Now this was something to write from home about.
Whether by cell phone or cyberspace, the Spokane Chiefs had good news – make it great news – to share with their absent teammates Saturday night as their Western Hockey League season resumed after the holiday break.
With four standouts off at the World Junior Championships in Ottawa and a fifth regular at another international event, the Chiefs put together one of their best efforts of the season in a 4-2 victory over the rival Tri-City Americans in front of 8,631 fans at the Spokane Arena.
“Oh, I’m sure there’ll be a few text messages going out,” Chiefs captain Justin McCrae said.
The missing Chiefs are making news of their own – Drayson Bowman, Tyler Johnson, Mitch Wahl and Dustin Tokarski all played prominent roles in wins for the United States and Canada on Friday night. That took three of Spokane’s top four scorers and the starting goaltender out of the lineup, but the remaining – and new – Chiefs could hardly have handled the challenge any better.
Third-period goals by 20-year-old veterans Trevor Glass and McCrae broke open a one-goal game and gave goaltender James Reid room to breathe despite a flurry of 17 Tri-City shots over the final 20 minutes. But the tone was set much earlier – and the pivotal score was triggered by a 16-year-old wearing the Spokane uniform for the first time in a WHL game.
After a first period that produced no goals and nine roughing penalties, Spokane took a 1-0 lead on Jared Cowen’s slap shot from the top of the left circle off a fine pass from the back wall by Seth Compton. But it took the Americans only 38 seconds to answer, when Adam Hughesman had a wide-open net after corralling the rebound of a Taylor Procyshen shot 4:12 into the second.
It was the first real precision on offense the Americans had shown, but if they thought it might get them in a rhythm, Anthony Bardaro had other ideas.
A sixth-round pick in the 2007 bantam draft, Bardaro just joined the Chiefs on Friday – basically in time to be told how much a game against the Americans means.
“They just told me it’s a four-point game and that makes it real big,” Bardaro said. “But the crowd being that big surprised me.”
He surprised them back, making a steal and a shot on goal that rebounded to the stick of teammate Ryan Letts, who backhanded it past Ams goaltender Drew Owsley to break the tie after just 1:31 had lapsed.
“I think it was (Jason) Reese – I saw him lift his stick off the ice and I don’t think he saw me behind him,” Bardaro said. “I just made my move and cut around him and I saw Letts going to the net hard. I just threw it on net, hoping the rebound would come out to him.”
With Tri-City’s star goaltender Chet Pickard splitting time with Tokarski for Team Canada, much of the focus naturally centered on their replacements. Reid was solid with 26 stops for Spokane, but Owsley – 5-1 in six starts in Kennewick this season – wound up getting pulled after Spokane’s fourth goal.
But Spokane also received particularly solid efforts from younger players like Kenton Miller, David Conrad and Steve Kuhn – and managed to keep the Ams’ bigger guns from doing much damage. Leading scorer Reese went without a point.
“We went a few guys after them, and got in their face a little bit,” Cowen said. “We really don’t think they’re a physical or tough team.”
But they’re still three points ahead of the Chiefs in the U.S. Division standings, with a rematch coming Wednesday in Kennewick. Spokane coach Hardy Sauter would like to see his team follow through on its approach this night.
“I liked the fact that we finished some checks – especially against some of their better players,” he said. “Usually, they have a tendency to take our better players kind of out of the game by finishing checks and playing tight against them. I thought we did a good job of doing that tonight.
“The sacrifice for the team mentality carried over into just about everything we did and ultimately it gets us the win.”