Spokane Chiefs overwhelm Hitmen
Gal puts up a hat trick in 8-1 triumph
When hockey players dream of a hat trick, no doubt they’re finishing a pretty play or unleashing a laser before the fans litter the ice with hats.
Blake Gal didn’t see his third goal, which propelled the Spokane Chiefs to an 8-1 Western Hockey League laugher over the Calgary Hitmen Wednesday night.
Standing outside the blue line, Gal pounded the puck off the boards into the Calgary end and spun around to head to the Chiefs’ bench for a line change. Hitmen goalie Juraj Holly skated toward the corner, expecting the puck to skitter along the boards.
Gal’s play went off the wall like a pool shot and banked into the unattended net for the Chiefs’ fifth goal just 3 minutes and 1 second into the second period. His reaction when the crowd of 3,657 roared was to turn his head and shrug his shoulders.
“I was just trying to put the puck in their zone. Their goalie was out and I got a lucky bounce. Fortunately, it went it for me,” said Gal, who has eight goals in nine games. “I wouldn’t say it was embarrassing, but definitely not the way you want to get your first hat track. I guess I’ll take it if it’s there.”
The Hitmen (4-6-0-0, eight points) were playing their fifth and last game on their eight-day swing through the U.S. Division. They finished 2-3 with wins over Portland and Seattle.
“They were tired. They played last night and they’re at the end of the road trip,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “I thought our guys approached it right. We got on them early in the first period and it snowballed.”
Gal scored 43 seconds into the game, pouncing on a loose puck after Tyler Johnson, who had three assists, tried to come out from behind the Calgary net and stuff it in the corner.
Less than 2 minutes later, Darren Kramer redirected a shot by Jared Cowen for his second goal.
The Chiefs had 10 shots on goal before the Hitmen hit the net more than 6 minutes in. The final shot count was 53-20, the most for Spokane since getting 55 on Feb. 15, 2008.
Gal made it 3-0 at 11:54 when he used his speed to break in on Michael Snider and score on a nice backhand. Snider exited at that point but returned for the third period.
Calgary got a power-play goal from Misha Fisenko at 15:56 when officials didn’t notice the Hitmen had too many men on the ice as coincidental minors were expiring. But the Chiefs quickly got that back when Kenton Miller tipped a Cowen rocket from the point on a power play just 1:12 later.
After Gal’s third goal, Miller got another power-play goal for a three-point night and then Michael Aviani scored his first in the WHL, making it 7-1 at 8:08.
“The Aviani-(Matt) Marantz-tough guy line (with Kramer) got us going,” Nachbaur said, noting that Kramer got into three fights. “They had a lot of passion tonight. Any time your third and fourth line’s contributing like that, you’re going places. They were pretty salty.”
Mitch Holmberg closed the scoring with his fourth goal midway through the first period, giving the Chiefs their biggest offensive production since an 8-0 win over Portland on Feb. 27, 2009.
“Actually, we’re starting to get it,” Nachbaur said. “We had a lot of shots. We’ve had a lot of shots at home, but we did the right things to score tonight. Our power play is getting much better. When our top two units are out there, they’re zinging that puck around, making it tough on the other team. The puck’s going in the right direction – it’s going at the net. We’re finding those loose pucks right now. I really liked the battle we showed tonight.”
Central Division-leading Red Deer comes to town Saturday.