If you’re headed to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, one way to make the 12-hour trip seem shorter is to take a win with you.
The Spokane Chiefs will have a little pep in their step for their six-games-in-nine-days trek through the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Division after an entertaining but somewhat frustrating 7-3 win over the Prince George Cougars Wednesday night at the Arena.
“We had a bad game last game and I thought I should probably take it on my shoulders and start leading,” Spokane forward Tyler Johnson said. “Everything we worked on this week was good for us.”
It was Johnson, centering a veteran line with Levko Koper and Blake Gal on the wings, who jumpstarted the Chiefs.
He scored in a wide-open net from the left circle, converting Brenden Kichton’s pass on the power play just 3:20 into the game.
A short-handed goal followed, when Johnson beat the Cougars to the puck behind the PG net. Johnson used a couple fakes, then spun in a circle before skating out to find Kichton diving down the right line for a strong wrister and his first goal.
Then the Cougars (7-6-1-0, 15 points) battled back, with a little help from the Chiefs (5-6-0-0, 10).
PG captain Brett Connolly scored his 14th goal in 14 games but the Chiefs’ third line got that right back with a tic-tac-toe play going from Anthony Barbaro to Brady Brassart to Grant Leedahl before Bardaro ended up with the easy marker, his second at 14:19.
The second period was a struggle, although the Chiefs came out with a draw. PG’s Charles Inglis, who seemed to irritate every Chief, scored at 7:57 with a nifty play. He split the defense down low by dropping the puck into his feet then made a nice move around James Reid.
Tyler Vanscourt scored his first for the Chiefs with a hard slapshot from the right circle. The defenseman’s goal came just after a power play expired and with just .02 remaining in the period.
“Wasn’t that something?” Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. “That was so sloppy. We came out and got the 2-0 lead but then I thought we just weren’t ready for the second period. … There were constant turnovers; we played with zero structure. We got away with some huge mistakes.
“Too many chances for my liking, too wide open of a game, yet we won the game. We did some really nice things, so it’s not all bad. We scored seven goals, I can’t complain about that. Our guys got a little greedy there but found themselves in the third period and we had a good period.”
Koper scored at 6:28 of the last period for a 5-2 lead. Then the Cougars got a short-handed goal, by Nick Buonassisi, while James Dobrowiski was off for four minutes for splitting Johnson’s upper lip with his stick.
“It’s a good thing we’re going on the road so I have time to heal before I see people,” said Johnson, who won’t be kissing anybody good-bye with about four stitches highlighting the fat lip.
Defenseman Corbin Baldwin got that goal back just before the penalty expired and then Kenton Miller closed the scoring late.
“We’ve got to develop a mentality and structure to our game that we’re tough to come through here,” Nachbaur said. “They generated too many shots. I wouldn’t say it was the defense. I would say it was the overzealousness of our forwards, leaving our defense stranded. That’s called support. They weren’t supporting the structure we have. Guys cheated on the wrong side of the puck. Our goalie was good.”
Reid made 29 saves.
“I find it easier to stay in the game but it’s nice not getting too many shots, too,” he said. “I thought the D helped me out a lot, just a few bad bounces.”