Fittingly it was the veterans’ day at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena Sunday afternoon when the first weekend of the Spokane Chiefs’ training camp ended with the Western Hockey League team’s annual Red-White scrimmage.
All six goals were scored by returning players, including a pair by White defenseman Brenden Kichton, the second coming with 1:17 in regulation that forced the game to be decided by a shootout.
Head coach Don Nachbaur declared himself the winner because he left his seat among the 2,652 fans to stand behind the White bench for the third period when they rallied from a 3-1 deficit. He quickly pointed out he didn’t choose the shooters for the shootout, which the Red won 3-2.
The game was decided when Mike Betts missed the opening shot and Red teammates Mitch Holmberg, Anthony Paskaruk and Tyler Johnson scored on Chris Sharkey, the third White goalie.
Johnson and Holmberg also scored on last year’s backup goaltender Michael Tadjdeh in the second period for the two-goal lead. Second-year import Dominik Uher, who assisted on Johnson’s goal, beat returning starter James Reid for the only marker in the first period.
Kitchton’s second-period goal against Red starter Mac Engel tied the game at 1 and Blake Gal set the stage for Kichton’s heroics with an unassisted short-handed goal on Brenden Edie midway through the third period. Anthony Bardaro and defenseman Tyler Vanscourt had the White team’s goals on Edie in the shootout.
The game marks the end of camp. Of the 70 players who participated in the three days of scrimmages, 47 suited up for Sunday’s game. Fewer than 30 will be kept for the seven-game preseason schedule prior to the Sept. 25 opener at Tri-City.
“We’re still in the midst of (training camp), it’s not over yet,” Nachbaur said. “We can say camp runs right through until that first game or we cut down to 23, 22 players.”
He was pleased with the first four days of his first camp with Spokane.
“It gave me a chance to really see the returning players (and the) exciting young players we’ve drafted and brought to camp,” he said. “(The veterans) all came back in good shape. After a while playing against each other you get stagnant. After four days of practice we’ll be ready to play another team in the Everett Tournament.
“I thought the young players had real good showings for themselves. It’s going to make them better in the long run because of the experience they gained here.”
The Chiefs play three games in Everett next week and three in Tri-City the following week before concluding the preseason scheduled with a game at Eagles Ice-A-Rena on Sept. 18.
“I’m happy with the effort, a bunch of the young guys did good and a bunch of returning players stepped up their game,” Johnson, the top returning scorer, said. “I think our team’s looking good.”
Johnson, 20, said he thought chemistry would trump youth as the Chiefs look to replace at least three of their top four defensemen and four of the top six scorers from last season.
“We’re going to be a younger team,” he said. “People are obviously going to have doubts about us, but at the same team we have great leadership, a great coach and a great staff. We’re going to just keep getting better.
“Throughout camp everybody was hanging out, getting along great even though we were some of the guys were complete strangers. I think it’s going to be one of the closest teams I’ve ever been a part of.”
Nachbaur hopes that is the case.
“We’ll be young,” he said. “To me that’s an excuse. We have a lot of experience that played in the league last year. It’s all good.”