When the Spokane Chiefs’ season ended 10 days ago, it was, as always, emotional for the 20-year-olds whose Western Hockey League careers were officially over.
“It’s pretty tough,” Tyler Johnson said. “These were the best years of my life. For them to be over is a shame. I’m really proud to be a Chief.”
Johnson, Levko Koper, James Reid and Jared Cowen contributed much to the most successful run the franchise history.
In the late summer of 2006, Johnson, Koper and Cowen arrived at training camp for a team coming off back-to-back losing seasons, the only time Spokane missed the playoffs in consecutive years.
Cowen, the heralded No. 1 pick in the bantam draft, wasn’t going to make the team as a spindly 15-year-old, but Koper and Johnson were hopeful 16-year-olds.
Only Koper made it, contributing three goals and two assists to a team that went 36-28-4-4 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
The trio reunited for the next training camp, which is when Reid showed up after being released by Everett. The three skaters were important pieces of a Memorial Cup champion, with Reid an emergency backup third goalie in the postseason.
Last week’s playoff-ending loss to Portland concluded a season with Cowen, Johnson and Reid first-team Western Conference all-stars, Johnson the conference MVP and Reid the Goaltender of the Year.
In the last four seasons the Chiefs, who had never put together more than three straight seasons with a winning record, won 50, 46, 45 and 48 games.
The most tangible record for the quartet is Reid, a two-year starter and one-year backup, winning 85 games, the most in franchise history. That impressive because he is only fifth in games played (128). His 13 shutouts are second.
Koper is third in career games played (330) and first in playoff games (62). A steady player who was drafted by Atlanta in 2009 but never signed, Koper finished in the top 20 in career goals (97), assists (129) and points (226).
Johnson, the local boy from Liberty Lake who graduated from Central Valley, had a phenomenal final season. With a league-leading 53 goals he had 115 points, the first Chief to surpass the century mark in 17 seasons.
Johnson ended up with 282 career points (seventh) on 128 goals (seventh) and 154 assists (10th).
Then there is Cowen, the team captain the past two seasons.
Offensive numbers hardly define a defenseman, but goals do. Not once in Cowen’s four years did the Chiefs allow 200 goals in a season.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, despite missing the second half of his second season with a major knee injury, was the first-round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators in the 2009 draft. Only one Chief, Pat Faloon, second overall in 1991, went higher.