The Spokane Chiefs and goaltender Eric Williams accomplished what has eluded the rest of the Western Hockey League.
Williams made 41 saves, Adam Helewka scored twice and Brenden Kichton netted the shootout winner Wednesday night to lead the Chiefs to a 5-4 win over the Portland Winterhawks at the Arena.
Spokane became the first team to win back-to-back games against Portland (37-7-1-2), which has dropped four consecutive games after winning 14 straight and 33 of 35.
“You have to respect what they can do because they’re a good offensive team,” said Williams, who was also in net Monday for Spokane’s 5-2 win at Portland. “But at the same time you have to have confidence that you can get the job done. We had success two days ago in Portland and it just carried over.”
Williams and Seattle’s Brandon Glover are the only WHL goalies with two wins over the Winterhawks, but Glover’s came four months apart.
Williams stopped eight shots in overtime as Portland carried over momentum from scoring twice during the final 4 minutes, 47 seconds of regulation to roar back from a 4-2 deficit. Williams was especially strong during the first part of the 5-minute period, when the Winterhawks were on the power play.
“We fought hard in overtime not to give up that goal and we were able to get it done in the shootout,” Williams said.
Williams stopped Portland’s Ty Rattie, Brendan Leipsic and Oliver Bjorkstrand during the shootout. Mitch Holmberg, who had three assists during regulation, and Helewka missed for Spokane (30-16-2-0) in the shootout before team captain Kichton beat Mac Carruth, Portland’s all-time leader in goalie wins.
“We had a 4-2 lead and we let it go,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “Whether it was nerves or us just not being made for the moment, they took it to us on our power play. They came back in the game and took all the momentum away. But we found a way to win in the end.”
Helewka, who had five goals heading in and hadn’t scored since Nov. 6, had his second two-goal game of the season with scores in the second and third period.
“I was lucky,” Helewka said. “My linemates really stepped up for me and set me up there. I just had to fiinish it. That’s all I had to do.”
Helewka also had a goal waved off for a Chiefs hand pass.
Helewka’s second goal, at 6:20 of the third period, gave the Chiefs a 4-2 edge. Spokane had a pair of power-play chances midway through the third, but the Winterhawks fought back with Troy Rutkowski’s short-handed goal with 4:47 left and Rattie’s tying goal 78 seconds later.
Former Chiefs prospect Rhett Gardner, part of the trade that brought high-scoring forward Alessio Bertaggia to Spokane from Brandon, announced that he will play hockey for the University of North Dakota rather than play in the Western Hockey League. Gardner, the Chiefs’ second-round pick in the 2011 Bantam Draft, has been playing for the Moose Jaw Generals’ AAA team.