Chiefs work to unlock combinations
Coach Sauter fits together right pieces
Hardy Sauter said his job doesn’t involve rocket science, but like all coaches part of his job involves chemistry.
The Spokane Chiefs’ second-year coach tries to find player combinations that produce the best results to make his hockey team potent, particularly on offense.
But unlike coaches in other sports, that chemistry goes beyond just the right mix of players to have a harmonious locker room, which generally translates into some degree of success. In hockey the coach has to find four forward line combinations that produce on-ice success.
“I’m looking for guys that can somewhat complement each other,” Sauter said. “Whether it’s speed with speed, puck control down low, sometimes old with young, it depends on what we’re trying to do. There are variables that factor into it.
“Sometimes you get lucky in practice. Two guys may be doing a drill together and you think they look pretty good together. Sometimes you put combinations together that absolutely don’t work. You don’t try to explain why, you just change them up.
“It’s a little bit gut feeling, a little bit trial and error.”
The trial-and-error factor came into play last week when the Chiefs acquired Kyle Beach from Lethbridge.
The forward was despised by Spokane fans and players when he played for Everett, but Sauter and general manager Tim Speltz are convinced the leadership on the team wouldn’t allow any disruption in the locker room.
Finding the on-ice fit for a point-per-game player and first-round NHL draft choice is another matter, especially with just two practices to tinker.
Beach spent one practice on the line centered by Mitch Wahl, the other on Tyler Johnson’s line.
The reason for doing that was the potential for two strong lines, since Beach and Levko Koper, who had four goals in two games, play the same position.
When the Chiefs faced Tri-City on Saturday, however, Beach came out with Wahl and Koper.
“One, I thought initially we don’t really have someone, I guess with enough experience, to play with those other two guys on a regular basis, at least right away,” Sauter said. “Maybe later, but not right now.
“Also, I thought (Blake) Gal, Johnson and (David) Conrad or (Dominik) Uher had pretty good chemistry in Prince George and they’d be able to carry it through to Tri City as well, which they did.
“It wasn’t rocket science. It was matter of putting them in there and see how it went.”
Obviously, it went well, with Beach scoring two goals and Wahl another in a 5-2 win over the Americans.
But that doesn’t mean the tinkering is done, although the less the better.
“There’s no right or wrong answer, (but) usually you have things set by middle or end of November,” Sauter said. “Your group kind of settles into a rhythm, what their roles and responsibilities are. Sometimes guys get hot, sometimes guys get cold, someone gets injured, maybe you bring in a player have to find the right spot for. Variables can change things up but for the most part, the sooner you know it allows them more time to get comfortable with each other.”
Chiefs forward T.C. Cratsenberg, who received a match penalty against Tri-City for pulling off an opponent’s helmet during a fight in Saturday’s home opener, has been suspended for one game and will miss today’s game with Portland at the Arena. … Goalie James Reid will get the start in both games this week. The Chiefs play at Tri-City on Saturday. … Rookie forward Mike Aviani, 16, was reassigned by the Chiefs.