The Spokane Chiefs beat the Red Deer Rebels 4-1 on a Wednesday night at the Coliseum that registered differently with two of the instrumental players.
For Jason Podollan, it was an encore, the winning goal in his first game after being named Western Hockey League Player of the Week.
Podollan’s goal - another demonstration of his varied skills - was his team-leading 37th.
For Kevin Sawyer, the captain of the Chiefs, the night was even more special.
Earlier in the day, the 20-year-old left winger and the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League reached contract terms that Sawyer called a dream come true.
Financial terms were not revealed. Sawyer will formally sign next week.
“I was in our pregame skate today when my agent called and told me to sit down and grab a pen,” Sawyer said.
An undrafted player in his final year of junior hockey, Sawyer no longer faces an uncertain future in the game after this season, his third in Spokane.
“I don’t know what their plans are for me after the season here,” he said. “It’s all new to me. All I can say is, it’s a dream come true. They were more than fair.”
The Chiefs celebrated with their popular leader by winning for the 12th time in 16 games with goals by Darren Sinclair, Podollan and Greg Leeb, and Hugh Hamilton, who hit an empty net inside the final minute after the Rebels had pulled 16-year-old goaltender Mike Whitney for an extra attacker.
It was the fourth straight win for the Chiefs (23-32-1), who improved to 9-8 against the WHL’s East Division.
Playing without injured scoring leaders Dean Tiltgen and Pete LeBoutillier, Red Deer (15-39-3) lost for the sixth time in its nine-game swing west.
Sinclair broke up a scoreless game 3:15 into the second period, taking a turnover in the Rebels zone and scoring on a wraparound.
Podollan, who’s on a five-game scoring streak with five goals in his last four games, made it 2-0 at 16:23 of the second.
“I hopped out of the penalty box and saw Sinks (Sinclair) block the puck,” Podollan said. “They only had one D-man back. Dmitri (Leonov, Chiefs forward) picked it up and threw it up at me and I had all day to do whatever I wanted, pretty much.”
Podollan beat the goalkeeper in Red Deer in a similar situation by putting the puck from the forehand to the backhand and shooting high.
This time, he made his move late, finally shooting with the forehand after forcing Whitney to commit.
“Let him make the first move,” Podollan said. “That’s the key I think on a breakaway.”
Spokane goalkeeper Jarrod Daniel rejected Red Deer’s Tony Vlastelic, who was free on a breakaway to open the game, and appeared on his way to his first shutout until Rebels defenseman Jesse Wallin broke in from the point to poke a rebound through the goalie’s legs at 6:37 of the final period.
The Chiefs were without veteran right wing Jeremy Stasiuk, who served a league-mandated suspension following Saturday night’s checking from behind major penalty in the Lethbridge game.
Stasiuk will learn from league officials today if the suspension goes beyond one game.
“We missed Jeremy tonight,” Chiefs coach Mike Babcock said. “We didn’t put together that dominating forecheck I like to see at home.”
The Chiefs were also without rookie defenseman Ryan Berry, who separated his shoulder in a freak accident at sponsor’s night at the Coliseum on Monday. Berry is out for the year.
Red Deer 0 0 1 - 1 Spokane 0 3 1 - 4
First period - No scoring. Key penalties - Marchant RD, 1:52; Hope, Spo, 12:35.
Second period - 1, Spo, Sinclair 11 (unassisted) 3:15 (shorthanded); 2, Spo, Podollan 37 (Leonov) 16:23; 3, Spo, Leeb 18 (Shockey, Hamilton) 18:43 (power play). Key penalties - Sinclair, Spo, :19; Magarrell, Spo, 2:52; Maillet, RD, 8:11; Podollan, Spo, 14:15; Henderson, RD, 17:23.
Third period - 4, RD, Wallin ( Henderson, Vandermeer) 6:37; 5, Spo, Hamilton 3 (unassisted) (empty net) 19:03. Key penalties - Maillet, RD, :18; Sawyer, Spo, 13:34.
Power plays-Red Deer 0-5, Spokane 1-4.Saves-Red Deer, Whitney, 11-13-12-36, Wickenheiser x-x-1-1. Spokane, Daniel 6-8-12-26.A- 3,031