Chris Jacobson doesn’t necessarily want to be remembered as the Western Hockey League’s most underrated forward.
At 20, the assistant captain of the No. 1-ranked team in North American Junior hockey prefers nights like Friday, when with two goals, including the game-winner, he was voted the game’s No. 1 star in the Portland Winter Hawks’ 5-2 win over Spokane.
Jacobson and the Winter Hawks put another two points between themselves and the Chiefs before an Arena crowd of 10,044.
Portland, for now, can lay claim to best of the West. Spokane, the best of the rest, is 13 points (6-1/2 games) behind the Winter Hawks in the West Division standings with 16 regular-season games remaining.
The Chiefs pick up the chase again here tonight with the Edmonton Ice and an eye on Portland down the road.
Chiefs coach Mike Babcock all but conceded the regular-season title to the Winter Hawks. The postseason, he intimated, is a different matter.
Asked if Spokane went into this one with a realistic shot at overhauling the Winter Hawks before the playoffs, Babcock said, “Not one bit. All we’re worried about is getting better. We’re not at the level we want to be, or think we can be.
“I’m always bitter to lose at home, but we got beat by a team that was better tonight. At times we looked like a pretty physical team. We didn’t like the result but we have some things we like. Our focus is to continue to get more physical.”
Portland coach Brent Peterson shrugged off comparisons of his 42-8-2 Winter Hawks and the great Kamloops teams that won three Memorial Cups in four years in ‘92, ‘94 and ‘95.
“We’ve got speed, but on paper we’re no better than anybody else,” Peterson said. “If a game is called the way it was called tonight, we’re in a world of trouble. If the game is called the way it’s supposed to be called, we’ll be all right.
“He (referee Alain Frenette) just let everything - every spear and every slash - go, and it played into their hands. That’s the way they (the Chiefs) love to play.”
The Hawks came out flying, peppering Chiefs goaltender Aren Miller with 11 shots before Spokane could put its first shot on net. Jacobson scored during that barrage, sticking a well-placed wrist shot from the top of the right circle over Miller’s shoulder into the top corner of the net 7:16 into the game.
“Our goal when we come in here is to be tied or up a goal in the first 10 minutes,” Jacobson said, “because they really try to bomb teams out early.”
Portland’s second goal wasn’t as pretty.
A Chiefs’ rush ended with Spokane’s Dan Vandermeer colliding with Portland netminder Brent Belecki. The puck bounced loose and the Hawks jumped back on the attack.
Portland’s Andrej Podkonicky launched a shot from 60 feet that got by Miller with 2:12 left in the period.
The Chiefs evened it at 2 in the second period behind Ty Jones on the power play. Camped in front of the net, the big winger scored on the rebound for Spokane’s first goal, then redirected Brad Ference’s slap shot from the point with 1 second left on Spokane’s second power-play opportunity.
Portland regained the lead late in the second when the Chiefs left Jacobson alone in front of the crease with the Hawks on their fourth power play. Todd Hornung fed Jacobson, who picked the corner on the netminder’s glove side 14:24 into the second period.
“Hornung really fought around the net and got the puck to me,” Jacobson said. “I don’t know where their defenseman was. I was in the slot at the right time I guess.”
That was the defining moment in what was arguably the most interesting regular-season game of the year here. It spoiled an otherwise great penalty kill for the Chiefs, highighted by Trent Whitfield nearly getting a short-handed goal on a breakaway.
Whitfield, with a strong forecheck, stripped Todd Robinson of the puck along the wall and walked in on goaltender Brent Belecki but couldn’t put the puck past him.
Babcock pulled Miller after Bobby Russell and Mike Hurley scored 32 seconds apart 8 minutes into the third period.
Winter Hawks 5, Chiefs 2
Portland 2 1 2 -5
Spokane 0 2 0 -2
First period - 1, Portland, Jacobson 18 (Hornung, Thrussell), 7:16. 2, Portland, Podkonicky 23 (Davis), 17:48. Key penalties - Johnson, Spo, 4:02; Whitfield, Spo, 11:41.
Second period - 3, Spokane, Jones 25 (B.Ference, Cisar), 3:44 (pp). 4, Spokane, Jones 26 (B.Ference, Leeb), 9:49 (pp). 5, Portland, Jacobson 19 (Hornung, Walker), 14:24 (pp). Key penalties - Standish, Por, 2:41; Spo. bench (too many men on) 6:40; Morrow, Por, 7:57; Severson, Spo, 12:25.
Third period - 6, Portland, Russell 22 (Robinson), 7:38. 7, Spokane, Hurley 44 (Russell), 8:10. Key penalties - A. Ference, Por, 10:54; Vandermeer, Spo, 13:19; A.Ference, Por, 14:14; Jones, Spo, misconduct, 19:11.
Power plays - Portland 1 of 5. Spokane 2 of 4. Saves - Portland, Belecki 11-10-9 -30. Spokane, Miller 14-11-2 -27, Haun x-x-5 -5.
A - 10,044.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: COMING UP Tonight: Chiefs play host to Edmonton, 7:05 at the Arena.