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Spokane Chiefs hold off Tri-City Americans

Holmberg’s hat trick too much for Ams

Eleven seconds.

That’s how long it took for Justin Feser to take advantage of an ugly bounce and for Tri-City to frustrate the nearly 9,000 fans that made their way to the Arena on Saturday night to watch the Spokane Chiefs’ Western Hockey League home opener.

The Chiefs, however, had an answer for everything the Americans threw at them and with two swift goals late in the third period – one of which gave veteran Mitch Holmberg his first hat trick of the season – Spokane picked up a 5-3 win over their U.S. Division rivals.

“It was a moment … we didn’t want that to happen,” said Holmberg. “It kind of took the fans out of the game.”

“It’s not like we weren’t prepared,” added Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur. “It was a simple bounce off the wall and Feser made a great shot. We regrouped … and I thought it was a good first period for us.”

Especially when, after a couple of botched chances, Jason Fram came up with the equalizer 12:01 into the period and Spokane went into the locker room with a 10-6 shot advantage at first intermission.

“It was nice to get one back not too long after that and take the momentum back,” said Holmberg.

Spokane carried that momentum into the second period – when it became an even tighter defensive matchup, even if the Chiefs were a little shy on the forecheck.

Both goalies came up with key saves in the middle period – especially Tri-City’s Eric Comrie, who kept Spokane scoreless on two power-play opportunities in the period.

Though it wasn’t as quick as the Americans did in the opening period, Spokane took a 3-2 lead early in the third when Holmberg got a shot past Comrie for his first of the night on assists from Colin Valcourt and Mike Aviani at 1:02.

The Americans had an answer at 5:12 when Malte Stromwall knotted the score at 3-3, but Holmberg’s second of the night came a minute later on a Chiefs power play and Spokane regained the lead – which seemed safe for most of the period.

“It’s pretty easy when you’ve got 9,500 fans hootin’ and hollerin’ at your first home game,” said Holmberg. “Everyone was excited, and we had an adrenaline rush going.”

That was spoiled at 15:47 when the Americans again tied the score, this time with a goal from Marcus Messier.

With how many times Spokane and Tri-City have gone into overtime in the history of their rivalry it seemed the teams were headed for extra ice time.

But Aviani struck for his second of the season and the winner at 17:05 and about 20 seconds later Holmberg notched his third of the night.

“My oldest guys played well,” said Nachbaur. “It wasn’t a great game for us. The results were nice but we’ve got lots to learn in terms of playing the game the right way. We played the game really loose.

“Our forecheck wasn’t great and we spent way too much time in our end, and that’s just competing. We didn’t compete nearly hard enough.”

Ice chips

Goalie Eric Williams finished with 22 saves a week after fellow 19-year-old veteran Mac Engel stopped 29 of 31 shots in a 5-2 win over Tri-City in Kennewick. … Overage defenseman Brenden Kichton was named team captain in a pregame ceremony.

Chiefs 5, Americans 3

Tri-City 1 0 2 3
Spokane 1 0 4 5

First Period— 1, Tri-City, Feser 2, 0:11. 2, Spokane, Fram 1 (Walchuk, Gal), 12:01. Second Period—None. Third Period—3, Spokane, Holmberg 2 (Valcourt, Aviani), 1:02. 4, Tri-City, Strömwall 3 (McCue), 5:12. 5, Spokane, Holmberg 3 (Walchuk, Gow), 6:20 (pp). 6, Tri-City, Messier 1 (Tot, Plutnar), 15:47. 7, Spokane, Aviani 2 (Chartier, Kichton), 17:05. 8, Spokane, Holmberg 4 (Walchuk, Gow), 17:24. Power-play Opp.—Tri-City 0 of 5; Spokane 1 of 4. Saves—Tri-City, Comrie 9-11-6—26. Spokane, Williams 5-6-12—23. A—8,867.

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