There will be some familiar faces and family reunions at the Arena tonight.
Former Chiefs defenseman Jace Coyle makes his first return to Spokane since helping the Chiefs to a Memorial Cup championship last season when Spokane (20-10-0-3) takes on the Medicine Hat Tigers (20-10-3-3) at 7 p.m. in a matchup of the Western Hockey League’s third-place teams in their respective conferences.
“Obviously the strength of our team is going to have be our defense, but I’m expecting a pretty evenly-matched game,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said.
Coyle will be honored in a pre-game ceremony, along with former Chiefs captain Chris Bruton, who also is in Spokane for the first time after leading Spokane to the WHL and Canadian Hockey League titles. Bruton is playing for Acadia University this year in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
“It will be nice to see both of them – Coyle is a good quality kid with great hockey talent and Chris was obviously a huge part of our success last year and it will be good to see how he’s adapting to university life,” Sauter said. “It will be nice to reminisce a little and see both guys.”
Two family members of Chiefs play for Medicine Hat – Josh Koper and Taylor Gal, who are the respective cousin and older brother of Spokane’s Levko Koper and Blake Gal. Spokane’s Gal will miss some games after the holiday break while he plays for Team Pacific at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge from Dec. 28-Jan. 4.
“I have rarely seen brothers or cousins play against each other, but there’s usually a little more at stake because everybody wants the bragging rights when they’re sitting around the table for Christmas,” Sauter joked.
Another former Spokane player, Matt McCue, plays for the Tigers. McCue played for Spokane for two full seasons and was traded to the Chilliwack Bruins at the beginning of the 2006-07 season. He spent last season with the Brandon Wheat Kings and was traded to Medicine Hat early this season.
Chiefs defenseman Trevor Glass is a former Medicine Hat Tiger and was traded to Spokane last season.
Tokarski makes the cut
It turns out goalie Dustin Tokarski won’t be home for the holidays.
Tokarski is among the 22 players who will represent Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championships, while veteran defenseman Jared Spurgeon – who attended Team Canada’s final selection camp last week with Tokarski – did not make the final roster and is expected to return to Spokane in time for tonight’s game against Medicine Hat.
“I’m very happy for Dustin – I’ve always believed he’s one of the top goalies in our league,” Sauter said. “With Jared I’m disappointed for him. His expectations are always to succeed – and you go from winning a Memorial Cup and being drafted into the NHL to not making the World Junior team, so it’s a real heavy blow when those plans don’t work out.”
Tokarski is joined by Tri-City’s Chet Pickard as Team Canada’s two goalies and is one of 12 players from the Western Hockey League to make the Canadian roster.
Three Spokane forwards – Drayson Bowman, Mitch Wahl and Tyler Johnson – left Monday morning for Lake Placid, N.Y., and will represent the United States in the tournament, which begins Dec. 26 and runs through Jan. 5 in Ottawa.
The United States and Canada will play in the same pool and face each other on New Year’s Eve. The NHL Network will carry all the U.S. and Canada games.
Import defenseman Stefan Ulmer had a goal and an assist in Team Austria’s 6-2 tournament-opening victory over Hungary at the Division I Group B World Under-20 Championships, which wrap up Dec. 21, in Denmark. Ulmer will miss his third and final game tonight and return to Spokane after the holiday break. Ulmer and Team Austria play Team Ukraine today. … Spokane is five points behind Tri-City (23-8-0-2, 48 points) for first place in the U.S. Division.