First place wasn’t on the line, but pride – that’s always on the line.
It just doesn’t matter where these teams sit in the standings. When the Spokane Chiefs and Tri-City Americans share the ice, a grudge match ensues between U.S. Divisions rivals.
This time it was a matchup of the top-ranked Americans – not only in the Western Hockey League, but the Canadian Hockey League – and the Chiefs (22-13-3-3), who are third in the division and fifth in the Western Conference. This time, it was newest Chief Dylan Walchuk who found himself in the right place, at the right time, to score to winning goal in Spokane’s 5-3 win over the Americans (33-9-0-0) in front of 9,667 Arena fans on Saturday night.
Walchuk’s power-play goal came 7 minutes, 5 seconds into the third period. Chiefs defenseman Brenden Kichton threw a shot in from the lower-right circle, the puck bounced off Steve Kuhn’s stick, and Walchuk swung at the perfect moment.
The victory came one night after Spokane blew a three-goal lead to lose to the last-place Everett Silvertips in overtime, and one night after the Americans gave the Vancouver Giants an 11-4 pounding in Vancouver.
“Really gutty,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “I thought our guys managed the puck real well, we had some key moments in the game where we turned some pucks over, but I thought the desperation in our game was exemplified by the last penalty kill.”
That would be the penalty Spokane was forced to kill courtesy of a hooking call on Walchuk, whose winner was his first goal at the Arena.
The hook was called with less than 5 minutes remaining in regulation and a 4-3 Spokane lead.
“That (goal) is something I’ll never forget,” Walchuk said, before being prodded about the untimely penalty.
“Thank God the guys had my back there,” Walchuk said. “I was pretty nervous sitting in the (penalty) box.”
The Americans drew first blood in the game when Drydn Dow scored 4:17 into the first period.
Spokane took a 2-1 lead when Dominik Uher scored on a feed from Kichton at 4:48. Less than a minute later, Uher assisted Todd Fiddler, who potted a wraparound goal that deflected off Tri-City goalie Ty Rimmer’s pad. Fiddler has five goals and five assists in his nine games with Spokane.
Tri-City’s Brendan Shinnimin knotted the score back at 2-all at 18:18.
Blake Gal gave Spokane a 3-2 lead before the Ams’ Sam Grist scored his first goal of the season and forced another tie as the teams skated off the ice for the second intermission.
Chiefs goalie Mac Engel stopped 31 of 34 shots and Spokane was 2 of 4 on the power play – which Kichton credited as the biggest difference in the game.
“It’s always a battle (with Tri),” Kichton said. “Everyone battled tonight. The power play has been struggling a lot lately and we finally managed to get a couple of goals tonight, so we’re pretty happy about that.”
Spokane hosts the Seattle Thunderbirds Monday afternoon at 2 p.m.