Ty Jones supplied the heavy artillery before a full house on military appreciation night, when the Spokane Chiefs rained fire on the most convenient target in the Western Hockey League West, the Tri-City Americans.
In his most effective outing since the World Junior Tournament last month, Jones had two goals and a pair of assists in a 6-3 Chiefs win before 10,455 Saturday night in the Arena.
Jones and a corps of support troops gave Spokane its seventh win in eight games with its closest rival.
Greg Leeb scored two goals - the 116th and 117th of his career - to move into sixth place on the club’s all-time list. With a goal a game the rest of the way, the 20-year-old center could move past Valeri Bure into the fifth spot.
“It’s nice to be in company like that,” said Leeb, the Chiefs’ season leader with 36 goals. “We’ll hope for the best. It’s kind of fun to get the points, move up the list and keep it rollin’.”
The Chiefs, who’ve won eight of their last 11, greeted February on the team bus. They took off shortly after the game for Prince George for a key Monday night session with the Cougars. Second place in the WHL West Division is at stake. Spokane is in Kelowna Tuesday night and back home with division-leading Portland Friday night.
The last-place Americans, who are winless in their last 19 games against clubs from the West, lost their sixth straight.
At least this time they didn’t fold. The youngest team in the league came to battle on military night without a lot of experienced fire-power. Blake Evans, whom the Chiefs traded three months ago with Regan Darby for Zenith Komarniski, now has a different perspective on Spokane.
“It’s pretty intimidating coming into a sold-out barn,” said Evans. “The team has great defense and hits hard. I don’t see why Spokane can’t catch Portland in the playoffs. Portland might have better offense, but it would be a great series.”
Jones opened the scoring five minutes into the game with his 22nd goal of the year with the Chiefs on the power play.
Ken McKay countered for Tri-City with his 20th, but Leeb broke the 1-1 tie with his 71st point. Jones, cycling low and creating the space that gave Leeb an open shot, set up the scoring play, a Leeb chip shot over goaltender Aaron Baker.
The Chiefs led 3-1 after two periods, Jones scoring three minutes into the second and Spokane hiking the lead to 4-1 on Derek Schutz’ 17th goal of the season that turned out to be the game-winner.
Goaltender David Haun’s contribution came 10 minutes into his Spokane debut, when Americans star rookie Scott Gomez had Haun at his mercy on a breakaway.
Haun kicked the puck away to preserve a 1-1 tie. He stoned Gomez a second time on a breakaway early in the second period to extend Gomez’ goal-scoring slump to eight games, the longest he says he can remember.
Three minutes after Haun robbed Gomez, Jones had his second of the night and the Chiefs were up two.
Schutz made it a three-goal spread but Tri-City averted the early blowout by taking advantage of a 5-on-3 power play at 18:41 of the second period, after Spokane’s Schutz and Ron Grimard were sent off.
Chris Flynn got the goal with 55 seconds left in the second period.
Leeb and Loyns answered for the Chiefs in the third before Dylan Gyori scored short-handed for the Americans.
Haun stopped 17 of 20 shots. Baker saw a lot more rubber, knocking down 38 of Spokane’s 44 shots.