Mitch Holmberg didn’t quite get the hat trick, but he wore the hat anyway.
Holmberg scored twice and Eric Williams made 26 saves Friday night as the Spokane Chiefs struck first in the Western Hockey League playoffs, turning back the Tri-City Americans 4-1 in Game 1 at the Arena.
Holmberg’s rebound goal at 13 minutes, 39 seconds of the first period gave the Chiefs a 3-1 lead. The teams’ offenses then dried up for nearly 39 minutes until Holmberg scored an insurance goal with 7:34 left.
Holmberg exited the celebrating Chiefs’ locker room wearing a 10-gallon orange foam cowboy hat, saying he had lost an undisclosed bet.
“I think we both had chances tonight and we got lucky and were able to slide a couple in,” Holmberg said.
The best-of-7 Western Conference series returns to the Arena tonight for Game 2. The Americans will host the third, fourth and, if necessary, fifth games.
Blake Gal, playing in his 48th playoff game for Spokane, scored 1:08 into the game. Alessio Bertaggia added a goal and an assist, and Brenden Kichton and Reid Gow had two assists apiece.
Williams lost his shutout bid in the seventh minute, on Brandon Carlo’s first career goal, but the Spokane goalie shut down the Americans after that.
“I’d like to have that (goal) back, but at the same time it was a good shot,” Williams said. “We battled back after that.”
“(Eric) was good, but I don’t think he had the quality tests that you normally see,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said.
The Americans thought they had scored late in the second period to cut Spokane’s lead to 3-2, but a review waived off the goal.
“I know they were celebrating like it was a goal and there was definitely a battle in front of the net, but I couldn’t tell you if it was in or not,” Kichton said.
“From where I’m standing, I don’t know,” Nachbaur said. “We’ll go along with what the video judge saw.”
The Chiefs killed off all four Tri-City power-play opportunities, including chances late in both the first two periods.
The game turned into a defensive struggle after Holmberg’s rebound goal on a power play.
“(Kichton) had a good shot from the point there and luckily it squared out to me and I just wanted to put it on there,” Holmberg said. “Thankfully, it went through his (T-C goalie Troy Trombley’s) arms.”
Trombley made his first career playoff start and played well after a rough first period.
“The first goals were hard ones to save and throughout the game he got better and better,” Holmberg said.
The game turned testy with 7 seconds left as scuffles broke out. The Americans were assessed four penalties, the Chiefs three. Both teams also had a major fighting penalty called for a postgame fight.
“It’s just emotions,” Nachbaur said. “I think both teams respect and dislike each other and it just comes from that.”
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