Chiefs power to win
The scoreboard wouldn’t make for a strong character witness at the Arena on Wednesday night.
The Spokane Chiefs’ 6-3 victory over Moose Jaw in a Western Hockey League game was anything but lopsided. Mitch Wahl registered a goal and three assists to lead Spokane, which scored six straight goals to take command after falling behind 2-0 in the first period.
The Chiefs improved to 32-20-3-1 overall. Representing the Eastern Conference, Moose Jaw fell to 26-21-4-4.
Spokane looked sluggish from the opening faceoff before scoring four third-period goals to turn a close game into a misleading rout. Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter wasn’t impressed with his team’s slow start, particularly against a team coming off a 5-2 loss to Kootenay in Cranbrook, B.C. and had to travel 4 hours for the game.
“You go back to every game against the East — whether it’s Saskatoon, Regina or (Prince Albert) — and we treat the first 10 minutes as a feeling-out process,” Sauter said. “It’s about being unfamiliar with your opponent, and you don’t want to get caught out of position, over floor-checking or over pursuing.”
Brady Brassart scored a tie-breaking goal 61 seconds into the third period to give the Chiefs a 3-2 lead. Kyle Beach, Wahl and Ryan Letts each scored during power plays over the next 14-plus minutes to give Spokane an insurmountable four-goal cushion.
The Chiefs finished 4 for 7 on power plays. The Warriors were 1 for 2.
“Any time you score four goals on the power play,” Sauter said, “you’re going to win.”
Wahl has 24 points over his last nine games. After Tyler Johnson scored an unassisted goal to pull Spokane within 2-1 late in the first period, Wahl had assists on the Chiefs’ next three goals. He added his own goal at the 9:40 mark of the final period with a blistering shot from the perimeter.
“Kyle Beach and I have been able to find each other on the ice,” Wahl said. “We’re moving the puck, and we’re trying to outcompete the other teams’ top lines every night.”
Beach was held in check most of the game before registering his team-leading 37th goal. Letts’ goal was a fair reward after he delivered a bone-crunching hit on Moose Jaw defenseman Ryan Stanton in the first period.
That play did little to inspire the Chiefs after their beleaguered start. Stanton’s teammate, Spencer Edwards, immediately engaged Letts and instigated a fight, leading to a penalty and a one-man advantage for Spokane.
Moose Jaw successfully thwarted the power play, however, and then broke a scoreless tie moments later. Antonin Honejsek skated into Spokane’s end and dropped off the puck for a trailing Jesse Paradis, who ripped a shot past James Reid from the blue line for a 1-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the period.
A minute and a half later, a mental hiccup by Spokane led to a penalty for having too many men on the ice. The Warriors upped their lead to 2-0 with Jason Bast’s goal on the ensuing power play.
The two-goal deficit sparked the Chiefs for a time. Spokane upped its aggressiveness on both ends of the ice, and the results were positive while the effort lasted.
Johnson intercepted a pass to turn back a Moose Jaw possession, and he quickly took the puck the other way. He weaved through the Warriors’ retreating defense, splitting a pair of defenders before flicking a shot past Jeff Bosch to cut Spokane’s deficit to 2-1 at the 16:23 mark. The goal was Johnson’s 25th overall and sixth in the past 11 games.
Levko Koper evened the score at 2-all when the Chiefs’ left winger redirected Mitch Wahl’s shot, and the puck eked past Bosch into the Warriors’ net. Koper has 22 goals this year, and Wahl has tallied 21 points in his last 14 contests.
Spokane didn’t maintain the intensity into the second period. Moose Jaw outshot the Chiefs 10-6 in that 20-minute stretch as the Chiefs were content dumping the puck down the ice and trading possessions.
Reid finished with 24 saves and collected his 27th win for Spokane. Bosch stopped 30 shots for the Warriors.
“In the second period,” Sauter said, “our goalie made some big saves to keep us in it.”