Call it a Red-Deer-in-the-headlights look.
The Spokane Chiefs surrendered their home ice win streak and first place in the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division with a 3-1 loss to Red Deer on Friday at the Arena in front of a home crowd of 5,118.
Spokane saw a 1-0 first-period lead evaporate in just over three minutes of the second and was never able to mount a comeback against the hard-skating Rebels – even while skating with an extra attacker and an empty net for the final 2:30 of the game.
“I think we got big heads after scoring eight goals Tuesday night,” team captain Brenden Kichton said. “Basically, we came out and laid an egg. We didn’t come out and play a good game at all.”
Spokane, now 11-6, is in second place in the division, a point behind Portland going into tonight’s game with Everett. The Winterhawks scored a 6-2 win over visiting Victoria on Friday.
The Chiefs took a 1-0 lead when Kichton scored at the 4:18 mark, converting assists from Mike Aviani and Todd Fiddler.
But as the game wore on, Spokane wore down. A first-period shots-on-goal advantage (12-5) evaporated in the second period and the Chiefs were ultimately outshot 31-30.
“I think we went out there looking for an easy game and you cannot do that,” coach Don Nachbaur said. “Our best guys were no good tonight. Our best guys have to be better.”
The exception, he said, was the play of goaltender Eric Williams, who turned in 28 saves. Williams made a series of exceptional saves, especially with his glove, in the second period as Red Deer peppered the net with 18 shots.
“Our keeper made this one respectable,” Nachbaur said. “This could have been a lot uglier.”
Spokane gave up the lead by taking penalties in the second period.
With Collin Valcourt already in the penalty box for interference, Dylan Walchuk took a hooking penalty to put the team two men down, and while the penalty kill successfully kept the Rebels at bay to get one man back, it couldn’t hold them off completely when Turner Elston’s crossing pass in the crease got carried onto the net on Fiddler’s skate.
Three minutes later, the Chiefs turned the puck over near center ice and the Rebels came back quickly when Elston fed Joel Hamilton on the breakaway and the winger deked his way to Williams’ stick side and backhanded a shot into the corner.
Red Deer defenseman Brady Gaudet whipped a wrist shot in from the point in the first minute to complete the scoring.
“We gave up a goal on the power play, we turned the puck over in our own end and lost a faceoff in our own end, and that was it,” Nachbaur said.
Kichton said the team would have find a way to put this game out of mind in order to face Everett tonight.
“It’s hard to do,” he said. “We’re going to talk about this one, but we’re going to have get it behind us because we have to come back and play again.”
Kichton said the absence of four veterans – Tanner Mort, Blake Gal, Mitch Holmberg and Marek Kalus – hurts when a team is struggling to find its equilibrium.
“It does, but we can’t use that as an excuse,” he said.