Before the Spokane Chiefs can zero in on accomplishing their goals for the new season, they must first establish something basic: Who is going to protect those goals by trying to keep Spokane’s opponents from scoring any?
Of the two major roster decisions that must be made – which two goalies and which trio of overage players will stay in Spokane – the Chiefs’ goalie situation is certainly the most interesting. It’s tough to begin speculating on what decision head coach Don Nachbaur and general manager Tim Speltz will make.
While it’s difficult to imagine Spokane would carry two 19-year-old goalies – veterans Mac Engel and Eric Williams, who are both capable of starting full time – Speltz said it’s not out of the question.
“They’re both at the stage where they’re ready to play more than half of the games,” he said. “If we kept both, we have the best tandem in the league, hands down. In 2008, we had two veteran guys that were 18 and 19 and our 18-year-old ended up starting in the playoffs.”
Last season it was Williams, who was acquired at the trade deadline, who earned the top spot in the postseason – though he was only given the starting spot after Engel allowed 12 goals in the first two games (losses) against first-round opponent Vancouver.
Williams wasn’t terribly impressive when he was initially picked up in January, but when he was called on to replace Engel in the playoffs, he took full advantage of his opportunity. He carried Spokane into the second round against Tri-City, which Spokane hosts Saturday in its home opener after beating the Ams last Saturday in theirs.
Then he almost carried the Chiefs into the conference championship.
Williams started all seven playoff games against the Americans, finishing with a 2.50 goals-against average and .925 save percentage as the Ams slipped past the Chiefs in Game 7.
But, as Nachbaur has previously said, Williams’ playoff performance hasn’t assured him anything.
“Nobody is ahead of anybody here,” he said last Friday. “That’s just life.”
Engel is in his third season in Spokane and helped the Chiefs, with 29 saves, to a 5-2 win last weekend in the season opener at Tri-City.
Last season, Engel was 28-19-1-3, and his 28 wins ranked 10th in the league. Williams wasn’t the only one to display greatness at one point last season. In February, Engel posted a 9-2-0-0 record with two shutouts, a 1.83 GAA and .930 save percentage.
“What they did last year means nothing to me,” Nachbaur said. “They have to re-prove themselves.”
Engel and Williams aren’t just competing with one another.
In the hunt for the backup job is 17-year-old rookie Garret Hughson, who may have proven enough to secure the backup job – forcing either a trade or release for Engel or Williams, who have both already dealt with early minor injuries this year.
“In our situation we have a lot of things in our favor and we have some time to look at what suits us best,” Speltz said. “We got a chance to see our defense without (overage contender) Davis (Vandane) and this weekend we will see what it’s like with him.
“In goal it’s no different – we just have to keep evaluating where we are. We truly haven’t decided which way we are going just yet.”
They have until Oct. 10 to do so.
Speltz said returning import forward Marek Kalus will “definitely not play any games in October,” because of his undisclosed “upper-body” injury. … Saturday’s game at the Arena marks the eighth straight season and 21st time overall the Chiefs have opened at home against the Americans. Spokane has won its last four home openers, including a 7-2 win over Tri-City last year. In their last 11 home openers, the Chiefs are 9-1-0-1.