The Spokane Chiefs played playoff-caliber hockey this weekend, defeating Victoria and Everett to move from sixth place in the Western Hockey League's Western Conference to tied for fourth. Read story
The weekend was an interesting test for the Chiefs. When they hosted Victoria on Friday night, the game matched the No. 3 team in the Western Conference (Victoria) against the No. 6 (Spokane). That would be a first-round playoff matchup if the regular season was over. By the time the Chiefs played Everett on Saturday, Spokane was the No. 5 and Everett the No. 4. That's also a first-round matchup for the playoffs.
It seems that whatever happens during Spokane's final 36 regular-season games, there's a strong statistical chance that the Chiefs will meet either Victoria, Everett of Seattle in the first round.
Of course, the Chiefs and Everett, both with 52 points following Spokane 3-2 overtime win on Saturday, are within two points of first-place Portland in the U.S. Division. But the Winterhawks have dropped four straight games with several of their top players at tournaments, so the rest of the division shouldn't expect Portland to continue to stumble once its stars are back.
“I think every team in the U.S. Division is really good,” Mike Aviani said after leading the Chiefs with two goals and one assist against Everett. “Every team works hard every night. It’s never going to be an easy night playing Everett, Seattle, Portland, Tri-(City). It’s definitely going to be tight the rest of the way. There are few points separating these teams, so it’s going to be competitive every night and a lot of fun.”
“We’re not going to pat ourselves on the back,” coach Don Nachbaur deadpanned after being reminded that the Chiefs had moved into a tie for second in the division. “But we’ve put together a nice streak here and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Spokane outshot Everett 19-10 in the first period but was held to seven shots on goal in the second.
“They’re a patient team and they’re a good team and give them a lot of credit,” Nachbaur said of Everett. “They make it very tough to score. They’re very committed to blocking shots and being in lanes and I thought they really frustrated us at times. … In the first period we worked hard, the second period they outworked us, and when the game was on the line in the third period our power play got us going.”
The officials disallowed Liam Stewart's apparent goal, a wrister on a rebound, late in the first period. Nachbaur said he thought the ruling was that a Chiefs player landed on goalie Austin Lotz.
Lotz made quite a scene after Aviani's winning shot, pleading his case to officials. Aviani said he thought Lotz was complaining about excessive celebration on the part of the Chiefs.
Lotz took to Twitter after the game and apologized for his actions.
Next up for Spokane is a Friday home game against Kamloops, the last-place team in the conference. Despite that, Kamloops defeated Spokane 5-4 on Oct. 30, handing the Chiefs one of only two losses this season against a B.C. Division team.