The far end of the guests’ dressing room at the Spokane Arena butts up against a hallway where the Spokane Chiefs come and go, so when the visiting team wins and the music gets cranked up – and it gets cranked up loud – it thunders through the walls and provides an irritating soundtrack to any post-mortems the Chiefs might be conducting for the assigned media.
As in making pearls, a little irritation is good. And necessary.
No one seemed as irritated Wednesday night than Spokane winger Kyle Beach after the Chiefs had surrendered half of the territory they’d stolen by sweeping two games in Portland to open the Western Hockey League playoffs. Instead of having the Winterhawks a nudge away from elimination, Spokane turned today’s Game 4 into a mini-Armageddon.
“A series is four (wins),” Beach said as the Winterhawks celebrated next door. “We’ve showed up for maybe four or five periods of the nine so far and that’s unacceptable. You’re not going to win a series when you do that.”
And this is the team ahead 2-1 in the best-of-7.
Panic, of course, is not just premature, but pointless. This is a series between the fourth and fifth seeds in the Western Conference, separated by a single victory in the regular season. Moreover, neither had much luck playing the other when on home ice. Spokane was 0-4 against Portland in the Arena – all back before New Year’s. The Winterhawks were 1-3 at their two homes.
“It almost seems that home ice doesn’t matter,” acknowledged Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz, “but you always want to have it. But for me, it’s about desperation in the playoffs. When a series is 2-0, it probably doesn’t matter too much where Game 3 is – one team knows its season is on the line and the team that’s ahead had better match that.”
Yet as badly as the Chiefs were outplayed, it remained a winnable game, which was probably at the root of Beach’s frustration. He made a marvelous individual play for the team’s lone goal but was far more focused on plays that went unmade – a defensive slip on Portland’s winner, but just as important a sequence shortly after his own goal.
“My goal was a momentum changer,” he said, “but a few minutes later we had a 3-on-1 and a bad pass by me to (Mitch) Wahl’s feet and it’s a huge missed opportunity. We have to bury those chances. You only get one or two a game and you have to take advantage of it.”
However long this Chiefs season extends, it will in many respects be defined and remembered as The Beach Experiment.
When Speltz traded for him just before the beginning of the season, the Chiefs were getting a true wild card – a gifted and physical presence, with a WHL-wide reputation that ranged anywhere from pain in the butt to Worst Guy in the League. What Beach delivered was more of the former – he’s the first Chief in 16 years to score more than 50 goals – and over time, less and less of the latter.
His sense of accountability seems to have been heightened, even with the leg injury he suffered in the penultimate regular season game that threatened his availability for the playoffs.
“If you’re not 100 percent, you have to give 100 percent of what you can,” Beach said. “I still expect myself to be at my best. I had some lapses and those are mistakes I hold myself responsible for, because if I don’t other guys are going to see it and it might kind of trickle down.”
In Speltz’s view, this is one reason the trade can be graded an unqualified success.
“Kyle has really tried and our guys have really helped him,” Speltz said. “He knows now what he has to do to be a pro. He’s disappointed when he’s not as good as he expects and wants to be – and that’s gratifying to see in any of our guys, but especially him.
“He’s been the dominant offensive player we needed and had before, but maybe the most gratifying thing for me is he knows if he’s going to be a good pro he has to play straight up and with speed, he has to hit and be hit and get up when you are hit. Maybe there were questions about that before.”
At the moment, that question can be posed to all the Chiefs, who were hit hard in Game 3 – and better find the means to get up for Game 4.