It was a dominating performance, worthy of a first-place team – except it was the first-place team that was dominated.
The Portland Winterhawks, with the most points in the Western Hockey League and a healthy 13-point lead in the Western Conference and U.S. Division, fell behind 5-0 in the first period and were drubbed 9-3 by the Spokane Chiefs before 3,564 fans at the Arena Wednesday night.
It was almost enough to make a player miss a trip to Toronto to try out for the national team.
“We’re doing so well,” captain Jared Cowen said after the Chiefs won their third straight. “I play a lot of minutes. It’s going to be hard to watch the team. I think they’ll be fine. We’ve got a good club.”
Cowen plays Friday in Vancouver and then leaves to join Team Canada for tryouts for the World Junior team. He could miss nine games, the first being Saturday’s home game against Kamloops.
It was the third straight win for the Chiefs (15-9-2-2, 34 points) over the Winterhawks (22-8-0-3, 47), including two straight here after Portland had won 10 straight in Spokane, and moved them into a tie for second.
“The guys stuck with the game play, but I can’t tell you what it is,” coach Don Nachbaur said. “When you’re playing a good team, getting the lead is important. After each goal, we came out on the next shift with more passion.”
The first period was close to perfect. Five players scored, with 13 of the 18 skaters getting a point as Matt Marantz and Tyler Vanscourt each had two assists.
When Tyler Johnson, Spokane’s leading scorer, notched his 19th goal to make it 3-0 midway through the period and end the night for Portland goalie Mac Carruth, it was Johnson’s first point against the Winterhawks.
Spokane’s second- (Levko Koper), third- (Brenden Kichton) and fourth- (Cowen) leading point scorers didn’t contribute, along with young defenseman Reid Gow and Tanner Mort. Collin Valcourt, Mitch Holmberg, Kenton Miller and Steve Kuhn also scored.
Goalie James Reid got into the act in the second period when the Chiefs took a penalty less than a minute in, coming up with a pair of big saves. Although he ended up allowing three goals, he had a stellar game.
Portland got goals from Ryan Johansen and Troy Rutkowski, on a power play with 15 seconds left, but Kichton and Koper connected in between. In the third, after Oliver Gabriel scored for the Winterhawks, Kichton and Vanscourt scored power-play goals.
“Reider made some saves,” Nachbaur said. “We got a little loose in the second, we started doing some bad things, but (the last 15 minutes) we were good again.”