Thunderbirds continue to have Chiefs’ number
The Spokane Chiefs have done little wrong in the last 1 1/2 months except when it comes to playing Seattle.
The Thunderbirds’ baffling domination of Spokane continued Tuesday night when Ryan Gropp scored with 44 seconds left in overtime for a 1-0 Western Hockey League victory at the Arena.
Seattle also defeated the Chiefs 4-3 in overtime in Kent, Wash., on Saturday with a similar long shot not much past the blue line.
Chiefs goalie Eric Williams appeared to have stopped Gropp’s shot at first, but it dribbled under him and into the net.
“I thought (Williams) played really well, so it’s unfortunate,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “That’s playoff hockey. It was, who’s going to make the first mistake and who’s going to crack first and guess what? We did, and we had our chances to win it.”
The Thunderbirds are 5-0 against Spokane this season, with all five victories coming since Dec. 1. The Chiefs’ only other setback during the 45-day period was 2-1 against Kootenay.
Spokane (26-13-2-2, 56 points) and Seattle (26-14-2-3, 57) began the day in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Western Conference with idle Everett. The Chiefs are 26-5-0-2 against the rest of the WHL but have yet to defeat U.S. Division rivals Seattle and Portland in 10 chances.
“I can’t fault my guys,” Nachbaur said. “We tried and put our effort in good enough to win. I don’t think we executed as well as we need to against teams like that.”
Shots were at a premium as neither team reached double digits in any period. Spokane finished with a 28-23 advantage, but Seattle goalie Taran Kozun, obtained in a trade last Friday with Kamloops, stopped every try to improve to 6-16-2-1.
Both teams were at their best on the penalty kill as the Chiefs finished 0 for 4 with an extra man and Seattle was 0 for 5, including three chances in the first period.
“There were a lot of positives,” Nachbaur said. “The penalty kill was really good tonight, but I don’t like our team discipline. We’re taking some penalties that I’d like us to correct, and some of those are from our leaders.
“For us to score, we have to do things stronger and quicker, and that’s been a process for us all season – shooting the puck harder and doing it quicker,” Nachbaur said. “We were too slow again and I thought our shot selection was all wrong.”
Chiefs captain Reid Gow played his 200th game with the club.
WHL scoring leader Mitch Holmberg remained one goal behind Tyler Johnson (Central Valley High), now with the Tampa Bay Lightning, for a seventh-place tie on the team’s all-time list (128).
Spokane won’t play at home again until Jan. 24 against Moose Jaw. The Chiefs begin a tough three-day division road swing Friday that will take them to Everett, Tri-City and Portland.