If the Spokane Chiefs were a football team, they might consider declining penalties – at least against the Tri-City Americans. They also might want to forgo home games against their U.S. Division rivals.
One thing is certain. This is a problem the Chiefs need to solve, and fast.
The Chiefs, ranked first in the latest Canadian Hockey League poll, again failed to crack the riddle the fifth-ranked Americans have been this season, falling 7-2 on Saturday night in Western Hockey League action in front of a sold-out crowd announced at 10,366.
Colton Yellow Horn netted four goals for the Americans, who are 6-2 against the Chiefs – including wins in all four meetings at the Arena – as Tri-City overpowered the Chiefs to take over the Western Conference and division lead.
Tri-City has a league-best 85 points, two more than Spokane with one game in hand.
“I guess it’s one of those games,” said Yellow Horn, who leads the WHL with 42 goals. “We went out there and worked hard. They were a tough team in the first 10 minutes, but once you weather that storm, it’s still a tough game, but at the same time I think we’re playing really well as a team and it showed for us tonight.”
Judd Blackwater, who scored for Spokane, expressed frustration at the way the series has gone.
“I don’t know, we can’t find a way to beat them,” the overage forward said. “We’ve got to stay out of the penalty box – we’re taking too many penalties and being undisciplined – and it’s killing us. Their power play is really good, and we can’t seem to stop it.”
Not only did they fail to kill three of nine penalties against the Ams, the Chiefs couldn’t score on the power play. They were 0 for 4 while skating with an advantage and gave up a shorthanded goal.
In their eight meetings with the Ams this season, the Chiefs are 0 for 38 on the power play and have given up three shorthanded goals.
“That, too – we’ve got to find a way to score on our power play,” said Blackwater. “It’s not just these guys, it’s everyone, and we’re kind of struggling, but it will come – hopefully.”
The Americans (41-12-1-2) got on the board early when Taylor Procyshen scored on the first shot of the game at 1 minute, 23 seconds.
Spokane’s Tyler Johnson scored his 12th goal of the season – a top shelf beauty – before T.J. Fast gave the Americans a 2-1 lead after the first period with a shorthanded goal at 15:21.
Yellow Horn scored his first of the night 44 seconds into the middle period. Blackwater responded, slotting his 20th goal of the season to bring the Chiefs (39-11-1-4) back within one, but Yellow Horn found the net again at 14:51 and the Americans led 4-2 after two periods.
“We made a couple big mistakes, and they capitalized on them,” said Blackwater. “We tried to battle through it, but I guess we got frustrated and just kept taking penalties and they kept scoring on us. … Sometimes you can’t help to be frustrated, but they just took it to us.”
The Americans added insult to injury in the third as Yellow Horn scored twice more and Radek Meidl added another – all power-play goals. Tri-City outshot the Chiefs 16-4 in the period.
“This gives us a lot of confidence. We’ve been trailing them all year and now we have a chance to be tied with them for first place,” said Yellow Horn.
More than likely, though, the Americans will remain in first. They play Portland (9-47-1-1) today, while Spokane travels to Seattle to play the Thunderbirds (28-18-5-2) – a team against which they are 6-0.
Chiefs goalie Dustin Tokarski made 10 saves and allowed three goals before being pulled 44 seconds into the second period. His replacement, Kevin Armstrong, also allowed three goals but turned away 27 shots. … Spokane forward Curtis Kelner remains sidelined with a shoulder injury and will be out for one to two weeks. … The Chiefs will make up Friday’s home game against Seattle at 7 p.m. Monday. The game was postponed because of blizzard-like conditions on Snoqualmie Pass that prevented the Thunderbirds from making the trip.