The Spokane Chiefs honored their three over-age players for a Saturday night crowd of 9,056, by foregoing the introduction of their starting lineup for their Western Hockey League game with the Kootenay Ice, instead introducing Dylan Walchuk, Brenden Kichton and Blake Gal.
That trio returned the favor by sparking a solid, 6-3 win that boosted Spokane into a fourth-place tie in the U.S. Division after Tri-City lost in overtime to Prince George.
Gal, playing his 321st career game for Spokane, turned in two goals and an assist – all in the third period. Kichton, playing in his 330th career game, added a goal and two assists, and Walchuck, in his 180th career game as a Chief, spearheaded a line that shut down the Ice.
“Wally was really the unsung hero of the night,” coach Don Nachbaur said. “He really worked hard and played great defense – that was a pretty good line he shut down tonight.
“All three of them have been great kids and good players. That’s what you want from your over-age guys.”
For Gal, the pregame honors were especially nice.
“It seems like I just got here and it’s been five years,” he said. “It’s just flown by. It doesn’t seem possible that my time here is coming to an end.”
The Chiefs turned in a fast-paced game that matched tempo with the Eastern Conference Ice, but getting out to a 1-0 lead in the first period came courtesy of Eric Williams, who turned in a spectacular game in goal while turning away 17 Kootenay shots.
“That was key,” Nachbaur said. “(Kootenay) should have had a 3-1 or a 4-1 lead on us after one. He made some great saves and that made all the difference in the period.
“We came out and we skated, and when we skate like we did tonight, good things tend to happen. You have to score and sometimes you have to score ugly.”
Jason Fram gave the Chiefs the lead in the first period with a power-play goal.
Kootenay’s Joey Leach was whistled for hooking at the 6:22 mark and Spokane needed just 16 seconds to get a puck past goakkeeper Mackenzie Skapski.
Kootenay evened the score with a power-play goal of its own in the second period. Williams dropped to his knees to stop a shot from the right side and was pushed to his back by an Ice winger while his teammates took several swats at a loose puck and eventually scored.
Kichton’s goal put Spokane back in the lead by poking the puck across the goal line from between Skapski’s pads.
The Ice evened the score again to start the third period, but the Chiefs answered with a pair of goals to retake the lead, this time for good.
Mitch Holmberg scored on a great feed from Gal, then the pair reversed the process three minutes later for Gal’s first goal.
Gal got his second goal by punching home the rebound on a shot from Alessio Bertaggia, who added an empty-net goal for the second night in a row – giving him four goals and three assists in two nights.
“He’s been a great addition for us – he adds a real spark to our offense,” Gal said. “I was glad to have him on my line tonight.”