Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani continued their torrid starts on Tuesday, but the play of other Spokane Chiefs provided the team with the biggest emotional lift.
Holmberg, Aviani and Dominic Zwerger scored two goals apiece and several players chipped in key assists as the Chiefs (6-1-0-0) became the first Western Hockey League team to knock off the Kelowna Rockets (5-1-0-1) in regulation with a 6-3 win at the Arena.
The victory boosted Spokane (12 points) into a tie with Seattle atop the Western Conference, but Seattle has played one more game. Kelowna is one point back.
Zwerger, an import player from Austria, had his first two goals as a Chief.
“It’s huge,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said of Zwerger’s goals. “We need secondary scoring, so we need other guys than Mitch and Mike scoring.”
Defenseman Jason Fram and right wing Riley Whittingham answered that call with two assists apiece. Six other Chiefs had one assist apiece.
“We can’t rely on Mitch and Mike to score all of our goals,” Fram said. “We need other guys to pop in and contribute.”
Holmberg added an assist to give him a league-best 21 points and 10 goals. Spokane’s third goal of the game was originally credited to Reid Gow, but replays showed that Holmberg tipped it in.
Aviani, who had Spokane’s first and last goals, improved to seven goals and seven assists for the season. His 14 points are tied for fifth in the league.
Eric Williams improved to 5-0 in goal for the Chiefs, stopping 34 of 37 shots. Two of Kelowna’s goals were on power plays.
“We blocked a lot of shots tonight, especially early on,” Williams said. “They had a couple of chances, and our captain (Gow) and rest of the back end were making my job easy.”
The Chiefs led 3-0 after the first period, despite being outshot 14-12. Kelowna also outshot the Chiefs 13-5 during the 1-all third period.
“We made a lot of mistakes that our ‘D’ had to cover up and our goalie had to cover up, and we were pretty fortunate,” Nachbaur said. “They put us on our heels at times, but we got through it and won the hockey game. We can’t be upset with that, but we can still be better.”
The Chiefs have outscored rivals 31-15 this season. The Rockets entered the game with a 31-16 scoring edge.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game headed in,” Fram said. “We didn’t play as good as we wanted to, but we got some lucky bounces and finished off for the win.”
The Chiefs travel to play Eastern Conference opponents Edmonton (Friday), Red Deer (Saturday) and Calgary (Sunday) before returning home next Wednesday to meet the Swift Current Broncos. Swift Current (11 points) is one game out of the conference lead with Red Deer (10) right behind.
Chiefs left wing Adam Helewka (lower body) and right wing Jacob Cardiff (upper body) are both listed as week-to-week.
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