Don Nachbaur wasn’t going to throw his team under the bus, maybe because they’ve spent so much time on a bus.
The Spokane Chiefs played tired for two periods before rallying, only to lose to Kelowna 3-2 when Geordie Wudrick scored his second goal 42 seconds into overtime of the Western Hockey League game.
The Chiefs were never out of the game, but it really couldn’t be said they were in it, either, mustering just nine shots through two periods.
It sure kept the 5,918 fans at the Arena sitting on their hands.
And the reality is the Rockets (14-11-0-0, 28 points) missed a couple of gimmes along the way on their way to their 10th win in 11 November games.
“That was them,” Nachbaur said. “They were good and we were a step slow; a step slow physically, a step slow mentally. I think a little bit of the passion was missing from our game.
“To be a realist, that’s to be expected with what these kids have been through. Getting home at 7 in the morning didn’t help and having to play a fresh team. They took full advantage of the sched ule. They were having dinner here while we were playing a hockey game eight hours away (in Kamloops).”
The Rockets scored twice in the first period. The first was a power goal from Zach Franko at 8:25, just five seconds after Tyler Vanscourt went off for interference. Wudrick scored his first goal at 15:05.
But in the third period it was a different game.
The Chiefs (12-9-2-2, 28 points) peppered Adam Brown during a power play before Tyler Johnson banged in a rebound of a Vanscourt shot from the left point at 8:58. Then at 13:02 Matt Marantz, while killing a penalty, skated the puck into the Kelowna zone and fired a shot from the left circle. The rebound bounced off the skate of a Rockets defenseman for his fourth goal. It was the third straight game with a short-handed goal and gave the Chiefs seven, tied for the league lead.
“It showed me mental toughness,” Nachbaur said of the comeback. “We were down 2-0 and it looked bleak. I thought our guys regrouped in the third, caught a break along the way, but we forced the issue.”
It was the 16th goal for Johnson, who worked his way into the top 10 in scoring.
“It shows that we have a lot of determination, we don’t quit,” said backup goal Mac Engle, who was starting for injured James Reid. “We’re a team that won’t give up until the final buzzer.”
Reid was injured Friday in Kamloops and didn’t suit up. His status is day-to-day. The emergency backup was local 19-year old Branden Amatto.
“We’re in capable hands,” Nachbaur said. “Our young guy played well tonight. That’s great experience for him. He made some great saves.”
Engle finished with 25 saves.
“We came out really slow and didn’t really do much in the first two periods,” he said. “In the third period we seemed to get our legs back. Once we got that first one we played our game.
“The eight-hour bus ride didn’t help but really there are no excuses for that. We train all summer for this kind of stuff. I think it’s kind of unacceptable to play that way but we battled back and got a point out of it.”
Momentum was with the Chiefs until the final minute, when defenseman Corbin Baldwin accidently flipped the puck over the glass in his own zone.
“It’s unfortunate,” Nachbaur said. “It that’s hockey, it happens.”
The power play carried into overtime and Wurdrick ended up with the puck at the bottom of the right circle and a wide-open net for his 12th, tying Mitchelle Callahan for the team lead.
Still, Nachbaur was pleased.
“Why not,” he said. “We didn’t have a full lineup and that’s a good hockey team we played.”
He said expect forward Dominik Uher back along with Anthony Bardaro, when Medicine Hat and Portland visit next weekend. Defenseman Garrett Leedahl remains a question mark.
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