Brenden Kichton’s smile as he exited the locker room on Saturday night said it all.
While fans enjoyed cheap food and a game dedicated to members of the military, the Chiefs engaged in a battle on the ice. One night after losing a heartbreaker in overtime, they found some enjoyment of their own.
Kichton buried a top-shelf goal from the slot 3 minutes, 10 seconds into overtime and the Chiefs overcame a three-goal deficit in a 5-4 Western Hockey League victory over the Kootenay Ice in front of 8,412 fans at the Arena on Saturday night.
“Everyone’s pretty happy – especially battling back like that,” said Kichton, who also recorded an assist on the night to pass Chiefs assistant coach and two-time Stanley Cup champion Jon Klemm for sixth on the Chiefs’ all-time career assist leaders among defensemen.
“You’re never going to win unless your best players are at their best and ours made some key plays tonight – it’s the bottom line,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said.
“It’s fitting that one of our top players scored the winner.”
It was a happy moment for a team that was down early in the game after Joe Antilla, Dylen McKinlay and Elgin Pearce all scored on Chiefs starting goalie Mac Engel to give Kootenay a 3-0 lead after the first period. To make matters worse, their three goals were scored on six total shots against Spokane (27-14-4-3) in the period.
“I think Mac would say that he didn’t play well,” Nachbaur said. “Some of those pucks, quite possibly, he could have made saves on.”
Nachbaur pulled Engel after the period and replaced him with Eric Williams, who made 18 saves – including several big-time stops in the final part of the game.
“We made the goal change and Willy was outstanding,” Nachbaur said. “He just stood on his head and he gave us the belief and I thought we took over the energy.”
Beyond picking up momentum, the Chiefs had to find the back of the Kootenay (27-15-4-4) net against goalie Nathan Lieuwen – who didn’t make it easy. The Buffalo Sabres prospect made 41 saves in total and earned first-star honors despite the loss.
“Everyone was kind of pissed off (after the first), but our leaders stepped up and got the ball rolling and that’s what we needed,” Kichton said. “He made so many saves. Finally with enough shots we beat him.”
Todd Fiddler found the first opening on Lieuwen at 12:18 in the second period when he buried the rebound of a Mitch Holmberg shot.
Marek Kalus brought the Chiefs within one goal when he tipped in Kichton’s shot from the top of the left circle at 14:06.
Mike Aviani, who Nachbaur singled out as having a tremendous impact on the night, was credited with an assist on the play.
“With the goals in the second period, the momentum swung our way,” Nachbaur said. “We were in the hole right from the get-go. Boy, they play solid – very opportunistic – but I thought as the game progressed we got stronger and stronger and played more of our style.”
Before going forward, there was one more step back. Antilla increased the Ice’s lead to 4-2 at 12:08 in the third period and the Chiefs had to do some more grinding.
Defenseman Corbin Baldwin answered with a power-play goal from the slot at 14:31 on the front half of a spearing double-minor on Kootenay’s Jesse Ismond to bring the Chiefs within a goal. Aviani wrapped around the back of Lieuwen’s net and fed Darren Kramer at 17:16 on the far post – where Kramer buried the equalizer on an open left side of the net.
“We got some life (on the power play),” Nachbaur said. “The Aviani line (Kramer-Aviani-Blake Gal) that came out and tied the game … those are the types of goals we score. Aviani coming around and stuffing the puck and Darren depositing it in the empty net was a great effort.
“Tonight, in all, was a great effort and we’re happy with the win.”