Chiefs’ special teams outshine Oil Kings
Spokane scores three power-play, two short-handed goals in win.
The Edmonton Oil Kings entered Friday night’s game in Spokane with the best penalty kill (90.1 percent) in the Western Hockey League.
Edmonton, the third-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League, had won 13 of its previous 15 games while the Spokane Chiefs had dropped eight of their last 12.
The Oil Kings brought to the ice the first- and third-ranked goaltenders in the WHL for save percentage. Spokane started backup goalie Garret Hughson, whose last win was Dec. 14.
All of those facts mattered little to the Chiefs, who went 3 of 5 on power plays and added two short-handed goals during a 6-4 victory before 10,125 fans at the Arena. The Chiefs lead the all-time series 5-1-0-0.
“If we were going to beat Edmonton, we knew we’d have to win the special-teams battle, and we did tonight,” said Chiefs captain Brenden Kichton, who assisted on all three power-play goals. “Our power play really stepped up, and it’s a good feeling because they’re the best penalty kill in the league.”
Spokane (35-24-2-0, 72 points) remained one point behind Tri-City (35-22-1-2, 73), the fourth-place team in the Western Conference. Both teams are headed to the WHL playoffs, as is sixth-place Victoria (69 points), but No.4 gets home-ice advantage in the first round.
Spokane’s Mike Aviani scored his 27th and 28th goals of the season, including a short-handed breakaway 3:21 into the game for a 1-0 lead.
“It was a great play by Dylan Walchuk making a good pass to me there,” said Aviani, who beat Oil Kings starting goalie Laurent Brossoit (.925 save average). “We just attacked them with a lot of speed and thank God it went in.”
Aviani and Mitch Holmberg, scoring his 35th goal of the season, had power-play goals less than 2 minutes apart in the second period for a 4-1 lead that Spokane took into the final period. The Oil Kings replaced Brossoit with Tristan Jarry (.934 save average) after Holmberg’s goal.
Hughson, who improved his record to 6-5, stopped 25 of 26 shots through two periods. He allowed three goals in the final period, including two by Cole Benson, who recorded his first career hat trick, but Todd Fiddler’s team-best 38th goal and Liam Stewart’s short-handed breakaway with 1:25 remaining bailed him out.
“It was (Garret’s) time,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “The other guy (Eric Williams) hasn’t performed lately like we’d like. Maybe he’s tired and maybe he needs a break, I don’t know. But it’s good the kid stepped up and had a big game. It’s good for his confidence and it’s good for the team’s confidence.”
Spokane will play its final game of the season against Kamloops at the Arena tonight. Kamloops has won two of three from the Chiefs this season and nine of its last 11 games overall.
Notes: The Chiefs reassigned 17-year-old defenseman Adam Power to the Spokane Braves in time for the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League playoffs. … The Chiefs added 16-year-old defenseman Colton Bobyk to their roster for this weekend’s games. Bobyk was Spokane’s 10th-round pick in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft.