In the opening act of three straight home games against the Portland Winterhawks, the Spokane Chiefs proved that desperate hockey goes a long way - especially this time of year.
Below you'll find the unedited story I filed for tomorrow's section. There will be more later.
As encores go, this one seemed louder.
A night after the Spokane Chiefs earned their second-straight victory over the top-ranked Tri-City Americans, Steve Kuhn scored two goals and the Chiefs picked up a 5-2 Western Hockey League victory over the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday night in front of 8,168 fans at the Arena.
It was an impressive victory for Spokane (24-14-3-3), which followed up last Saturday’s win over the Americans with a sluggish loss to Seattle.
“It’s a pretty nice feeling – stringing two together against two good teams,” Kuhn allowed. “We’ve been saying in the dressing room that it’s important for us to lose a few games to win a few games. We’ve lost to some lower-ranked teams now and beat some higher-ranked teams. They’ve all been important for us.”
Eric Williams made 24 saves in net and Brenden Kichton finished with a goal and two assists for Spokane, which shook off a slow opening period by laying on a heavy forecheck that finally opened up some scoring chances in the final two periods.
Trailing 1-0 after Ty Rattie’s first period power-play goal, Kuhn popped in a loose puck off Todd Fiddler’s shot from the left lane 5 minutes, 9 seconds into the middle period. Kichton gave Spokane its first lead, going top shelf from the blue line at 13:43, and Spokane took a 3-1 lead when Kuhn scored shorthanded for his tenth goal of the season.
The 3-1 lead didn’t last long, as Spokane gave up a second power-play goal to Rattie – the WHL’s leading scorer with 42 goals – 17 seconds later.
The pressure only seemed to motivate Spokane.
“We competed,” Spokane Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “Compete takes us a long way. We competed in a lot of areas. We spent a lot of time in our end but we made it difficult for them to get pucks to the net by blocking shots.”
Forward Dylan Walchuk, who has made an immediate impact for Spokane since joining the team on the WHL’s trade deadline, scored his third goal in six games. Dominik Uher fed Walchuk in front of the crease and Walchuk desperately sprawled to get his stick to the puck and give Spokane a 4-2 lead 2:28 into the final period.
Uher sealed the win with a slap shot from the right cirle at 16:52.
“Can’t be mad – we just beat one of the best teams in the league,” Nachbaur said “We have a lot of respect for them – they had us on our heels but we found a way, and that’s what good teams do – they find a way.
“We had a tough game last night in Tri, and they were fresh, so we had reasons to shut ‘er down and our guys – they battled through it.”
Spokane, which hosts Portland again tonight, is fifth in the Western Conference standings. They trail Vancouver by three points and cut their deficit to nine points on the Winterhawks (30-13-2-1) – who have 11 NHL-drafted players in their lineup.
“They are a great team,”Kuhn said. “Overall we just played hard. We played desperate enough in the second and third period to pick up the win and that’s what we need to come in and do tomorrow. Same thing. Go out and get shots on net, bury rebounds and keep playing desperate hockey.
“It’s working for us.”