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Plucky Chiefs beat the best on Teddy Bear Toss night

It would have been easy to have a different outcome, but the Spokane Chiefs stuffed the Portland Winterhawks on Teddy Bear Toss night 4-3, in the process ending a 10-game home losing streak to the team sporting the best record in the Western Hockey League.

“We beat the first-place team,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “You can’t find fault with anything we did. We did everything we had to in order to win the hockey game.”

Just past the opening 5 minutes, as Brady Brassart broke into the Portland end, a delayed penalty was called. Brassart pushed the puck toward the goal, where Mac Carruth was cavalier and didn’t control it before Collin Valcourt arrived in to tap it past the goal line.

The crowd of 7,638 didn’t see the referee wave off the goal, apparently assuming Carruth had things under control from his angle, and stuffed animals rained onto the ice – 4,668 overflowing four pickups.

After the long delay, the Chiefs’ Steve Kuhn saved the moment with a power-play goal.

“We kept our heads in the game, focused on what was important,” Kuhn said. “It’s a fun, giving to the community, but our focus was on the game. … We haven’t beaten them on home ice in a year and half. That was in the back of our minds.”

Spokane (14-9-2-2, 32 points) quickly got another goal when Matt Marantz cleaned up a rebound. Late in the first period the ice tilted Portland’s way and Sven Bartschi scored inside the final minute.

The momentum stayed with Portland (22-7-0-3, 47) before Brenden Kichton set up Kuhn for a breakaway midway through the second. A giveaway behind the Spokane goal allowed Ryan Johansen to find Nino Niederreiter in front of James Reid for an easy goal, but Brassart pushed the margin back to two. The third period was wide open but scoreless until a Brad Ross goal with 5 seconds left.

With a 48-29 shot advantage the Chiefs were clearly much more invested in the game than they were in the 3-2 win over Medicine Hat on Friday.

“In hindsight, when you play a Central Division team there isn’t as much emotion attached as when you played a division game or conference game,” Nachbaur said. “Tonight we came with that emotion. We got contributions from everybody and that was the key. Kuhner had a couple of big goals, Reider had big saves, but I thought we dictated play. When you get 48 shots, that’s a clear indicator of where the puck is.”

They’ll need the effort again with the Winterhawks coming back for a game Wednesday.

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