The Spokane Chiefs learned a few hard lessons in a 5-3 loss at the Arena on Friday night.
First, they can’t just show up on their home ice and expect to win without a strong effort.
Second, the Portland Winterhawks aren’t the pushover they’ve been the past three years, when they won a total of 47 games – just one more than the Chiefs had last season.
Third, second-year coach Hardy Sauter can make a point.
Fourth, Jared Cowen is a darn good captain.
The Chiefs need to learn quickly. They turn around and play at Tri-City tonight.
Right after the Hawks took a 4-1 lead with about 5 minutes left in the second period, Sauter called a timeout and lit into his listless team. His blistering didn’t result in a win, but it did produce 25 minutes of more inspired hockey, starting with Cowen getting into a scrap with Taylor Jordan.
“It was supposed to be a spark shift,” Cowen, a big defenseman, said. “I was a forward, no one was hitting, that’s what I was going for. … I was supposed to forecheck, get a little energy out there.”
It resulted in Kyle Beach’s goal late in the second period and Tyler Johnson’s early in the third, but the Chiefs couldn’t get the equalizer. Colin Reddin’s empty-net goal with 54 seconds left for Portland decided it.
“You could almost tell we were missing an ingredient,” said Sauter, who was shuffling lines all night. “I was just trying to look for a line combination that could sustain some pressure.
“We finished three checks in a row (after the timeout), the crowd got into it and there was some momentum. You have to have equal or more energy than your opponent and we didn’t do it.”
The Chiefs fell behind early, just 1:37 into the first period after David Conrad took a quick penalty. Nino Niederreiter had a wide-open net to flick in a juicy rebound after James Reid stopped a Troy Rutkowski point shot.
The Chiefs used a late first-period penalty for a power-play goal by Mitch Wahl just 28 seconds into the second period, but it was all Winterhawks after that. While the Chiefs were lethargic and miserable on three power plays, Portland was getting unassisted goals from Brad Ross and Niederreiter and a lucky bounce that gave Riley Boychuk a goal.
“They’re breakdowns on our part, but it all goes back to lack of speed,” Sauter said. “Their guy comes out of the corner with a little bit of jump, our guy who’s checking him comes out of the corner a little bit behind. The rules of the game now, if you’re behind the guy, you’re toast. … It was a good job by their guys taking advantage of the chances they had.”
It frustrated Cowen, in his second game as captain.
“We knew they were better this year. They were not the bottom-feeders they’ve been,” he said. “Everybody talked about being ready and then to come out and not play that well is pretty frustrating. All these points, especially in the division, matter.”
“Our guys didn’t quite execute the way we hope, but at the same time, when we did have a chance … they did a real good job,” Sauter said. “The one thing I never question is our heart, our will to win.”