It’s hard not to get nostalgic when one gets away, especially with the opportunity the Spokane Chiefs had on Saturday night.
Facing U.S. Division-rival Tri-City for the first time in three weeks, the Chiefs had the chance to tighten the race with the Americans and close the gap to just five points in the standings.
On the heels of two-straight losses, and also having lost two straight to Spokane in their previous pair of games, the Americans had a different idea.
Brendan Shinnimin scored two goals – one short-handed and one on a power play – and Sam Grist scored the game-winner as the Americans earned a 5-3 victory over the Chiefs in Western Hockey League action in front of 9,819 fans at the Arena.
The Chiefs (32-16-4-3) started off with more jump in their game than in their previous two wins this week over the Seattle Thunderbirds, and were finally rewarded for their efforts when Mike Aviani scored his 12th goal of the season 16 minutes, 42 seconds into the period.
The momentum didn’t last long, though, as Justin Feser broke away and scored a short-handed goal with less than 10 seconds before the period ended.
“It’s a momentum swing, that happening right at the end,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said.
The Americans broke the game open and took a 3-1 lead in the second when Shinnimin scored both of his goals – first shorthanded at 12:18 and again at 17:56 on the power play, capitalizing on Chiefs defenseman Tanner Mort being caught playing without his helmet on. The Chiefs also had to kill two delay-of-game penalties for shooting the puck out of their zone and into the stands – one by Todd Fiddler in the first period, and again in the second by Brenden Kichton.
“You can’t give up opportunities like that on our mistakes,” Nachbaur said. “A guy playing without a helmet, that’s just a total mental mistake, and then it just compounded. I mean, we had two pucks we shot in the stands and you can’t be doing that – especially against a good team that’s in first place. You can’t give those opportunities.
“We can’t give up two short-handed goals – it broke our back.”
There was still hope for Spokane in the third.
With the Ams on the power play, Dylan Walchuk and Liam Stewart broke out of the neutral zone and Walchuk fed Stewart on the left post for the short-handed goal at 3:25. But Grist scored from the slot midway through the period, which proved to be the game-winner.
Mitch Holberg scored a power-play goal at 14:54 to bring the Chiefs back within one goal, but Jesse Mychan’s empty-net goal at 19:15 sealed the win for Tri-City.
“We got some of the momentum back in the third period, but we had nothing going in the second,” Nachbaur said. “We just kept giving them more opportunities. That wore some of our guys out. For me, we got what we deserved.”
Eric Williams faced 33 shots, turning 29 aside in net for Spokane.
“He was good – I have no complaints about our goaltending,” Nachbaur said. “I don’t think our forwards skated great – we sure didn’t match their speed – and we got caught from behind.
“They were much more desperate than we were in many areas.”
The Chiefs return to the Arena ice on Wednesday night when they host the Vancouver Giants.
Guesippe Bittalitto scored Spokane’s only goal in the Braves 6-1 loss to the Penticton Braves at Eagles Ice-A-Rena.
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