Spokane Chiefs defenseman Jason Fram and coach Don Nachbaur both thought Mike Aviani was set to attempt the winning shot.
Tri-City Americans goalie Eric Comrie was probably thinking the same thing, so Aviani decided on a different tactic.
Aviani fed Fram for the winning goal with 24 seconds left in overtime Saturday night as the Chiefs completed a rally with a 4-3 decision over Tri-City at the Arena.
“I was just trying to get there, just in case, to be an option,” said Fram, who labeled his fourth goal of the season and second winner as “probably No. 1 or 2” on his career highlights.
Mitch Holmberg, who tied the game at 3 with a power-play goal at 8:09 of the third period, started the winning play when he picked up the puck in Spokane’s zone. Holmberg fed Aviani, who skated unimpeded down the left side toward Comrie, but zipped a pass to Fram on the other side.
“When Mike got to center, I thought he could beat the guy wide and I was yelling, ‘Go, go, go,’ and he did beat him wide, but he makes a play back post, toughest save to a goalie,” Nachbaur said. “It’s nice to see we had fundamentals on that play.”
The Chiefs improved to 17-8-0-1, 35 points in the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division, in which all five teams have 30 points or more. The Americans dropped to 14-11-1-2, 30 points, and 0-3 against the Chiefs.
The Americans were the early aggressors, building a 3-1 first-period lead off just six shots against Spokane’s Eric Williams. Two of the goals were on power plays and the third, by Lucas Nickles at 5:50, came shorthanded.
“We talked about wearing them out, but I thought we made a lot of bonehead plays out there,” Nachbaur said. “We ran into sticks, we shot pucks into shin pads, we fell down. We looked like a tired team.”
Philip Tot’s power-play goal at 13:58 gave Tri-City its 3-1 lead. Williams stopped the Americans after that, stopping all 21 shots he faced for the next 50-plus minutes.
“We knew we weren’t playing our best and we had to pick it up,” Fram said. “I thought we pulled it off.”
Spokane native Keanu Yamamoto’s power-play goal with 1:03 left in the first period gave the Chiefs a mental boost. It was Yamamoto’s second goal of the season and the Chiefs’ 100th. It came on a 5-on-4 play soon after the Americans stopped Spokane’s 5-on-3 opportunity.
Play slowed dramatically in the second period as the teams combined for just 14 shots.
Holmberg’s third-period goal, his league-best 27th, was also his WHL-high 60th point of the season.
Comrie stopped a 3-on-1 Chiefs play with 7:32 left and turned back a good opportunity for Holmberg in the closing seconds of regulation.
“We dodged a bullet … but our schedule, coming off the road (from Portland) at 5 in the morning, it’s not like you’re sitting here (at the Arena) waiting,” Nachbaur said. “I thought we were really soft in a lot of areas, starting in our head.”
Spokane’s Cole Wedman had two assists after entering the game with three for the season.
The Chiefs played their third OT game in their last four contests.
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