KENNEWICK – The Spokane Chiefs needed less than 6 minutes of the first period Saturday night to make the rest of their season opener a relative cake walk.
Mitch Holmberg, however, didn’t see it that way.
“You can’t be too comfortable in the league on anyone,” Holmberg said after his hat trick led the Chiefs to a 6-2 win over the Tri-City Americans in a Western Hockey League opener for both teams at the Toyota Center. “I know we’ve come back on teams when we’ve been down in the third, so I think you have to keep going as hard as you can. You just have to play like it’s 0-0.”
As evidence, Holmberg pointed to last year’s game against Seattle that the Chiefs trailed 6-2 in the third period before Holmberg led a sizzling rally and 7-6 shootout victory.
The Americans didn’t have that kind of rally in them on Saturday, as they used the third period as an excuse to fight. Spokane gave it right back in a period that drew 11 penalties, six by the Chiefs.
The Ams’ frustrations started 5 minutes, 30 seconds into the game, when Spokane’s Connor Chartier scored off assists from Colton Bobyk – his first point as a Chief – and veteran Liam Stewart.
The Chiefs’ offense continued to roll for the next 5:49, as Holmberg had a power-play goal at 6:57 and took a feed from Mike Aviani for his second goal at 9:45. Slightly more than 11/2 minutes later, Stewart made it 4-0 on assists from Chartier and rookie import Adam Hascic, for his first point as a Chief.
“That’s as good a first period as we’ve had in this building in a long, long time,” said Chiefs fourth-year coach Don Nachbaur, who previously coached the Americans.
Just when the Americans appeared to be back in the game, rousing the crowd of 5,255 with goals by Beau McCue and Taylor Vickerman, Holmberg had another answer.
He and Reid Gow assisted on Aviani’s goal at 18:01 of the second. Aviani redirected Gow’s shot in the air and the goal was allowed after an officials’ replay.
Then, with 5 seconds left in the period, Holmberg recorded his hat trick on the second assists for Jason Fram and Adam Helewka.
“You obviously want to go a little bit harder going into the end of the period, but it was another lucky bounce,” Holmberg said.
The Chiefs outshot Tri-City in every period and finished with a 37-24 advantage.
“I think we still have to learn to play the game in our style,” Nachbaur said. “I think we got away from that at times. I can’t complain. … The kids came in here motivated and got the job done.”
Spokane finished 2 for 5 on the power play while the Ams were 1 for 7.
Twenty-year-old Chiefs goaltender Eric Williams made 21 saves.
“The two goals we gave them were a direct result of us turning the puck over in areas of the ice where you will pay the price,” Nachbaur said.
The Chiefs haven’t named a captain yet. Holmberg, Aviani and Gow are serving as assistant captains.