KENNEWICK – When the Spokane Chiefs and Tri-City Americans last met, a trip to the conference championship series was on the line.
That didn’t go Spokane’s way.
On Saturday, a season-opening win was at stake when the U.S. Division rivals met in the Western Hockey League opener for both teams – and the Chiefs walked the line.
Spokane scored three goals in the final 3 minutes of the second period and goalie Mac Engel – who is in a three-way race for two roster spots – stopped 29 shots as the Chiefs beat the Americans 5-2 in front of 5,227 fans at the Toyota Center.
Tri-City had won 11 straight home openers – six of those against Spokane. The Americans’ last home-opening loss was in October 2000 when Spokane beat them 8-0.
“We came out hard at the start and I think throughout we played a solid team game,” said Chiefs forward Mitch Holmberg, who finished with a goal and two assists.
It was Todd Fiddler’s goal midway through the second that broke a scoreless tie to give Spokane the 1-0 lead.
Then, 17 minutes, 38 seconds into the middle period, sophomore Liam Stewart scored on a feed from Holmberg for Spokane’s first power-play goal of the season. Mike Aviani followed at 18:34, burying a bounce off the back board, and Holmberg scored the final goal of the period at 19:26 on an assist from Carter Proft.
The third period wasn’t as solid for Spokane, as the Chiefs seemed to allow the four-goal lead to relax them.
“We came out and we weren’t making proper plays,” Holmberg said. “We just weren’t ourselves.”
That opened the door for the Ams to spoil Engel’s shutout bid – which Tri-City rookie Parker Bowles did with some fancy stick work in front of Engel at 11:53. Malte Stromwall added another goal for the Ams at 17:48 as the Chiefs were outshot 12-3 in the final period.
Had Engel not come up with a huge 1-on-1 save at 13 minutes when Ams captain Justin Feser went on a breakaway, Tri-City could have done even more damage than Spokane allowed in the final period.
The Ams turn around and play again today, while the Chiefs have the week to prepare for their home opener on Saturday when they host the Americans.
Aviani, Dylan Walchuk and Brenden Kichton all wore the assistant captains’ ‘A’ on their jerseys. Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur has said his goal is to name his captains before the home opener. … D Cole Wedman finished with an assist, as did D Reid Gow, Proft and Stewart.