It sure seems like a long time ago – and it was just the third weekend of the Western Hockey League season two months ago – that the Spokane Chiefs’ power play went powerless in 23 attempts.
Going into Saturday’s game with Kamloops the Chiefs had worked their way up to fourth in the power-play rankings by scoring a power-play goal in 12 straight games.
Then the Chiefs connected on 4 of 7 extra-man chances, including two by Dominik Uher, who had a hat trick in a 10-5 rout of the Blazers for their fifth straight win before 5,460 fans at the Arena.
“I didn’t shoot the puck enough is the biggest (reason) I didn’t score,” said Uher, who had one goal prior to his breakout game that included an assist. “My coach told me I should focus on shooting – don’t pass the puck, shoot the puck. It showed up today with three goals. I’m happy about it.”
It didn’t take long to see how the absence of defenseman Jared Cowen was going to give the Chiefs a different look. They went on the power play 70 seconds into the game and coach Don Nachbaur sent forward Levko Koper out to replace the captain on the blue line and put fourth-line winger Darren Kramer up front.
Less than a minute later the Chiefs (17-9-2-2, 38 points), who have earned at least a point in nine straight games and 15 of 16, led 1-0 when Kramer jammed in a rebound of a Tyler Johnson shot. It was fitting combination since Johnson was wearing Cowen’s “C” as captain and Kramer had taken Johnson’s “A” with Cowen gone to Team Canada tryouts.
“I got an opportunity on the power play and Don wanted me to be parked in front of the net to create some traffic,” Kramer said. “Johnson always knows where to put the puck and it just laid there between the goalie’s legs. Luckily, I put it in.”
Johnson had a career night with six points, including two goals that give him 22 for the season. The first made it 2-0 after one.
But it really wasn’t as easy as a 64-21 shot advantage might suggest because 16-year-old defenseman Brady Gaudet scored a hat trick in the second period that cut a 5-1 Spokane lead to 5-3.
“You’re always concerned, when you get off the bus at 5 in the morning, about mental toughness and about staying with the game plan,” Nachbaur said. “I thought we were better about that than the other team.
“But we strayed in the second period again and that’s starting to creep into our game. But 10 goals, I can’t say I’m disappointed. We had some great plays, we had some excellent performances by a lot of people.”
Uher’s first goal, 3:37 into the second period, made it 3-0 on all power plays. Then Matt Marantz and Tanner Mort scored, ending the night for Jeff Bosch, who faced 40 shots and gave up five goals.
Ryan Hanes and Shayne Neigum scored in the third period for Kamloops (15-15-1-1, 32), which gave up 10 goals in Spokane for the second time. The Chiefs won 10-1 the night before Thanksgiving as Cowen had a hat trick. The teams split a pair of 4-3 games in Kamloops, both decided in a shootout.
Uher got Spokane’s fourth power-play goal 18 seconds into the third period, the first of five goals on Cam Lanigan. Uher completed the hat trick at 2:52. Koper converted an easy goal on a pretty pass from Johnson and Johnson scored with his linemates Koper and Uher assisting. A nice unassisted goal by Mitch Holmberg completed Spokane’s scoring at 15:20.
“Part of the reason is we’re working as a team real well,” Uher said. “We have hard workers and hard working brings the goals.”
The Chiefs play Seattle on consecutive nights next week, starting in Seattle on Tuesday. They are at Everett on Friday before Vancouver visits the Arena on Saturday, the final game before the nine-day Christmas break.