With the Western Hockey League season closing in on its halfway point, the U.S. Division has proven to be, by far, the best of the four divisions. All five teams have winning records. Through Wednesday, the teams' order in the standings is: Portland, Everett, Seattle, Spokane and Tri-City. For Spokane, the division breaks down as: Portland and Seattle, which are a combined 8-0 against the Chiefs, and Everett and Tri-City, which are a combined 1-6-0-0 against the Chiefs. Everett is 0-3 after Spokane's 5-3 win on Wednesday. Read story
The Chiefs desperately needed a win against a quality opponent. Spokane's record since Nov. 8 had been 4-6-0-2.
“You go through your ups and downs during the season … but it was a good character win for the boys tonight,” said Spokane's Mike Aviani, whose 24th goal of the season proved to be the winner.
“We’re just battling through adversity right now with guys out of the lineup and all the penalty kills,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “Regardless of the penalties, I thought our guys battled.”
Everett was on the power play four times, cashing in on one, before Spokane got its first opportunity with 5:17 left in the game.
The Chiefs are missing Reid Gow (upper-body injury, week-to-week), who ranks fourth in the league with 33 assists, and Liam Stewart, who is off to Scotland to play for Great Britain at the U20 World Championships.
With those absences, the Chiefs benefited from the return of 6-foot, 205-pound left wing Dominic Zwerger, who had missed 13 games with an upper-body injury. Zwerger's goal early in the second period staked Spokane to a 3-0 edge.
“Dom has some skill and he’s been out a long time with his injury, and it’s another big guy (out there) because we’re not a big team,” Nachbaur said. “I thought he had a real strong first game back.”
Aviani had been held to three points during the last two weeks, but he scored the winner and assisted on Mitch Holmberg's empty-netter with 22 seconds left.
“You can’t always be fiery hot, but it’s definitely been on my mind a bit,” Aviani said. “It was good to get that one tonight.
“(Nachbaur) always runs great power plays and penalty kills, so it always gives me an opportunity to step up. He always puts me in great scoring areas on the ice to put the puck in the net.”
Spokane will host Western Conference ninth-place Prince George on Saturday before putting its 3-0 record against Everett on the line Sunday in a road game. The league will take a holiday break of nearly two weeks before Spokane plays a road-and-home series against Kootenay on Dec. 27 and 28.