There isn’t much more you can expect from a Tri-City visit to Spokane for a Western Hockey League showdown.
Well, maybe a few skirmishes for old-time sake but with the regular season down to two weeks and playoff positions unsettled the players weren’t going down that path.
Instead they treated a soldout crowd of 10,529 at the Arena to an intense battle the Chiefs won by the deceptive score of 5-2, decided on Kenton Miller’s empty net goal in the final minute.
The biggest goal came from Brady Brassart midway through the third period that gave the Chiefs some breathing room at 4-2. The Americans had been buzzing James Reid, who made 31 saves, and it seemed like a matter of time before the game would be tied.
“I didn’t even know it went it,” Brassart said after taking a cross-ice pass from Levko Koper for the open look. “It was a great play for Kops to see me there. I kind of fumbled the puck and tried to get it on net for a rebound. I was surprised it went in. It’s a big sigh of relief, it relieves the pressure and gets some energy back for the team.”
Spokane (40-21-3-1, 84 points) pulled within five points of the league-leading Americans (43-17-1-2, 89) and lead the series 7-3 with five straight wins. Everett remains in second, three points in front of the Chiefs, who play their next three on the road.
Spokane came out of the first period with a 2-1 lead, courtesy of Kyle Beach and his behind the net magic.
For at least the fourth time this season, Beach, who leads the WHL with 48 goals, fired the puck from behind the net, banking it in off a defender. This time the Chiefs were on the power play and tied the game.
The other goals, by TC’s Patrick Holland from the right circle at 7:43 and Spokane’s Koper from the left circle at 19:01, were shots that the goalies generally stop, both wristers that trickled through.
The teams traded power play goals in the second period. The Chiefs seemed to be in charge when Mitch Wahl connected on a laser from the point at 6:35 but the Americans picked up steam in the closing minutes. Neal Prokop scored at 17:35, sweeping in a rebound off a shot by Brooks Macek from the point.
Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said the Americans’ two penalty kills after the Wahl goal turned the game around.
“They stole the momentum from us,” he said. “Once they had it they kept it. It took us about three shifts into the third period to settle down.”
It was prior to that momentum that unsettled TC coach Jim Hiller.
“I’m disappointed about the slow start,” he said. “That’s been a bit of theme, we start slow and push hard at the end. We have to make sure we’re pushing from the get-go. The momentum shifted, but why did it have to shift?”
Just before Brassart’s key goal the Americans had to change goalies because Drew Owsley banged his head when the strayed far from the net and was involved with a collision. Alexander Pechurskiy, who was pulled after two quick goals the last time the teams met in Spokane, allowed the goal.
The Americans continued to press, out-shooting the Chiefs 14-8, until a couple of nifty passes, the last from Tyler Johnson, led to Miller’s goal.
“They forecheck hard and their D-men pinch down on the boards, which makes it really hard to get out of our own zone,” Koper said. “Once we get that, get deep in their end, we’re really good with the puck down low.”
The Chiefs were without fourth-line winger Dominik Uher, who was suspended by the league after his game misconduct for boarding Carter Rigby of Prince George Friday night. … Spokane import defenseman Stefan Ulmer has signed a three-year contract with Lugano (Swiss NL A) starting next season.