Thunderbirds stay perfect vs. Chiefs
Justin Hickman nearly recorded his first Western Hockey League hat trick on Tuesday night.
Twenty-four hours later – and one bus trip across the state – Hickman got the three-goal game that eluded him the night before.
Hickman’s hat trick and a 29-save performance by Taran Kozun guided the Seattle Thunderbirds to a 4-0 victory over the Spokane Chiefs at the Arena.
Seattle (34-16-2-3, 73 points) improved to 6-0 against the Chiefs (31-17-3-2, 67) this season heading in to Friday’s repeat performance at the Thunderbirds’ arena in Kent, Wash.
“Probably the closest I’ve come (to a hat trick) was last night, when I had two goals and with 5 minutes left in the third I almost got a rebound,” said Hickman, who has 18 goals this season.
Hickman nearly had a fourth goal on Wednesday, as his shot at 5:20 of the first period glanced off Chiefs goalie Garret Hughson and hit the crossbar.
Seattle has won 12 of its last 14 games to move within one point of Victoria for the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference. Spokane holds down the No. 5 spot, meaning that the Chiefs and Seattle would match up in the first round of the playoffs if they kept these positions.
“We know that it could be a first-round matchup for us, so every time we play them we try to come out hard,” Hickman said.
Hickman scored at 15:50 of the first period after a Chiefs turnover for a 1-0 lead. He tipped in Ryan Gropp’s shot at 18:38 of the second for a 3-0 advantage, and reached the hat trick at 2:39 of the third.
Kozun also shut out Spokane 1-0 in overtime when the teams last met on Jan. 14. Kozun is 8-1-0-0 since he was traded to Seattle from Kamloops, where he was 5-19-2-1.
“Most of (Kozun’s) saves were easy,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “We really didn’t apply any pressure at all. We didn’t get to loose pucks and we didn’t take on their ‘D’ with speed. Everything we did was slow.”
“‘Koz’ had been great for us,” Hickman said. “He’s kept us in games and won us games, so all credit to him. He seems like a brick wall back there and we’re really excited to have him.”
The Chiefs had taken the Thunderbirds to OT that last two times the teams met.
“With 20 guys not moving their feet, you’re not going to get the job done,” Nachbaur said. “So we probably earned the right to lose the hockey game and didn’t have the right to win.”
Nachbaur said he was most disappointed by a lackluster showing at home after Spokane played well during last week’s four-game road trip that included a win over Kelowna, the Canadian Hockey League’s top-ranked team. Wednesday’s game is the only one Spokane will play at the Arena during a 17-day period.
Center Liam Stewart, Spokane’s sixth-leading scorer, is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury. The regular season is down to the final six weeks. Also, center Blair Oneschuk and left wing Hudson Elynuik are listed as week-to-week with upper-body injuries.