There wasn’t much Spokane Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur liked during his Tuesday trip to Seattle.
His team lost a close game – though it probably shouldn’t have even been close – and also neglected to take care of what needed the most protection that night: the puck.
For Spokane Chiefs rookie Adam Helewka, however, Tuesday wasn’t a completely terrible night after he scored his first Western Hockey League goal. Flash forward to Friday – same names, same faces – as Spokane hosted the second part of the home-and-home series against the Seattle Thunderbirds at the Arena.
Only this time they managed the puck. And this time, Helewka scored his second and third career WHL goals as Spokane beat Seattle 2-1 in front of 4,813 fans.
“You’re going to have to win games 2-1,” Nachbaur said. “It wasn’t fancy. No, no. It was hard-working. And we took some steps, because the last game we made so many mistakes with the puck.”
The Chiefs weren’t prepared to allow the same mistakes to happen on home ice – where they’re undefeated in five games.
Even so, after the first period Spokane trailed 1-0 after Brendan Troock scored his second of the season on a power play 6 minutes, 24 seconds into the game by swatting in a rebound that got behind Chiefs goalie Eric Williams.
“But our guys heard us about Tuesday, and they managed (the puck) a lot better today,” Nachbaur said. “Listen, there are a lot of young guys on our team – some were here last year but only played 40 games or so – so we’ve still got a long way to go in terms of doing things the right way and developing.”
That includes guys like Helewka, who found himself in the low slot at the intersection of preparation and opportunity 17:37 into the second, and he buried his shot on assists from fellow rookie Riley Whittingham and veteran forward Connor Chartier.
Helewka scored the winner midway through the third – veterans Cole Wedman and leading scorer Mitch Holmberg recorded the assists – and Spokane kept the Thunderbirds scoreless in the final two periods to pick up another two points in the standings.
“Coincidentally, we only gave up 15 shots,” added Nachbaur, whose Chiefs recorded 35 shots on Seattle’s Justin Myles. “Can’t be mad at our guys for that.”
If anything, Nachbaur can be frustrated – in the good way – about the fact the shots and chances were definitely there, but the bounces weren’t, for the most part, going Spokane’s way for a lot of the game.
“We shoot it off the glass and we score and maybe break the game wide open,” said Nachbaur.
“We did have quite a few chances,” added Helewka. “It was a much better game for us. I think we took another step forward.”
And it was a huge bonus for Spokane, which, until now, has mostly been getting points from veteran players. They’re going to need to be able to rely on some secondary scoring, though, as they’re dealing with some major injuries.
Overage forward Blake Gal is out indefinitely after injuring his knee Tuesday, and import forward Marek Kalus remains out for at least a month with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Defenseman Tanner Mort, a Post Falls native, is also sidelined, but is day-to-day and could return to the lineup next week.
“They’re all contributing,” Nachbaur said. “And we need that … we’ve got to find our long-term depth. It’s a good chance for the young guys.”
Spokane (7-3-0-0) is third in the U.S. Division with 14 points. Tri-City (8-3-1-1, 18 points) and Portland (7-3-1-0, 15 points) are first and second, respectively. The first-place Americans have played three more games than Spokane, and the Chiefs have one game in hand over the Winterhawks. Seattle (5-4-0-0, 10 points) is fourth.