Jeff Rayman picked the ideal time to record his first goal in the Western Hockey League.
The 17-year-old defenseman scored with 10 minutes, 45 seconds left on Saturday to give the Spokane Chiefs some cushion during a 6-3 win over the Prince George Cougars on Teddy Bear Toss night.
The Chiefs built a 4-0 lead during the first 14:08 of the contest and were protecting a 4-3 lead when Rayman provided much-needed breathing room.
“I walked the line and just tried to get the puck on net,” said Rayman, wearing the team’s yellow “Hardest-Working Player” hat after the game. “I looked up and it was headed for the top part. Dominic Zwerger had a great screen out front and he helped a lot on that goal.”
“We needed that, but we do it to ourselves,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “We struggle with how to play the right way and commit too many mistakes, too many pucks going off us and handing it to the other team. But just like the other night, when the game is on the line the guys came up with the plays.”
The game had the feel of a 2012-13 Chiefs contest, with Mitch Holmberg, Mike Aviani and Todd Fiddler filling up the scoresheet.
But Fiddler, Spokane’s top goal scorer last year, now plays for Prince George (12-18-2-3) after beginning the season in Moose Jaw. Fiddler, who had two assists and a goal as the Cougars fought back from the 4-0 deficit, has recorded 13 goals and 13 assists in his 16 games with Prince George.
“It’s not the uniform I want to see (Fiddler) in, but it’s fun playing … him, and there’s a lot of history with all of us,” Holmberg said.
Holmberg finished with two goals and two assists to match the game he had against the Cougars during a 5-2 win on Nov. 15. Holmberg, who has 12 multiple-goal games, leads the WHL with 74 points, 37 goals and eight winning goals.
He was credited with his eighth winner as his unassisted score on a rebound at 4:35 of the first period caused a record 6,767 teddy bears to cascade down on the ice.
Once the bears were transported off the ice about 15 minutes later, the Chiefs went to work again. Adam Helewka’s 15th goal, on a power play at 10:21, was assisted by Holmberg and Aviani – one of four assists on the night for Aviani. Jeremy McIntosh followed 2:07 later for his fourth goal of the season and second in two games. Aviani’s 25th goal, for a 4-0 lead, came 1:40 later and was his league-best 15th power-play goal of the season.
Then, the Chiefs fell into the style that produced a recent streak of eight losses in 12 games. Spokane went more than 35 minutes before Rayman’s score.
“We could have put our foot on the jugular vein of the snake, but we let them get back into the game,” Nachbaur said.
Rayman said he’d never come close to scoring before.
“This game was probably the most shots I’d ever had in a game,” he said. “I was firing from all angles and one decided to go in for me.”