Mitch Holmberg’s remarkable season took an odd but successful twist on Wednesday night.
Holmberg scored shorthanded goals 1 minute and 38 seconds apart late in the first period and goalie Eric Williams made that stand up as the Spokane Chiefs snapped a three-game losing streak with a 2-1 decision over the Saskatoon Blades at the Arena.
Holmberg, who leads the Western Hockey League with 32 goals and 66 points, scored at 17:51 and 19:29 against the Blades’ Troy Trombley, who stopped the other 37 shots Spokane sent in his direction.
Both goals were assisted by Liam Stewart and happened after Chiefs defenseman Tyler King was called for a tripping penalty.
“That was definitely crazy and you don’t see that very often, and I think we were fortunate to get those breaks tonight,” Holmberg said.
“Mitch … scored those two shorthanded goals and I think those were the most desperate moments of the game, with the penalty kill,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “That’s when we became desperate and played hard.”
Spokane killed off all five Saskatoon power-play opportunities. Williams stopped 27 of 28 shots, several in spectacular style.
“Our goalie was special again,” Nachbaur said. “He’s the reason we got the two points.”
Spokane improved to 18-10-0-2, 38 points, breaking a fifth-place tie in the Western Conference with idle Seattle. Saskatoon (10-19-1-2) finished its swing through the U.S. Division 0-5 and has dropped 10 of its last 11 games.
Holmberg and Riley Whittingham are the only Chiefs with goals in the last four games. Although they are tied for third in the league with 109 goals, the Chiefs have been held to four goals in the last three games.
“I think we just have to get back to the way we were playing at the start of the season,” said Stewart, who was honored Tuesday by being selected to Great Britain’s team for the U20 World Championships. “We haven’t been playing to our full potential, and I think if we get back to that way we’ll go back to our winning ways.”
Spokane finished 0 for 4 on the power play and is 1 for 17 in its last four games.
“It’s too slow,” Nachbaur said. “Everything’s too slow. Our team thinking and our team response to everything is too slow.”
Nachbaur said Spokane’s emotions picked up when Whittingham was flattened by David Nemecek at 12:33 of the second period. Whittingham remained on the ice while the Chiefs’ Mike Aviani duked it out with Nemecek, sending both to the penalty box for 20 minutes (Nemecek) and 17 minutes (Aviani). Whittingham returned for the third period.
All of the scoring was completed by 1:03 of the second period, when Brett Stovin took a nifty pass from Matt Revel and cut Spokane’s lead to 2-1.
Holmberg increased his career total to 117 goals, moving into ninth place on the Chiefs’ all-time list. His 244 points rank 14th.
Chiefs captain Reid Gow is listed as week-to-week with an upper-body injury. Gow is third in Chiefs scoring with 33 points, all assists.