The Spokane Chiefs pulled one out of the hat Saturday night, falling behind the Tri-City Americans 3-1 during the first 14 minutes but winning 4-3 in overtime. Chiefs season leaders Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani assisted on the winning goal, scored by an elated Jason Fram. Read story
Two themes have stood out during the early part of the Western Hockey League season for the Spokane Chiefs. Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani have kept the team afloat, and the schedule has been brutal.
Holmberg, who entered Saturday's game against Tri-City with five goals in the previous two games against the Americans, was oddly silent for the first 48 minutes. That didn't stop him from being the major hero, as he scored the tying goal at 8:09 of the third period and started the winning play in overtime that culminated with Jason Fram's goal with 24 seconds left before a shootout was on the horizon.
That gave Holmberg 61 points and 27 goals, both tops in the league, and 34 assists, which ranks second.
Aviani, who entered with 22 goals and 39 points, including a goal and four assists against the Americans, was not heard from on the scoring charts until his pass to Fram in OT led directly to the winning goal.
"You’d like to see somebody step up and make a play, but right now (Holmberg) is carrying us, and Mike’s been carrying us, and Mike makes a big play at the end there," Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said.
Nachbaur said Spokane returned home from Friday night's game at Portland at 5 a.m.
"Our best players were clearly showing fatigue signs, cheating, and I don’t think our young guys picked up the slack providing energy to the team," Nachbaur said. "Getting through the second period (trailing just) 3-2, we were pretty fortunate."
"In the second period there, we found our legs and played within our structure," Fram said.
The Chiefs have played 14 of their first 26 games on the road, even counting a recent stretch in which they've played four of five at the Arena. They've also played powerful Portland four times already, with a fifth coming Friday at home. Throw out their 0-4 record against Portland and Spokane is 17-4-0-1.
The Chiefs are 5-0 against the other teams in the U.S. Division. They are 3-0 against Tri-City, 2-0 against Western Conference-leading Everett and have yet to play Seattle.
Spokane is 8-3-0-1 at home, 8-1-0-1 not counting Portland.
"We won the hockey game, but we were pretty fortunate because we didn’t do a whole lot," Nachbaur said.