Mike Babcock breaks the long Western Hockey League season into 12-game segments. When the second segment ends tonight in the Arena with Babcock’s Spokane Chiefs taking on the Seattle Thunderbirds, the coach can take a satisfied look at what’s come down with a third of the season in the books.
“The first two (segments) have been positive,” Babcock said. “Our team has really come to play on the majority of nights, and yet there are a lot of things we need to improve. There’s a long, long way to go.”
Chiefs fans should get a better read on defenseman Zenith Komarniski, whose recent hip pointer is the latest in a series of physical ailments.
“He’s coming around,” Babcock said of the former Tri-City Americans captain who was acquired on Nov. 3 in a trade. “He’s played like six games this year. He’s had a long way to go just to get the rust off. We’re satisfied with his progress.”
The T-Birds, who have won four of their last five, are recovering from a series of early-season personnel setbacks.
Torrey DiRoberto is back on a limited basis as he recovers from abdominal surgery. The swift center from Upland, Calif., saw his first period of ice time Wednesday in Prince George. He’s likely to dress tonight.
The T-Birds had hoped to get superstar Patrick Marleau back, but the 18-year-old center has become a fixture with the NHL San Jose Sharks.
Without Marleau and the man Spokane fans loved to hate, Tyler Willis, the Thunderbirds aren’t as quick as the team that skated to the WHL finals last season.
But they’re far from plodding.
Mark Parish, who joined the club on Oct. 17 from St. Cloud (Minn.) State College, fills out a potent line with Brett DeCecco and Jeremy Reich.
Cody Rudkowsky is likely to get the start in goal. The T-Birds rotate Rudkowsky with Jeff Blair.
Defenseman Rod Leroux, who suffered a broken jaw in an opening-night fight with Kamloops’ Mark Scott, is listed as day to day.
With the week off, the Chiefs are as rested as they’ve been since opening night. Fresh legs are an asset against the T-Birds, whose quickness gave Spokane fits last year.
This year, the Chiefs have exceeded preseason expectations, heading into tonight in second place, four points behind Portland but 10 up on the Thunderbirds. As Babcock looks ahead to the future 12-game segments, he’s anticipating who might go off to the big holiday tournaments.
Marian Cisar could be invited to play in the World Junior Tournament for Slovakia. Ty Jones is ticketed for duty with Team USA. Brad Ference and Komarniski are good bets to help Canada defend its WJT title in Helsinki over Christmas.
Three younger players are likely to miss up to a half-dozen games at the under-17 championships in Swift Current. Mark Forth will play for Alberta. Cole Fischer and Brandin Cote are headed for Team Saskatchewan.
With those commitments, Babcock said it’s unlikely that Spokane would make any immediate moves to trim the roster.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: On the ice Tonight: Seattle at Spokane, Arena, 7:05