KENNEWICK – The Spokane Chiefs showed that they were going to work hard. Now they just have to work a little smarter.
Spokane opened its Western Hockey League season with a difficult road game at Tri-City and played with the tenacity expected from coach Don Nachbaur’s team, but it gave up three power-play goals in six chances, giving the Americans a 4-1 win before 5,599 fans at the Toyota Center.
“That’s an area we have to pay closer attention to,” Nachbaur said. “To score three power-play goals, that’s just your compete level.”
The outcome was much better than the 6-3 drubbing in last season’s opener here. The Chiefs recovered to win the season series 7-5 and beat the Americans in the playoffs.
“The boys had the work ethic,” veteran defenseman Brenden Kichton said. “A couple of minor breakdowns cost us a couple of goals, and special teams were the difference. … It’s the first game. We’ll learn from it and come out stronger.”
The Chiefs nursed a 1-0 lead as the game passed the midpoint, but Anthony Bardaro took a tripping penalty. It took just 16 seconds for Justin Feser of the Americans to cash in, blasting a shot from the point that appeared to deflect off a Spokane player.
Only 26 seconds later, at 12:02, Spokane’s Dominik Uher ran into Mason Wilgosh in the corner. A 5-minute checking-from-behind penalty and a game misconduct soon followed. It was barely a minute later, after he didn’t convert a 2-on-1, that Spokane’s Corbin Baldwin picked up a slashing penalty for whacking at goalie Ty Rimmer, trying to dislodge the puck.
The Americans used only 13 seconds of the 5-on-3 to score. Defenseman Michal Plutner dived in from the right point to take a pass from Patrick Holland and wristed a shot past Mac Engel.
“That was the momentum shift,” Nachbaur said. “Then we took a foolish penalty right after that.”
That was the only damage – although Holland missed a penalty shot less than 2 minutes after the second goal. The Chiefs were only outshot 3-2 during the 5-minute power play, but they couldn’t come up with the equalizer.
“We had chances … we’re just not real gifted as far as putting the puck in the net right now,” Nachbaur said. “That’s a mentality during practice.”
The Chiefs were a little shaky in the opening minutes but got a little traction when they went on a power play about 7 minutes into the game. Finally, on their third man-advantage opportunity, they broke through when a Kichton pass set up Bardaro with just less than 5 minutes left in the period.
Bardaro went around defenseman Mitch Topping in the left circle and slid the puck under the sprawling Rimmer.
After that slow start, the Chiefs matched the Americans with nine shots, and it was tied at 18 after two periods. Rimmer finished with 28 saves, Engel 22.
The third power-play goal, by Connor Rankin, came midway through the third period, when he slapped in a rebound. The Americans closed the scoring on Adam Hughesman’s empty-netter.
“(The young guys) aren’t the concern,” Nachbaur said. “It’s the contributions from the older guys. They can’t be satisfied with being close.”
The Chiefs did not designate a captain, as Kichton, Steve Kuhn and Uher wore A’s as alternate captains. … The Chiefs scratched goalie Zach Rakochy, 16-year-old defensemen Jason Fram and Tyler King, and veteran forward Mike Aviani, who was sick during the week. Also, 20-year-old Darren Kramer is still at Ottawa’s camp. … Uher could be facing a suspension for his major penalty.