Not distracted by their surroundings and with a sense of urgency born from an uncharacteristic poor outing, the Spokane Chiefs made the Rockstar Outdoor Hockey Classic memorable.
They simply rocked.
Jumping to a 4-0 lead 12 minutes into the first outdoor game in Western Hockey League history, the Chiefs crushed the Kootenay Ice 11-2 Saturday afternoon before 7,075 fans at Avista Stadium.
“The experience was awesome,” defenseman Tyler Vanscourt said after contributing two goals. “Everybody had a good time. I’m definitely glad we played that well. It was good for us.”
Not so much for the Ice.
“It was a good experience to play in this outdoor game but the result is not what we wanted,” defenseman Brayden McNabb, captain for the Central Division leaders, said. “An 11-2 loss is pretty embarrassing. It just seemed like when we came out of the gate we weren’t firing, we were kind of standing still and they jumped on us.
“We didn’t really follow up in the second, either. It was a terrible 40 minutes. It’s definitely pretty embarrassing.”
Collin Valcourt scored less 6 minutes in and the Chiefs were up 4-0 when Vanscourt scored at 12:21 of the first period, following goals by Blake Gal and Brenden Kichton.
“You couldn’t ask for a better ending – or a better start,” Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. “We started the way we had to build some confidence after last night. They’re a good team. We played well tonight, last night not so good, they were dominating. Tonight it was the reverse.”
Kootenay won 6-2 Friday in Cranbrook, B.C., but the game was delayed an hour after the Chiefs’ bus spent three hours stuck behind an accident and they never got to warm up before their seven-game winning streak came to an end.
The Chiefs (26-11-3-2, 55 points) scored on 3 of 5 power plays after going 1 of 6 and killed all four penalties after giving up two power-play goals.
The Ice (29-13-1-2, 61 points) got a goal from Elgin Pearce in the last minute of the first period but that didn’t create any momentum as Gal scored just 1:43 into the second, ending the game for Ice goalie Nathan Lieuwen.
“We just came together as a team after last night’s game,” Gal said. “We got our butts kicked there so we had to come back here and try to do the same and we did that.
“We got that extra skate in here (Thursday), got to know the ice and the boards. They came in here knowing nothing, I think that helped us.”
Brett Teskey didn’t fair any better in the Kootenay goal. Tyler Johnson notched his league-leading 33rd. Then the Ice picked up two quick penalties and Dominik Uher cashed in on the 5-on-3, Vanscourt on the 5-on-4, making it 8-1 and the game wasn’t even halfway over.
“I thought they’d come out ready again but we just had a good start and carried on from there,” Vanscourt said.
It got worse as Steve Kuhn blocked a shot and turned that into a breakaway goal at 11:02.
“Obviously we were pretty excited to play in this game,” Kuhn said. “It was a pretty special feeling coming out here. I felt like myself, as well as our line, had a lot of energy tonight.
“This is not our first year in the league. Obviously you’ve got some jitters but I think we handled it well and used it to our advantage.”
When captain Jared Cowen bombed a slap shot from the right circle at 13:08, the fourth goal from a defenseman, the Chiefs reached double figures for the fourth time this season.
Mac Engle replaced James Reid in the Spokane goal to start the third and he gave up an early goal to Joe Antilla, but Matt Marantz got that back as the Chiefs matched their season high. It was the 10th goal for Marantz, and the same for Kichton, giving Spokane eight players with double-figure goals.
“Unbelievable,” Nachbaur said. “Our guys really enjoyed themselves. It was like you were on an outdoor rink, scoring 11 goals, and everybody was chipping in. I don’t know that there was a guy that played that didn’t have fun. I know I did.”
The Chiefs have little time to savor the win, playing in Everett tonight and Chilliwack on Tuesday before Kootenay returns to Spokane on Friday.
“It’s a pretty special feeling playing in the outdoor game, obviously, but all-in-all that’s a big two points,” Kuhn said. “It’s a good feeling to get those two points.”
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