Spokane Chiefs fans have watched Blake Gal play for five years, but they’ve seen a different side to him during the last month.
Injuries to defensemen Tyler King and Jason Fram have forced the Chiefs to switch Gal from right wing to defense.
Gal had never played defense in the Western Hockey League, but he did as a younger player.
“I think I just have to be … simple and limit the mistakes I make out there and just give the team the best chance to win,” Gal said of his defensive strategy.
“I feel like playing defense I can still help the offense a lot, getting pucks through and still getting points, but it’s definitely a step back from being so offensive.”
Gal will play in his 314th game with the Chiefs tonight at the Arena. Only six players, including teammate Brenden Kichton (323rd tonight) have logged more games with Spokane during its 28 years as a franchise. Gal has 67 goals and 88 assists during his career.
“I appreciate them keeping me here for five years,” Gal said. “It’s what I wanted to do, stay as a Spokane Chief for my whole career, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have that opportunity.”
The Chiefs selected Gal in the second round of the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft.
Gal traveled with the Chiefs during the 2008 playoffs and watched them sweep the Lethbridge Hurricanes to win the WHL Championship on the way to their Memorial Cup title. He didn’t get on the ice, but he did receive a championship ring.
It was strange for Gal to cheer against Lethbridge, his hometown. His father, Rick, played hockey for the old Lethbridge Broncos, who won the WHL title in 1983 and went to the Memorial Cup.
Older brother Taylor played for nearby Medicine Hat from 2007-10.
“Following in his footsteps is a big deal for me,” Gal said.
Sister Mackenzie, 16, follows in Blake’s footsteps. She travels an hour to play for a girls hockey team in Medicine Hat. She’s the same age Blake was when he became a regular with the Chiefs during the 2008-09 season.
Gal said his first season away from home and friends was a big adjustment, but roommates Jared Spurgeon (now with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild) and Levko Koper eased the transition. Koper ranks third in Chiefs history with 330 games played.
“They showed me how to do things, then I kind of got used to it and comfortable, and the years after that were a lot easier,” Gal said.
He and his good friend Kichton have been the Chiefs’ constants for five years. They are playing their final 12 regular-season games with Spokane before playoffs begin in a month.
“It’s amazing how time flies by, especially when you’re having fun and having successful seasons,” Gal said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet that it’s coming to an end, but I’m sure it will.”
Gal said his highlight this season was when the Chiefs made the Canadian Hockey League Top 10 rankings in mid-December.
Two of the teams in the current rankings will play in Spokane this weekend, starting with No. 3 Edmonton (43-13-2-3) at 7:05 tonight. No. 7 Kamloops (40-16-2-3) will be at the Arena on Saturday night. Gal expects his family to attend both games.
“Hopefully, we can turn it around here with a big weekend and we can show the hockey world that we are a team that can compete with those higher teams in our league,” Gal said.