All the hard work and effort the Spokane Chiefs have exerted to put themselves back in the race for a division title could pay huge dividends by this weekend.
The Chiefs, who host the Seattle Thunderbirds in Western Hockey League action tonight at the Arena in the opening half of a home-and-home series with one of their U.S. Division rivals, have a chance to pull even closer to the division-leading Tri-City Americans this week.
Spokane, which has trailed the Ams (40-16-0-3, 83 points) by as many as 11 points in the standings since the second half of the WHL season began at the end of December, has been playing catch-up with its rivals for quite some time.
The Chiefs (38-16-0-3, 79 points) have played two fewer games than the Americans and trail by four points in the standings.
On Sunday, the Chiefs hosted the Prince George Cougars. They erased a three-goal deficit by scoring five goals in the third period to defeat the Cougars 5-3. The victory was their fourth in five nights and 16th in their past 18 games.
“We talked about it on Wednesday night in Everett, that we needed all eight points through the week, and we had our minds set on that goal and we did it,” Chiefs overage forward Brady Calla said following Sunday night’s come-from-behind victory over Prince George.
“I think it shows a lot of character,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said of Sunday’s effort. “We didn’t play that bad in the first two periods, we just had some things that didn’t go our way.
“I was really impressed with how the guys stuck with it and in the end we were rewarded – in the end we were rewarded for sticking with, really sticking with it, for four straight games from start to finish.”
After tonight’s game against Seattle, Spokane will travel to take on the Thunderbirds on Friday night to close out the home-and-home series before taking on the Americans on Saturday night in Kennewick. The Chiefs and Americans will go head-to-head four more times this season (including Saturday’s matchup).
Cowen will have surgery
Chiefs star defenseman Jared Cowen is scheduled to have reconstructive knee surgery today in Minneapolis for the season-ending MCL sprain and a high-grade ACL injury he suffered after finishing a check in Spokane’s 6-0 win over the Chilliwack Bruins on Jan. 30.
Rehabilitation for 17-year-old Cowen, Spokane’s No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 WHL Bantam Draft and the seventh-ranked North American skater, according to NHL Central Scouting, for the upcoming NHL draft, is projected to take up to five months.
If everything goes well, Cowen should be ready for the 2009-10 season.
The Allan, Saskatchewan, native, who will return to Spokane following surgery but said Saturday he does not know how long he will remain here, led all WHL rookies last year with a plus-28 rating, and this season Cowen had seven goals, 21 points and a plus-16 rating through 48 games.
Tokarski hits mark
Dustin Tokarski keeps making progress in his outstanding major junior hockey career.
His most recent accomplishment: winning his 71st career game in Spokane, the most in franchise history and three more than former Chiefs goalie Aren Miller.
Tokarski continues to lead the league with a 1.83 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.
Tokarski has had a whirlwind 12 months in which he won a Memorial Cup, was drafted and signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning and won a gold medal in net for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.