Thirty-six seconds left Saturday night. Game tied, puck loose in front of the net, bodies and sticks flying around, 9,913 in the Arena up and screaming.
Just the kind of drama that’s cast perfectly for Trent Whitfield.
Whitfield scored from out of that mad scramble to pull the Spokane Chiefs past the Kamloops Blazers 4-3.
Seldom has ugly looked so good to a team that has struggled to win at home. It wasn’t the least bit artistic, but the Chiefs haven’t had a timelier goal all season.
Trailing 3-2 in the third period, the Chiefs scored with 4:12 left to tie and with 36 seconds remaining to win their first game when they’ve trailed after two periods.
“It was just a goal-mouth scramble - banging and hacking away and it went it,” Kamloops coach Marc Habscheid said. “He jammed it, stuffed it and pushed it. It’s one of those ugly goals, but he did what he had to do.”
The Chiefs are 10-5-1 heading into Seattle tonight at 5 for their fourth game in five nights.
This was a bruising test of stamina and will.
The Chiefs lost defenseman Brad Ference after the first period. Kamloops star Tyler Perry was helped off with 2:15 left after taking a hit from Spokane’s Kyle Rossiter. Perry suffered a possible broken ankle. Ference will sit out tonight’s game after developing dizziness.
“He’s been knocked in the head the last few games,” Chiefs coach Mike Babcock said. “He was a little bit dizzy. The doctor saw him and said forget it, so we got him out of the game.”
Ference and the Blazers’ Steve Gainey traded punches 8 minutes into the first period of a game that was as rough as it was entertaining.
Although Whitfield clearly deserved the game’s first star - he also assisted on the tying goal, a power-play goal by Derek Schutz that evened the game at 3 - it was the play of his third line that had Babcock talking after the game.
“Jared Smyth, Marc Brown and Blake Evans,” he said. “It was like a switch went off in Evans. And Smyth - two fights and a lot of hard work. We can talk about the other guys but to me they were the guys.”
To complete the team theme, goaltender Aren Miller did his part.
Alone with the Blazers’ Mike Brown 13:18 into the third period with the Chiefs down 3-2, Miller gloved Brown’s shot that could have put Kamloops (7-8) up by two and left the Chiefs with too much to do.
The Blazers needed only 1:55 to get on the board in the first period. Shane Belter, playing his first shift with the Blazers since his trade Monday from Lethbridge, bounced a wrist shot from the right point off Miller’s shoulder and into the net.
Three minutes later the Chiefs scored their first goal in two games on a play set up by Ty Jones. Jones left defenseman Kevin Mackie groping just over the blue line, then on a 2-on-1 rush backhanded the puck to Marian Cisar, who scored his team-high 15th goal of the year.
The Blazers got that one back just as a power play was expiring. Perry got the goal on the re-direct from in front of the net, but the key was a Mike Brown body check.
The 6-4, 205-pound Brown leveled Spokane’s 15-year-old Cole Fisher at the base of the wall in the Chiefs zone. Fisher got up and went after Brown, his grit honorable but his timing deplorable. The Chiefs’ rookie defenseman lost sight of the puck as he looked for Brown and the shot almost hit him on its way to the goaltender.
Kamloops’ next goal could have hurt even more.
Perry, like Belter another recent acquisition who came in a trade with Medicine Hat, scored on the breakaway with the Chiefs on a power play. It was the first time the Chiefs have given up a short-handed goal all year.
Maybe that was the indignity that shook them up, because the hitting got even crisper and the rushes more determined from there. Brown pulled Spokane within one with his fifth goal of the year with 1:11 left in the second period. Schutz tied it on the power play after some smooth work with Whitfield. Schutz sent the puck to Whitfield in the corner, went to the net, took the pass back and scored. The Chiefs to that point had scored on only three of their last 50 power-play chances.
Chiefs 4, Blazers 3
Kamloops 2 1 0 - 3
Spokane 1 1 2 - 4
First period - 1, Kamloops, Belter 2 (Kinney, Perry), 1:55. 2, Spokane, Cisar 15 (Jones, P.Johnson), 4:56. 3, Kamloops, Perry 4 (Dupont, Brown), 10:06. Key penalties - Schutz, Spo, 6:27; Ference, Spo, 8:06; Graf, Spo, 11:04; Dupont, Kam, 15:46; Cote, Spo, 17:57.
Second period - 4, Kamloops, Perry 5 (Kinney), 10:18 (sh). 5, Spokane, Brown 4 (Graf, Evans), 18:17. Key penalties - Perry, Kam, 4:32; St. Croix, Kam, 7:12; Mackie, Kam, 8:33; Fisher, Spo, 15:28; Graf, Spo, 18:49; Dupont, Kam, 19:54.
Third period - 6, Spokane, Schutz 4 (Cisar, Whitfield), 15:48 (pp). 7, Spokane, Whitfield 7 (Schutz, Evans), 19:24. Key penalties - Grimard, Spo, 2:48; Kamloops bench, too many ben on, 13:56.
Power-play opp. - Kamloops 0 of 7; Spokane 1 of 6. Saves - Kamloops, Pool 6-11-13-30. Spokane, Miller 8-6-5-19, Fleming x-x-1-1. A - 9,913.