A handful of Spokane Chiefs will arrive in Spokane later this week after representing their countries at the World Junior Championships.
Goalie Dustin Tokarski added another monumental championship to his résumé when he backstopped Team Canada to a gold-medal victory over Sweden on Monday night in Ottawa, and at least one person in Spokane who watched the game on television wasn’t shocked.
“Honestly, I can’t say I was surprised,” Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz said. “I expected he would do what he did. We knew what he was capable of.
“If you go over the last 13 months – there was the ADT challenge in Cranbrook 200 miles away and a goalie got hurt and he wasn’t even considered to play in the game. Then he goes on to win a Memorial Cup and was named the MVP of the tournament, get drafted into the NHL, make the World Junior Team, sign an NHL contract and then win a gold medal. It’s been a pretty good year for him.”
Despite being upset by Slovakia in the quarterfinal round of the tournament, Chiefs forwards Drayson Bowman, Mitch Wahl and Tyler Johnson – who played for Team USA – bounced back to end the tournament on a winning note and capture fifth place. The Americans defeated Chiefs import forward Ondrej Roman – who was expected to fly into Spokane Tuesday night and will play for the Chiefs for the remainder of the Western Hockey League season – and the Czech Republic in the fifth-place game.
“We do expect to see (Roman) today, but the thing is we haven’t gotten the (IIHF) release signed yet,” Speltz said. “We sure are optimistic and think it’s going to happen, but he’s not playing (tonight) or anything.”
Bowman, Wahl, Johnson and Tokarski also won’t be available to play. Tokarski is home in northern Saskatchewan to spend some time with his family. Bowman will be back in town for the weekend, but it isn’t decided whether he will play Saturday.
Wahl and Johnson, who both live in Spokane, will meet with Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter today to determine how much time off will be best for them, since none of the players was able to take a week off for the holidays like the rest of the WHL did.
The Chiefs, who host the Chilliwack Bruins tonight at 7, will look to get out of their current scoring funk and put some pucks in the net – especially since they’ve had plenty of quality opportunities in their past three games.
“Anytime you aren’t scoring, and are frustrated and try to change things it gets even tougher to get the opportunities,” Speltz said. “I think we can do more to score, but the guys that we have are generating offensive chances. We’re just not making the most of those chances.”
Trade deadline looms
The WHL trade deadline is Saturday, and Speltz wasn’t ready to show his hand Tuesday.
“I’m still in the office, trying to cultivate things and see what guys are doing,” he said. “The tough part for us is the guys have had some success now and that’s who people are interested in – and we’re just not willing to give certain guys up. But we are talking to everyone that has good players available.”
The biggest player for sale this season is said to be Moose Jaw’s Joel Broda. But Speltz sounded like he’s not ready to sell the future to revamp this year’s team.
“For us, we’ve talked about areas we would like to improve, but we’re not going to create a hole to fill a hole,” he said. “We have good depth in some spots, and we’re not going to take away from that depth to add to our scoring. We’ll make one or two tweaks if we can, but we’re not interested in trading for Broda for one of our front-line guys right now.”
Thomas Abenante scored twice as the Beaver Valley Nitehawks (17-16-4-4) posted a 5-1 win over the Spokane Braves (17-19-2-0) in Kootenay International Junior Hockey League play at Fruitvale, British Columbia.