The Spokane Chiefs have some ground to cover, and this week presents the perfect opportunity to do so.
Trailing the Tri-City Americans by 11 points in the U.S. Division standings – and the Vancouver Giants by 22 points in the Western Conference standings – Spokane can earn up to six points this week with two games against the Portland Winter Hawks and one at Tri-City.
The three-games-in-four-nights stretch begins tonight at the Arena, when Spokane hosts the cellar-dwelling Winter Hawks (12-27-1-2), who have defeated Spokane in their past two visits to the Arena.
“The first game – the one we played against them (Nov. 7), I thought we played well enough to win and we got snakebitten by their goalie a little bit,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said. “The last time we played them we looked good, but at the same time I don’t think we carried the play and had the killer instinct enough to finish plays or create real good scoring chances – not enough to win, obviously.”
With the postseason just two months away, Sauter also emphasized the importance of winning their games against the Americans.
“The next few weeks are going to be big for us – we play six games, and two of them are against Tri-City,” he said. “Obviously, if we win those two games we’ll find ourselves right back in the race, and if we split or lose them both then we’re going to need a lot of help down the stretch.
“Every game is real important at this point, and the guys understand that.”
Three Chiefs ranked
Defenseman Jared Cowen dropped a few spots but still cracked NHL Central Scouting’s top 10 list for draft-eligible North American skaters for the 2009 NHL draft.
Cowen is ranked seventh, while Chiefs forward Levko Koper is ranked 44th. Both players are in Oshawa, Ontario, this week playing in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Prospects game and will miss tonight’s game.
“By the time the playoffs roll around I don’t foresee (Cowen) going that low,” Sauter said. “I’m not trying to downplay the other players at all, but in Cowen you’ve got a 6-foot-5 defenseman that can skate and handle the puck – and that’s a big commodity.
“It’s win-win, though, because going seventh in the draft definitely isn’t a bad thing.”
Import defenseman Stefan Ulmer, who leads the Chiefs in assists with 19, is ranked 99th among North American-based skaters.
Tonight will be goalie Dustin Tokarski’s first game back since helping Team Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships on Jan. 5. Tokarski is second in the league with a 1.97 goals-against average. … Defenseman Mike Reddington (groin) could remain sidelined for 10 more days, while captain Justin McCrae is out with a bone bruise in his foot. McCrae didn’t play Saturday, but Sauter said he could return to the lineup this weekend if things go well.
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