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Holmberg, Williams keep Chiefs’ streak intact

Mitch Holmberg has scored five goals during the Spokane Chiefs' first three games. (Jesse Tinsley)
Mitch Holmberg has scored five goals during the Spokane Chiefs' first three games. (Jesse Tinsley)

KELOWNA, British Columbia – Both of last year’s Spokane Chiefs’ playoff stars have picked up right where they left off in the spring, and they aren’t letting up. The Spokane Chiefs started their two-game road trip by earning their fifth win of the season and third straight on Wednesday night, and you’ll never guess who scored a bunch of goals and who blocked a bunch of shots.

All that and more below.

It’s too bad Mitch Holmberg is such a slouch.

He only managed to score twice on Wednesday night in a 6-4 win over the Kelowna Rockets for his Western Hockey League-leading ninth goal of the season (he’s tied for third in overall scoring, but has played fewer games and is leading by virtue in terms of averages).

Holmberg scored a career-high 27 goals last year and clearly is on pace to be 50-goal scorer this season, something he mentioned he would love to be (who wouldn’t) in a previous interview.

Sarcasm aside, the score sheet from Wednesday night’s victory looks pretty good (it also looks like it was a pretty physical game).

Holmberg scored in the first and the third – his second proved to be the winner – and the Chiefs (5-1-0-0) also got offense from Colin Valcourt (empty-net goal to seal the game late in the third), Liam Stewart (up to his old shorthanded tricks), and Dylan Walchuk. All three players each had a goal and an assist, but Walchuk must have been the guy working hard on the forecheck and in the corners to make things happen, because he was named the game’s first star.

Chiefs’ goalie Eric Williams was named the game’s third star with a 39-save performance between the pipes for Spokane. He turned away all of the first 30 shots that the Rockets threw at him to improve to 5-0 this season, while defenseman/captain Brenden Kichton picked up a pair of assists to tie Frank Evans as Spokane’s all-time leader in assists among defensemen (146).

Kichton is already the all-time leader among defensemen in career goals and career points. It’s mind-boggling that the New York Islanders haven’t signed him yet. But their loss is Spokane’s gain for one more year, so enjoy watching future NHL talent in Spokane.

Other players that scored points for Spokane on Wednesday: C Mike Aviani (goal), RW Blake Gal (two assists), D Reid Gow (assist) and LW Todd Fiddler (assist).

Up next for Spokane: the Kamloops Blazers, who are ranked – along with three other WHL clubs – in the Canadian Hockey League top ten. The Chiefs and Blazers will play on Friday night and Spokane will quickly return home to host the Vancouver Giants, who handed Spokane its only loss of the season.

Here’s the game story from Larry Fisher of the Kelowna Daily Courier:

Mitch Holmberg wasn’t the most noticeable player on the ice Wednesday night. However, he stood out on the scoresheet.

The Spokane Chiefs’ sniper scored twice, including the game-winner, which was his league-leading ninth goal of the season, as the visitors scored a 6-4 victory over the Kelowna Rockets at Prospera Place.

“He’s a shooter,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska, whose club outshot the Chiefs 43-33, including 20-9 in the opening frame, despite trailing 2-0 and 3-2 at the period breaks. “Unfortunately (Holmberg) was in two spots where he could get shots away and when he gets those looks, a lot of times he’s going to score because his shot is accurate and heavy.”

Holmberg, who has an unassuming presence until the puck is on his stick, opened the scoring by potting a power-play rebound at 14:45 of the first period. The decisive goal was reminiscent of a young Brett Hull as he corralled the puck off a face-off win and fired a quick snap shot past Rockets netminder Jordon Cooke at 15:04 of the third.

“It’s been a good year for me. I’m just shooting the puck and it’s workingout so far,” said the 19-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alta. “The first one was kind of a gift for me, it just dropped out and I had an open net there. On the second one, I was just throwing it on net and I think it hit one of their (defensemen’s) shinpads and bounced in, so it was definitely a lucky break.”

More noticeable was Chiefs goaltender Eric Williams, who finished with 39 saves but didn’t surrender a goal until his 30th shot against with Spokane already leading 3-0. But once Ryan Olsen got the Rockets on the board with his first of two goals on the night, Kelowna roared back to draw even on Dylen McKinlay’s equalizer early in the third period.

“We knew if we kept working, we’d get one and get a few after that," McKinlay said. “Looking over the whole game, I think we played pretty good and matched their effort for almost 60 minutes. Their goalie was good and they got a couple lucky goals, a couple lucky bounces, but that’s the way it goes.”

As for Holmberg being the difference, McKinlay added: “When you have a guy like that, I guess we’ve got to be a little tighter on him. He’s a good player, so you have to limit his chances.”

Captain Colton Sissons, with his fourth goal of the season, also scored for the Rockets (3-4-1-0), while linemate Myles Bell, a natural defenseman, added three assists to move into a tie for the league scoring lead with 14 points on five goals and nine helpers.

Cooke, making his eighth straight start to open the WHL season, made 27 saves in a losing cause. His best was a desperation stop off Chiefs captain Brenden Kichton on a back-door, power-play feed midway through the second period that helped fuel Kelowna’s rally.

“I liked the effort,” said Huska, whose squad next visits Victoria thisweekend for a two-game set against the resurgent Royals (6-3-0-0), who dropped a first-place showdown, 5-2, to the Blazers (6-0-0-1) in Kamloops on Wednesday night.

“I thought we did a good job of keeping a lot of the play in Spokane’s zone. Their goaltender made some saves and the one area I thought we could’ve done a better job was getting more traffic in front of him. When he’s seeing pucks, good goaltenders will make the saves. It’s important that the guys keep getting pucks to the net and eventually they’re gong to get rewarded for that.”

Liam Stewart, Dylan Walchuk, Michael Aviani and Collin Valcourt, with an empty-net goal to seal the deal, also scored for the Chiefs (5-1-0-0), who won their third straight after sweeping a two-game homestand over Victoria and Lethbridge last weekend.

  • Spokane scratched G Garret Hughson, LW Marek Kalus(upper-body, indefinite), D Jason Fram, D Adam Power, RW Tyson Predinchuk and RW Mikulas Rimmel.

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