The one meant more to Don Nachbaur than the 1,000.
The Spokane Chiefs unleashed three goals during the final 12 minutes Saturday night to dust off the Tri-City Americans 5-2 in the 1,000th Western Hockey League game for Chiefs coach Nachbaur.
“At the end of the day, 1,000 games doesn’t mean a whole lot unless you win and we won tonight, so it’s special,” Nachbaur said after the Chiefs’ final game at the Arena for almost three weeks.
Spokane leads the WHL with 12 home wins.
Mitch Holmberg scored the winner, finding an empty spot to the left of goaltender Eric Comrie and angling in a tough shot to snap a 2-all tie 8 minutes into the final period.
“I just wanted to get it on net as fast as I could and kind of surprise them,” said Holmberg, who has five goals and three assists in four games against Tri-City this season.
Liam Stewart added two insurance goals, the first with 1:38 left and the other, an empty-netter, just 45 seconds later.
The outcome allowed the Chiefs (17-7-1-0, 35 points) to sneak ahead of Tri-City (16-8-1-1, 34) for the third-ranking spot in the WHL’s Western Conference. The Chiefs are 4-0-1-0 against T-C this season and have outscored the Americans 22-14.
Nachbaur, 53, in his third season with the Chiefs, coached Tri-City for 423 games over six seasons. Before that, he coached 408 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Nachbaur’s career record is 534-382 with 84 ties.
Ken Hodge, Ernie McLean and Lorne Molleken are the other men who have coached 1,000 WHL games.
“It’s not a tribute or a milestone for me,” Nachbaur said. “It’s about the kids I’ve coached and it’s about all the people I’ve met in hockey.”
Spokane’s Todd Fiddler added one goal and one assist to continue a remarkable six-game run in which he’s had seven of his team-best 18 goals.
“Things are going my way, that’s for sure,” Fiddler said. “Confidence is the key in this league. I’ve got it going right now – a little luck here and there, but it’s going well.”
Fiddler’s goal, a hard shot through Comrie’s legs, came 1:16 into the middle period, set up by Mike Aviani and Brenden Kichton, and gave the Chiefs a 2-1 lead.
Crisp passing from Fiddler and Aviani led to Spokane’s first goal, and Blake Gal’s second of the season, at 12:02 of the first period. Gal, just back this weekend from an injury, also scored Friday during a 5-4 overtime loss on the Americans’ ice.
The Chiefs came up short on two power-play chances late in the first period. Right after the second opportunity slipped away, and 17 seconds before the period expired, the Americans’ Jesse Mychan scored his first goal of the season by tucking a shot into the right side.
Tri-City, which had a four-game winning streak snapped, hadn’t played in Spokane since Sept. 29.
The Chiefs, who have won eight of their last 11 games, will now make their yearly swing to the Eastern Conference, starting Friday at Swift Current.