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Former Chiefs achieve success at higher levels

Thu., May 31, 2012, 6:01 p.m.

Former Spokane Chiefs player Tyler Johnson, center. (Dan Pelle)
Former Spokane Chiefs player Tyler Johnson, center. (Dan Pelle)

There was a moment in the middle of March – much like one they had in 2008 – when forward Tyler Johnson and goalie Dustin Tokarski knew they were on a different kind of breakaway.

“It’s funny,” said Johnson, a Spokane native. “You look back and it felt like it happened really fast.”

In reality, “it” – the Norfolk Admirals’ 29-game winning streak, the longest in the world in professional hockey – happened over a two-month period.

Beginning on Feb. 10, the American Hockey League’s Admirals carried the streak through their final 28 games of the regular season and one game into the postseason – which still isn’t over for the pair of former Spokane Chiefs.

The Admirals and the Toronto Marlies meet Friday night for Game 1 of the AHL’s Calder Cup final.

“We got to six wins, and that’s a pretty good streak,” Tokarski said. “Then we got to 12 or 13 and we were all saying, ‘This is kind of crazy – how long are we going to carry this?’ “

“After that we just really didn’t want to lose – we didn’t want it to end,” Johnson said. “So we went crazy and passed the old record (of 18) and pushed it to 28 and then 29. It was absurd.”

The unprecedented streak was absurd, perhaps, but winning is something to which Johnson and Tokarski are accustomed.

The two were teammates on the Chiefs’ 2008 Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup championship team, and each has a World Junior Championships gold medal – Johnson with the United States and Tokarski with Canada.

“I was thinking about it the other day, and I’ve never been on a team that has missed the playoffs,” Johnson said. “There are teams now that have been done for a month and a half and are starting offseason workouts while we’re still playing. So I’ve been very fortunate.

“I don’t think winning is something you can ever get tired of – it’s why you play the game.”

Johnson and Tokarski aren’t the only ones from the 2008 championship team having success as they’ve made the transition from junior hockey to professional hockey.

David Rutherford and the ECHL’s Florida Everblades recently beat former Chiefs teammate Judd Blackwater and the Las Vegas Wranglers for the ECHL’s top prize – the Kelly Cup. Blackwater has also had stints in the AHL.

Defenseman Jared Cowen – the ninth overall pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft – is playing full time with the Ottawa Senators, while Drayson Bowman has spent the past three seasons splitting time with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and their AHL affiliate in Charlotte.

Like Johnson and Tokarski, who has been called up for a total of seven NHL games with the Tampa Bay Lightning over the past two seasons, defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Justin Falk are teammates again – with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.

Even Bill Peters, head coach in 2008, has moved up. After spending three seasons as head coach of the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, Peters is now an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings under another former Spokane Chiefs coach, Mike Babcock.

“I won’t ever forget that team,” Tokarski said.

“When you go through what we did together in 2008, it means a lot to see the guys going on and having success,” said Johnson, who hopes he has made a case to earn a shot with the Lightning next season.

“As of right now winning the Mem Cup was the biggest for me, because you only have four years to win and it was pretty special with the group of guys we had,” he added. “But this (Calder Cup) run is right up there.”

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