Darren Kramer’s smile said it all. It was a fitting home finale for the Spokane Chiefs.
On a night when they presented their team awards, including the coveted Players’ Player going to Kramer, the Chiefs celebrated by showing off their depth with a 5-0 whitewash of the Seattle Thunderbirds at the Arena Friday night.
Backup goalie Mac Engel made 23 saves and the fourth line of Mike Aviani between Kramer and Collin Valcourt kick-started the offense as the Chiefs reached 100 points for the fourth time in franchise history and kept hot on the heels of league-leading Portland with their ninth straight win.
“It’s a real honor. You know you’re chosen by your teammates as one of the players that plays for the team,” Kramer said of the award, along with Rookie of the Year, that drew loud ovations from the 9,734 fans.
He showed his appreciation by assisting on Valcourt’s goal just 2:31 into the game and then scoring at 11:14.
“I owe a lot to my linemates, two young guys that work so hard and make it so fun to play with,” Kramer said. “As much as I like to open it up for them, they open it up for me.
“Just getting the puck to the net, making smart plays and keeping it simple really worked for our line.”
Now the Chiefs (47-17-4-2, 100 points) need to win at Tri-City tonight to set up a Sunday showdown in Portland (101 points) for the top seed in the Western Division. Seattle (27-34-4-5, 63) was officially eliminated.
The game showed why the Chiefs, instead of going through an expected rebuilding year, came within one point and one win of the home records set by the 1990-91 team (28 wins, 57 points) in the old Coliseum.
“Good game,” coach Don Nachbaur said. “We did what we had to at home in our final game. A strong first period and a strong third.”
Third-line center Anthony Bardaro had the highlight play to make it 3-0 late in the first period, weaving his way through the Seattle defense before cutting across the crease from the left to surprise Seattle goalie Calvin Pickard.
That seemed to make the Chiefs content, as they coasted through the second period without scoring, even with four power-play chances.
Engel, who is second in the league in goals-against average and matched regular starter James Reid’s four shutouts, picked up the slack.
“He was awesome,” Nachbaur said of Engel. “He made some saves. When it was 3-0, he made a big save at the end of the second period that could have switched the momentum.”
A minute into the third period, Blake Gal set up Matt Marantz for his 20th goal, making him the eighth Chief to reach that benchmark, tying the 1995-96 team for the most players with at least 20 in a season.
Gal capped it with an empty-netter.
Nachbaur wasn’t bothered that the top line came up empty, as did the league’s best power play in seven chances against the No. 19 penalty kill.
“They had chances,” he said. “It was one of those snake-bitten nights for them. I’d be really concerned if they didn’t have chances, but they had chances and just didn’t put it in.
“It’s been going on all year. I’m so proud I have the luxury as the coach to trust everybody on the front end that I can roll four lines. They play a simple game but give us a lot of energy and play the right way. Tonight they really got us going.”
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