The Spokane Chiefs made a statement Saturday night, much to the delight of 10,522 fans at the Arena.
One night after playing the worst game anyone can remember in a 3-0 loss to Chilliwack, the Chiefs bounced back to stop league-leading Tri-Cities 2-1.
“E. F. F. O. R. T. That can be my quote and I’ll just walk away,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said. “Put it as big as the thing will allow.”
There were no magic words, but when Tyler Johnson found defenseman Jared Spurgeon jumping into the play for a goal at 13:15, less than five minutes after the Americans tied the game, the magic was back and the six-game home losing streak was over.
“It wasn’t just me, everyone knew it had to change,” Spokane captain Jared Cowen said. “There’s no excuse. … We don’t need those games ever. We’ve got to get on a roll, we have a big road trip.”
Sauter said, “I’ve always said about our guys that their heart is second to none and I think tonight it was just an example of the pride level they have for themselves and for our team.”
Sauter said game-day preparation was going to change and the coaching staff hit the players where it hurt.
“This morning we went over some video of clips from the Chilliwack game and they weren’t impressive,” he said.
“Our choices were concentrate on what Tri-Cities does or show the Chilliwack clips and hopefully get a response work ethic wise. We played Tri not that long ago so we chose to go over the Chilliwack clips.
“I can’t say that’s why, but regardless we got the right response.”
The Chiefs (24-15-3-0, 51 points) got off to a slow start, getting outshot 8-1 in the first five minutes, but they escaped with a scoreless tie.
They picked up the pace in the second period, controlling the action and taking the lead when Johnson flipped a backhand past TC goalie Drew Owsley. Stefan Ulmer had put a shot on goal from the right point after the puck got past a Tri-City player while he bent down to pick up his stick.
The Americans (30-11-0-1, 61 points) tied the game at 8:53 of the third period when Jordan Messier took a feed from Todd Kennedy and had a wide-open net to beat James Reid.
But then Johnson gathered the puck and raced down the left side before he spotted Spurgeon following the play.
“There were maybe three poor decisions made in our defensive zone,” Sauter said. “But you’re going to have mistakes, it’s a matter of how big and if you’re working somebody can usually cover up for it, goalie included.
“Tonight James had to make a real good save off a turnover and on the other two somebody else on the ice worked hard enough to get back in the defensive position. There’s no substitute for hard work.”
By the end of the game the Chiefs had closed the shot differential to 35-32 and Reid ended a personal six-game losing streak.
The Chiefs moved back into a tie with Everett for third in the U.S. Division and fourth in the Western Conference and they face the Silvertips tonight.
The Chiefs play their next eight games on the road while the U.S. Figure Skating Championships are in Spokane.
In Tri-City last night, Prince George suited up 2009 Southridge High School graduate Josh Romeike as an emergency backup goalie and took him along to Seattle. Romeike, 19, who was born in Spokane before his parents moved to Tri-Cities about 15 years ago, almost ended up in net against the Thunderbirds when the scheduled starter hurt his shoulder while doing pushups. However, PG got permission to use an Everett player.