The 2013-14 Spokane Chiefs are perfectly capable of duplicating the solid record posted by the 2012-13 Spokane Chiefs.
But if they do, it’s not likely to be by the same method.
The Chiefs finished 44-26-2-0 last season with a team that ranked fifth in the 22-team Western Hockey League with 269 goals scored.
But five players who accounted for a big chunk of the offense – Brenden Kichton, Blake Gal, Alessio Bertaggia, Dylan Walchuk and Todd Fiddler – are no longer with the team. That leaves coach Don Nachbaur scanning the roster for potential goal-scorers to support Mitch Holmberg (39 goals last season) and Mike Aviani (30).
“Which one of the guys assumes the responsibility that, ‘Hey, I’m a go-to guy?’” Nachbaur said.
“That’s the key for me. We can all go out and play, but we need more than that. We need guys who are responsible to make plays and score goals every night.”
The Chiefs, who open the season tonight in Kennewick against the Tri-City Americans, may have concerns about their offense, but they return veteran leaders on defense and in goal.
Spokane ranked 11th in the WHL for goals allowed (230) last season, but the Chiefs are likely to improve that standing and develop into a team that wins with defense.
“We have a top four (who are) really good defensemen (Reid Gow, Tyler King, Jeremy McIntosh and Jason Fram),” Chiefs left wing Adam Helewka said. “Our goalies (Eric Williams and Garret Hughson) look good, too. We’re looking really strong on the back end.”
The tricky part may be locating a leader similar to Kichton, last season’s WHL Defensive Player of the Year.
“We have returning ‘D,’ but we don’t have a returning Kichton,” Nachbaur said.
Leadership should start with the team’s 20-year-olds, Holmberg, Aviani and Williams. Nachbaur expects 19-year-old Gow to help guide the younger defensemen.
“We have no overage (players) on ‘D,’” Nachbaur said. “I don’t think there’s another team in the league that’s going with that number. All our kids are 18 or 17 or 16 years old. And even though the 18-year-olds have three years under their belts, your best years at juniors are when you’re 19 and 20. It’s going to be a solid team commitment because if we leave that young ‘D’ back there by themselves, we’re not going to be winning a lot of games.”
The Chiefs bolted to a 23-8-1-0 start last season before hitting a midseason slump. They picked up their pace late in the regular season to capture the No. 4 playoff seed in the Western Conference.
“I’m not sure we’re going to duplicate that (start), but I think we have to be realistic,” Nachbaur said. “We have a lot of new guys in our lineup and it’s going to take us some time to find what a system is, because I think most of them came from someplace where there wasn’t that. They just played.”
The year’s schedule offers the challenge of playing eight of the first 10 games on the road. The schedule balances out in mid-October, when the Chiefs play five consecutive home games.
Home or away, Nachbaur preaches effort first.
“It’s not about size, it’s about being competitive,” Nachbaur said. “If you don’t like losing in cards, you don’t lose in cards. That’s the mentality that we’re going to have to assume.”