If three’s a crowd, imagine what it’s like when nearly 8,000 people are letting you know how they feel.
There were 7,713 fans on hand Saturday night at the Arena to watch the Spokane Chiefs welcome back recently traded goalie Mac Engel – who is now playing nearly 700 miles north for the Prince George Cougars.
The fans had a lot more to say than usual – mostly a warm welcome for Engel, who started in net opposite Spokane rookie Garret Hughson, and most definitely a sincere disdain for a handful of penalties assessed to the Chiefs, mostly in the second period. The crowd’s most important input of the night, though: Letting Chiefs overage forward Dylan Walchuk know that with 24 seconds left, he’d done it.
“There was a nice play by (Connor Chartier) to get the puck out front, and I was just hoping for something,” said Walchuk, who scored the late goal on Engel to give the Chiefs a 3-2 Western Hockey League win over the Cougars.
“I knew I had kind of gotten my stick on it, but I didn’t even know it went in at first,” Walchuk said. “I just heard the crowd and kind of figured it out.”
The play was an appropriate finish to a wild game.
The Chiefs dominated the first period, outshooting Prince George 14-1 and taking a 2-0 lead with a pair of power-play goals.
Mike Aviani scored 8:54 into the period, finishing a play that began with defenseman Jason Fram’s shot from the left circle, and Tyler King scored his first of the season later in the period on assists from Aviani and Todd Fiddler.
Fiddler had a chance to make it a three-goal period midway through on a short-handed breakaway, but shot right into Engel’s pad and the former Chief easily covered up the puck.
“We got pucks to the net, we were working hard, we were getting pucks deep, we were getting bodies to the net, and we were successful and came up with a couple goals,” Walchuk said.
“Outstanding period,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said.
But the game got away from Spokane in the second when the Cougars scored two late power-play goals of their own.
It was the first real test of the night for Hughson, who made 14 saves in his WHL debut, and the goals were the result of a questionable interference call on Aviani and a tripping call on Mitch Holmberg that gave Prince George a two-man advantage.
“We kind of let our feet off the gas,” Walchuk said. “They got back in the game, but we got going in the third to pull away with a win. We knew we needed to get pucks to the net and crash the net, and that’s what we did. I thought we put in a good effort and it paid off.”
The Chiefs aren’t done playing against Engel just yet. Spokane (8-3-0-0) heads north to Prince George to play the Cougars on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We know Mac is a good goalie and we knew he was going to come in here wanting to play his best and steal one from us,” Walchuk said. “Mac’s a good friend of ours and it was good to see him out there doing well.”