May 2, 1996 in Sports

Home No Holiday As Chiefs May Face End Of Long Season

John Blanchette The Spokesman-Re

Don’t mean to bury you with statistics before breakfast, but the Spokane Chiefs’ power play is inching precariously close to the Mendoza line here in the postseason.

Which, you’ll note, is itself inching precariously closer to a post-mortem.

You could say being a man up has actually been a downer and certainly it’s a significant factor in the predicament the Chiefs find themselves. But it’s just a number - and you can find worse ones, if you’re diligent.

The success rate of the John Belushi was-it-over-when-the-Germans-bombed-Pearl-Harbor video clip comes to mind.

But that one could be all about timing.

Most things are. Brandon’s 2-1 victory over the Chiefs in Game 4 of the Western Hockey League championship series surely was.

So it might be wise to cue up Bluto’s speech right after “O Canada” tonight instead of waiting until the final 10 seconds.

It’s 3-1 Brandon - triple match point - in this best-of-seven, though naturally you can track down more than one Chiefs fan who’ll suggest the good guys finally have the Wheat Kings exactly where they want them.

Didn’t the Chiefs spot Portland a 3-0 lead when this madness began last month?

Damn right.

One caveat, however: This isn’t Portland the Chiefs are playing.

The Wheaties are considerably slicker, maybe even saltier, and definitely savvier than the game Winter Hawks - and they have the added advantage of having the Chiefs up against the turnbuckle in their own building.

Another stat for you to swallow: Spokane is 3-5 at home in the playoffs.

This isn’t to suggest that the noisy karma of 10,528 - Wednesday’s count at the Arena - positive thinkers is overrated or that you’d be doing the Chiefs a favor by not gobbling up those 400 remaining tickets for Game 5.

But something seems to have the home team bound up.

“I don’t know if it’s being at home,” said Chiefs coach Mike Babcock.

“Obviously, they know how great an opportunity they have in front of them. To a man, our guys come to the rink wanting to be successful. There’s a fine line, though, between wanting to be successful and pressing so hard you don’t allow yourself to play. And somewhere we’ve got to find that happy medium which we didn’t find tonight.”

Nowhere did that show up more than on the power play, although Spokane did get its lone goal a man up midway through the first period - 10 seconds before the Brandon penalty expired. After that, the Chiefs were 0 for 7.

Officially, Brandon was no better (0 for 6), though its tying goal should go down as a power play in that the Wheaties kept the puck in their offensive end for a minute and a half - and a couple of the Chiefs’ killers on the ice for the full two. Just as Jason Podollan bolted free from the box, Bobby Brown got a perfect pass and an open net.

The timing was even better on the winner. Vinnie Jonasson was maybe two strides out of the penalty box after serving time for a teammate when Kelly Smart’s pass found his stick and Jonasson found himself leading a 2-on-1.

You could have sworn the Wheaties drew it up that way.

In a way, they did. The Wheat Kings missed out on a trip to the Memorial Cup last year, falling to Kamloops in this series, and had a cast assembled for another try. But here again, timing played a role, too.

Jonasson, for instance, is a 19-year-old WHL rookie cast off by other clubs who managed to hang through the intrasquad game and the exhibition season and wind up with a spot on the roster. Brandon coach Bob Lowes still marvels at this little twist of fate: Jonasson has played every position except goalie, on every line from No. 1 to 4.

Goaltender Jody Lehman wasn’t quite as unwanted, though he did have a falling out with his club in Moose Jaw, did a couple of ego-shrinking weeks in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and some sitting around in Erie, Pa., before Brandon acquired him at the 20-year-old trading deadline. He’s only the hottest stopper in the playoffs.

The Chiefs had some heroes like that on the way to nearly 60 victories this season. They’re desperate for a few more tonight.

“To me, we’re tentative, pressing,” said Babcock, “instead of just, ‘Guys, we’re here. Let it hang out. Let’s give ‘er.”’

It’s time.

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

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