Welcome back to the lineup, Mitch Holmberg.
Out for the past four games with an injury, the Spokane Chiefs’ leading scorer returned to the lineup to help fuel a 5-2 win over the visiting Kamloops Blazers Friday at the Spokane Arena.
Holmberg had a clutch second-period goal and a third-period assist as the Chiefs bested the top team in the Western Hockey League and the No.2-ranked team in all of the Canadian Hockey League.
“It felt good to finally get back out there and it felt real good to get the win against these guys,” Holmberg. “Anytime you miss a week, for that matter missing just a couple days, you’re going to feel some rust, and there were a couple chances that I would love to have back.”
After Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Everett, coach Don Nachbaur said his team played down to the level of its competition. Friday night, he said, was the opposite.
“That’s why you love games like this one,” he said. “You really get an idea of where you’re at.”
Against a team that features a single line with the top three scorers in the WHL, the Chiefs did a magnificent job limiting the Blazers’ chances in front of the Spokane net, even though they were outshot, 32-23.
In its offensive zone, Spokane kept digging away, creating opportunities for its forwards and against one of the top goaltenders in the league, Cole Cheveldave.
Kamloops scored early in the first. Jordan DePape got behind the Spokane defense for one of the few times on the night, took a smart pass from Matt Needham and beat Spokane goaltender Eric Williams at the 2:36 mark.
But the Chiefs battled back and evened the game with a short-handed goal late in the period. Brenden Kichton jumped a errant Kamloops pass and found Mike Aviani along the boards with a sharp pass. Aviani then found Todd Fiddler with a cross-ice pass and the winger beat Cheveldave cleanly for his 12th goal of the season.
Colton Valcourt picked up a double minor for high sticking as time expired in the first period, and Kamloops cashed in on the extended power-play opportunity. J.C. Lipon, the leading scorer in the WHL, found open space inside the face-off circle to the right of Williams and fired home a wrist shot to give the Blazers the 2-1 lead.
But the Chiefs clawed right back on the next shift, with Holmberg tapping in a loose puck that dribbled past Cheveldave.
“That was a big goal,” Nachbaur said. “To come right back at them and tie it back up, that was key for us.
“And I think that was the best third period we’ve had all year, and we’ve had some pretty good third periods.”
Spokane got a pair of first-time goals a minute apart to break the game open.
Rookie right winger Riley Wittingham scored his first career goal in the WHL on a feed from Fiddler and 57 seconds later defenseman Cole Wedman tallied his first goal of the season, snapping home a pass from Holmberg.
Dylan Walchuk capped the scoring with 1:36 left to play.
Williams continued his string of stellar outings in goal, turning in 30 saves.
Spokane now faces the red-hot Portland Winterhawks, winners of 10 straight after Friday’s 9-2 win at Vancouver.
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