Chiefs getting key players back to right the ship
By Dylan Kitzan / For the Independent, Spokane Chiefs Season Ticket Holder
With the Spokane Chiefs slowly slipping in the Western Conference playoff picture roughly halfway through the season, they needed a boost. Fortunately, they got a couple, one in the form of injured players returning to the lineup and another in the form of a successful week.
Leading scorer Kailer Yamamoto and 20-year-old veteran Markson Bechtold each made their way back onto the ice from injury for the Chiefs and their return provided immediate dividends for a team desperate to keep pace with the rest of the Western Conference.
In four games, the duo combined for five goals and six assists as Spokane earned five of a possible eight points over a four game stretch.
On Wednesday, Dec. 7, Jaret Anderson-Dolan’s second hat trick of the season and Bechtold’s two tallies were almost enough, but the Chiefs fell at home to the Victoria Royals 6-5 in overtime.
Spokane jumped on the Royals with two quick goals early, but Victoria, which eliminated the Chiefs from the playoffs last season, responded with four unanswered over the next 21 and a half minutes to take a 4-2 lead. Bechtold and Anderson-Dolan replied with their second goals of the game each to tie things at four, but Victoria answered with just under six minutes left to take a 5-4 lead. Anderson-Dolan then sent hats flying onto the ice with his third goal of the game with just under a minute left to tie it. In OT, however, the Royals scored the game-winner after a Chiefs penalty to escape with the win.
Two nights later, Spokane hosted the Eastern Conference’s worst team, the Kootenay Ice and had their hands full, but ultimately prevailed with a 4-3 victory. The brothers Yamamoto, 18-year-old Kailer and 20-year-old Keanu, scored the team’s first two goals, Anderson-Dolan added a tally and Bechtold scored the tie-breaking goal with 1:08 left in the third period to secure the win.
The next night, the Chiefs visited the Western Conference’s worst team, the Vancouver Giants and took care of business in a 5-2 victory. Forward Taylor Ross and defenseman Tyson Helgesen staked Spokane to an early 2-0 lead, but the Giants rebounded to tie the game up toward the end of the second period. With just over a minute left in the second, however, Hudson Elynuik scored his 12th goal of the year to give the Chiefs a lead heading to the final stanza. Eli Zummack and Kailer each potted a goal in the third to help Spokane pull away late and earn a second straight win.
In their third contest in three nights, Spokane hung with the top squad in the West, the Everett Silvertips, but couldn’t overcome former Chief Dominic Zwerger during a 5-3 defeat.
Zwerger scored the Silvertips’ first two goals before Anderson-Dolan responded to cut the deficit to 2-1 early in the second period. After a third Everett goal midway through the period, Anderson-Dolan scored his sixth goal of the week just 42 seconds later to trim the margin to 3-2.
Everett opened the scoring in the third to take another two-goal lead, but this time, Keanu Yamamoto responded to cut the lead to one for the third time. Unfortunately, the Silvertips would add an empty net goal late to secure the win.
While it would have been nice for Spokane to secure a tough divisional win against Everett to close the week, it was a successful four-game stretch for the Chiefs. Getting some of their injured stars back helped, but it was definitely encouraging to see guys like Anderson-Dolan and Keanu Yamamoto continue to contribute like they did when those guys were on the shelf. Anderson-Dolan has already eclipsed his goal total from last season and has done so in 34 fewer games and Keanu is on pace to surpass his totally from a year ago. Elynuik is dangerous and capable of scoring in bunches and if the defense and goaltending can step up, they’re tough to beat.
This week, the Chiefs have a road contest Tuesday against the Seattle Thunderbirds, a team just three points ahead of them in the U.S. Division standings before hosting the B.C. Division-leading Prince George Cougars on Saturday night. While Spokane needs as many victories as they can get, the game against the Thunderbirds is a big game – wins against teams they’ll need to catch down the stretch are crucial and the Chiefs can’t start getting these victories soon enough. With a roster getting healthy, Spokane is in a prime position to make a move and four points in two games going into the Christmas break could go a long way come March.