As opening nights go, Saturday couldn’t have gone much better for the Spokane Chiefs and the 9,348 fans at the Arena.
There was fan favorite Darren Kramer, the last of the pregame introductions, being named captain, much to everyone’s delight, an occasion he celebrated with a goal.
There was Anthony Bardaro scoring a pair of power-play goals 3 minutes apart midway through the first period, giving him Spokane’s first three goals of the season. He made it a real hat trick early in the second period after Steven Kuhn gave the Chiefs a 3-0 lead.
There were special teams successes, with a number of youngsters playing vital time, the power play going 4 for 12 and the penalty kill perfect in five tries.
And there were the rival Tri-City Americans, 3-0 on the season, including an opening 4-1 win over the Chiefs in the first game, losing their composure and falling 7-2.
For good measure, the Chiefs (1-1) dominated with eight defensemen, which means two played forward.
“We built some momentum with our power play,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “I thought early when the game was young we weren’t playing. We were watching, we were very tentative, we lost all the races. We went on the power play and scored a goal, that gave us life, a little more jump. … I didn’t see a lot of flow, where we dictated in the offensive zone.”
No one had more jump than Bardaro, 19, who had 24 goals last year.
“Any player wants an opportunity to show he can do more than they did in previous years,” Bardaro said. “Don’s given me a lot of support. He’s being hard on me, making sure I’m focusing, playing hard every day, so I can step into a bigger role this year.”
There was a lot of action packed into the second half of the opening period, starting when the Chiefs went on a power play at 9:08. Tri-City’s Patrick Holland hit the post on a partial break before the Chiefs went the other way to score on Bardaro’s give-and-go with Blake Gal, who was along the left wall.
Barely out of the box, T-C’s Brendan Shinnimin took another penalty. While he was killing it off, teammate Mason Wilgosh got his stick up, causing Mitch Holmberg to apparently lose teeth. That led to another Bardaro power-play goal from the right circle, a wrister just inside the near post.
Although the Americans ended up with a 13-10 shots advantage, the Chiefs skated out of the first period with a 3-0 lead, thanks to a steal by the forechecking Kuhn, who stole the puck in front of the net and beat 16-year-old rookie goalie Eric Comrie between his legs.
Bardaro got his third goal of the night and fourth on season when his pass on an odd-man break was blocked but the puck bounced right back to him for a tap-in at 6:05.
“I had a good preseason and I’m playing with good guys like Blake Gal and Collin Valcourt,” Bardaro said. “They’re big guys and that really opens it up for me.”
Less than 4 minutes later Kramer got an easy goal, courtesy of Holmberg, who came back at the start of the second period, put in along the boards to keep the puck end before his sensation pass to the new captain.
After Adam Hughesman put the Americans on the board at 15:12, a couple of more penalties gave the Chiefs a late 5-on-3, allowing Brenden Kichton to tee the puck up for a last-second slap shot that Valcourt redirected past new goalie Ty Rimmer.
Kuhn opened the third period with the fourth power-play goal in six chances, then the Chiefs misfired on the final six opportunities.
“The game was sloppy. We got out of our rhythm on the power play,” Nachbaur said “But when the game was on the line early in the third, we scored a power-play goal. That’s a vast improvement over the exhibition games and the first game.”
He was more concerned with the injury to Holmberg, who went to the dentist after the game, and the loss of defenseman Tanner Mort and rookie forward Liam Stewart in a game where the visitors obviously lost their composure.
“I don’t know if I want to comment. I know I had guys hurt,” Nachbaur said. “I didn’t see it and I haven’t viewed it on the video so it’s really difficult for me to comment. … We spent a lot of time on the power play.”
Kramer, who missed the season opener while at NHL camp, was all smiles after his first game as captain.
“It was a little bit of a shock because we have so many great leaders on this team, it’s a great honor,” he said. “So many other guys could be wearing this letter, I don’t think it changes anything too much.
“It always hurts to lose to that team. We had a full week to prepare and we came out and took advantage of the crowd.”
S-R photojournalist Colin Mulvany covered the Empire's home game against the Fever. Check out this photo gallery of game photos.
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