The Tri-City Americans are home-wreckers.
The Spokane Chiefs’ eight-game Spokane Arena winning streak to start the 2011-2012 Western Hockey League season came to a screeching halt Saturday night. The Ams scored three first-period goals and chased goalkeeper Mac Engel out of the Spokane net 13:50 into the contest en route to a 4-1 victory.
But it wasn’t as if the Chiefs put up much of a fight.
Coach Don Nachbaur seethed behind the Chiefs’ bench throughout the game – when he wasn’t talking to himself.
“It feels like I was talking to myself all week for all the good it did,” he said. “What you saw out there was one team, Tri-City, all on the same page and you saw the other team (Spokane) with everyone all trying to go their own way. If we don’t buy into what we’re trying to do and do the things that we do well, we aren’t a very good team.”
Now 13 games into the season, Spokane has the fewest games played in all of the WHL, four fewer than the rival Ams, but Nachbaur wasn’t about to accept that as an excuse.
“Those games don’t do you any good if you don’t win ’em,” he said.
In fact, the Chiefs showed more life after the whistle than they did during the game. Typical for a Spokane-Tri-City game, pushing and shoving after the whistle is not just commonplace, it’s expected.
Spokane’s stick work was sloppy and continually left men open in the defensive zone – leading to three goals in the first 13:45.
Jordan Messier was left alone at the corner of the Spokane net during a scramble for a loose puck in front of Engel. When the puck floated shoulder-high in his direction, he redirected it down past the Spokane netminder 3:40 into the game.
On a 1-on-2 breakaway Nathan MacMaster fired a shot off Engel’s pads for an easy rebound and the Ams’ second goal at 12:47. Less than a minute later Adam Hughesman found a loose puck at the top of the face-off circle to Engel’s right and one-timed a slapshot past the helpless goalkeeper.
That caused Nachbaur to turn to Luke Lee-Knight to come on in relief for the first time this season.
“You have to be ready, but when the coach points to you like that it’s kind of a shock,” Lee-Knight said. “Those first couple minutes out there are pretty hairy, but after you make save and you get hit a couple times you forget about it and just play.”
Lee-Knight did not have to make a save to get through the last of the first period. He gave up just one goal in the third period, on a screened wrist shot by Drydn Dow from just inside the blue line.
“I didn’t get a very good look at it – there was a lot between me and him,” Lee-Knight said. “The trouble with that was it was my buddy from back home who scored. That’s the last thing you want to see, especially at home.”
The Chiefs have no time to ponder what went wrong and face Everett for the third time this season tonight.