The truth is, when Tri-City collected what would have to be considered an easy goal less than five minutes into their Western Hockey League game with the Spokane Chiefs Saturday night, most of the sellout crowd of 10,475 at the Arena had to have a sinking feeling.
The last time they saw their team at home, three short nights earlier, the Chiefs set a dubious record by allowing five goals in 119 seconds and mostly because of their own shortcomings rather than Portland’s prowess. The Winterhawks went on to hand the Chiefs their worst shellacking of the season, 10-5.
But as Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said, “Different-looking game.”
Way different, as the Chiefs shrugged off that early deficit and turned in a solid 7-2 victory over the Americans.
The Chiefs’ league-leading power play connected four times on seven chances and their league-leading penalty team blanked the No. 2 power-play squad on six tries.
“There were no passengers tonight,” forward Levko Koper said after contributing four assists. “We were all battling for the same thing, for each other, trying to get the win. We tried to keep it simple. I think we could have gotten more shots. We battled for loose pucks and it helped us in the end.”
No one turned things around more than goalie Mac Engel, who showed Friday’s 2-0 shutout win in Everett wasn’t an accident but maybe the four goals he gave up before getting yanked against Portland were.
“Just staying positive,” Engel said, sporting an ear-to-ear grin after his 22-save night. “That night we got blown out by Portland, you have to put that behind you and go to the next game as confident as you can be, positive as you can be. It’s motivation next time you go in there to battle them.”
So when Patrick Holland scored for the Americans (34-15-2-1, 71 points) just 4:38 in, no sweat.
Once the Chiefs (34-15-3-2, 74 points) got on the power play, things changed. A snappy play, Tyler Johnson to Koper to Mitch Holmberg on a wide-open net produced the first Spokane goal at 11:03. A few seconds later there was another power play and Dominik Uher cashed in with a wrist shot from the bottom of the left circle that eluded Drew Owsley, who had handed Portland its first shutout of the season a night earlier.
Then at 16:45 Brady Brassart banged in a loose puck.
In the opening moments of the second period Owsley was injured and had to leave.
The Chiefs scored on their first shot, when Koper threaded a long pass across ice, that Johnson let go by and Blake Gal directed it past 16-year-old goalie Chris Driedger at 17:13. The Americans countered late in the period on a defensive breakdown with David Conrad scoring.
Spokane was up 4-2 in the third when Johnson tapped it in with 4:14 to play.
Then Johnson and Brenden Kichton added power-play goals.