Chiefs improve to 4-0 to start season
Mitch Holmberg is on pace for 144 goals.
Then again, the Spokane Chiefs are on pace to finish 72-0.
Neither will happen, of course, but Holmberg and the Chiefs continued to be one of the top stories in the Western Hockey League after Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Tri-City Americans in Spokane’s home opener.
Holmberg scored twice, giving him a league-best eight goals and 14 points, as the Chiefs improved to 4-0-0-0 while outshooting the Americans 38-16. Spokane has outscored rivals 20-6 this season.
“It’s definitely a good start to the season, but it’s obvious that you go through slumps, too,” said Holmberg, the Chiefs’ 20-year-old right wing. “There are going to be games where you don’t score and there’s going to be a series of games where you don’t score. So it’s nice to get off to a good start, but you can’t expect to do this all season.”
“Mitch is a pure goal-scorer when he plays the right way,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “When he shoots the puck and does the little things in the game, he’s going to get chances. And when he gets chances, he’s capable of putting it behind the goalie and he proved that again tonight.”
Holmberg also scored three goals off Tri-City (1-3-0-1) during Spokane’s season opener on Sept. 21.
The combination of Holmberg and fellow overage player Mike Aviani continued to sizzle. Aviani assisted on both goals, giving him seven assists for the season, tied for first in the league. Aviani is also tied for third in goals (five) and tied for second in points (12).
“Mike complements me and I complement him,” Holmberg said. “I think with his speed, he drives to the net and he finds me where I need to be. It’s kind of nice to have a sense where each of us is going to be. Right now, it’s definitely clicking between us.”
The Chiefs outshot T-C 13-7 in the first period, 9-3 in the second and 16-6 in the third, but the Americans held a 1-0 lead until the final 30 seconds of the second period. Holmberg, assisted by Aviani and Cole Wedman (his first of the season), found an open spot to the lower-right corner of the net to end the shutout bid of Eric Comrie, whom the Chiefs torched for six goals last week.
“We were talking about where we could beat this goalie all night,” Nachbaur said. “I thought we shot the puck wrong all night. We were trying to go to areas that he’s good at. You look at the six goals we scored in ‘Tri,’ we put him in situations where he had to find second pucks and third rebounds and tonight we had no second chances.”
“I was just trying to get it on net,” Holmberg said. “I honestly didn’t see it, but all the guys said it might have been the slowest shot.”
Holmberg saw his winning goal, at 4:25 of the final period. Liam Stewart had his third assist of the season while joining Aviani on the play.
Chiefs goalie Eric Williams had a relatively easy go of it until the final 4 minutes, when he made several saves.
“Eric made some huge saves late in the game with shots right in the middle of the ice, where our wingers missed assignments,” Nachbaur said.
Spokane, which had been 7 of 14 on the power play this season, went 0 for 4. T-C scored its goal on a power play at 3:29 of the first, with Connor Rankin sneaking behind the defense on the right side of the net.
The Chiefs will play at defending WHL champion Portland on Wednesday. Portland swept Spokane in a second-round playoff series last season.
Chiefs 19-year-old defenseman Reid Gow was named team captain in a ceremony before the game. … Chiefs left wing Adam Helewka (one goal, one assist) didn’t play after getting banged up in Victoria on Wednesday.