Whether it’s 9-1 with head coach Mike Johnston or 4-3 with acting head coach Travis Green, the Portland Winterhawks find a way to get it done.
Adam De Champlain’s goal with 9 minutes, 20 seconds left Tuesday allowed the powerful Winterhawks to edge Spokane 4-3 at the Arena in the final Western Hockey League game before the holiday break.
The Winterhawks (29-5-1-0, 59 points) increased their lead over second-place Spokane in the U.S. Division while the Chiefs (23-10-1-0, 47) lost consecutive home games for the first time this season.
Portland won its sixth consecutive game and has won 25 of 27 since Oct. 9.
The game was a far cry from the other Chiefs-Winterhawks contest of the season, when Portland blasted Spokane 9-1 on Nov. 10.
It was also different because the Winterhawks have since been slapped with sanctions by the WHL, including the suspension of Johnston for the rest of the season. Portland was disciplined for player benefit violations.
The action puts Green, a former Spokane Chiefs player, in charge as acting coach. The game featured two former Chiefs serving as acting coaches, because Jon Klemm is filling in while Spokane’s Don Nachbaur assists Canada’s team at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
“It’s not the way you want to be put in position to be a head coach, but like the way we’ve dealt with anything in our organization, we try not to make a big deal out of things too much,” said Green, who had old friends in attendance.
Portland played without four key players who have been selected for tournaments. The Winterhawks also lost talented defenseman Derrick Pouliot to injury in the first period.
“Spokane has a good team, one of the best in the league,” Green said. “I’d like to say that I’m really proud of my guys tonight.”
It looked like it would be another long night for Spokane when Taylor Peters and Nicolas Petan scored for Portland during the first half of the opening period.
The Chiefs fought back as Todd Fiddler scored his team-high 24th goal with 5:29 left in the period and Mitch Holmberg added his 23rd with 1:43 to go.
Spokane outshot Portland 15-8 in the second period, which ended tied at 3 after Petan notched his second goal of the game, and his 24th of the season, and Fiddler gave Blake Gal a beautiful back feed with 3:25 left.
The Chiefs also outshot Portland (14-7) in the final period, but Mac Carruth held firmly in goal for his 103rd WHL victory.
“We still lost the game, it doesn’t matter what the score is,” Klemm said. “We have some work to do. We have to eliminate those mistakes and those turnovers. If we do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”
The Chiefs will take a nine-day holiday break and return for back-to-back games against the Kootenay Ice, Dec. 28 in Cranbrook, B.C., and Dec. 29 at the Arena.
The teams haven’t met this season.
“They have a good, young team and they play well in their building,” Klemm said.