up to victories and pull closer to other teams in standings
By Dylan Kitzen/For The Independent
After being a dark-horse candidate to make a deep playoff run in the Western Conference, the Spokane Chiefs have fallen short of expectations due to injuries, trades and inconsistent play. But despite their struggles, the Chiefs are hanging tough and if last week was any indication, they’ll be in the playoff picture down to the end.
Spokane kicked off a successful week when they downed the visiting Kootenay Ice 5-2 on Saturday, Jan. 21.
It was all Chiefs from the outset, even if the score didn’t reflect the state of the game early on. Spokane’s skaters came out firing from all over and only an outstanding game, and especially first period, by Ice netminder Jakob Walker kept the contest close. The Chiefs outshot Kootenay 20-4 in the opening stanza, but only Eli Zummack was able to slip one by the goalie as Spokane took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The second was a bit more balanced, with the Chiefs only outshooting the Ice 9-4, but Spokane doubled its lead when Kailer Yamamoto tallied early in the frame, giving the home team a 2-0 edge.
Kootenay scored just 1:04 into the final stanza to slice into the Chiefs’ lead, but an onslaught in the middle of the period, with goals from Ty Smith, Ondrej Najman and Tyson Helgesen over a span of 6:28 blew the game open before a late tally by the Ice accounted for the final score.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Rykr Cole each chipped in a pair of assists and goaltender Dawson Weatherill was there when needed, turning aside 23 of 25 shots to earn the victory.
The following night, Spokane traveled to Everett to take on the U.S. Division-leading Silvertips and continued to be a thorn in the Tips’ side, using a big night from Riley Woods to earn a 4-3 shootout victory.
With the win, the Chiefs improved to 3-2-1 on the season against one of the league’s best teams and needed a big rally to get the job done.
Spokane outshot Everett 7-5 in the opening 20 minutes but found themselves down 2-0. The rally started four minutes in when Keanu Yamamoto and Ethan McIndoe assisted on Hudson Elynuik’s 17th goal of the season to make it a one-goal game. At the 16:30 mark, Woods got on the scoresheet with an assist from Kailer Yamamoto to knot things up at two. Just 12 seconds later, however, the Silvertips retook the lead and kept it going to the third period.
Kailer Yamamoto kept his incredible season going just 31 seconds into the third, notching his 30th goal of the season, with an assist from Anderson-Dolan, to make it a 3-3 game.
After a scoreless overtime, the teams went to a shootout, with Woods being the only skater to beat their opposing goaltender, securing the victory for the Chiefs. Netminder Jayden Sittler overcame a rocky start, turning aside 21 of 22 shots over the second, third and overtime frames and 24 of 27 overall to send Spokane to their second straight win.
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, the Chiefs made up a postponed game from a week ago against the Seattle Thunderbirds and rallied from two goals down in the third period to force overtime, but gave one up late in the extra period, falling at home 3-2.
Spokane looked like the better team for a good portion of the contest but couldn’t break through until early in the third when Zummack corralled a loose puck in front of the net and parked it for his fifth of the season, with assists from Cole and McIndoe, to trim the deficit to 2-1. Less than four minutes later, Alex Mowbray tallied his first with the Chiefs, set up by Riley McKay and Nolan Reid, setting up overtime.
Kailer Yamamoto had a great chance to secure the win just seconds before the Thunderbirds put the game on ice, but a terrific poke check by Rylan Toth, fresh off being named WHL Goaltender of the Week, gave the T’Birds the puck and eventually, the game.
Weatherill performed admirably again, with 31 saves on 34 shots and had little chance on Seattle’s game-clinching rush.
With five points in three games, Spokane narrowed the gap on the Portland Winterhawks, trailing them by just one points in the standings, though Portland has a game in hand on the Chiefs. With the Thunderbirds and Tri-City Americans seemingly out of reach barring a major Spokane surge or collapse from one of the other two teams, the Victoria Royals remain the Chiefs’ other realistic target. The Royals currently sit eight points ahead of the Chiefs in the Wild Card race, though Spokane has 24 games remaining on its schedule while Victoria has just 23.
The Chiefs hit the road this weekend when they take on the Ice for the final time on Friday, Jan. 27, then the surging Americans the next night.