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Chiefs tie for fourth with shootout victory

Spokane Chiefs logo (The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Chiefs logo (The Spokesman-Review)

Mitch Holmberg and Liam Stewart know all about breaking things, so they teamed up Friday night to avoid breaking the hearts of a large Arena crowd.

Holmberg and Stewart scored goals during a 2-1 shootout as the Spokane Chiefs wrapped up their Western Hockey League home schedule with a 4-3 win over the Tri-City Americans before a sold-out crowd of 10,309.

Holmberg, who shot first in the shootout, broke the franchise record for career goals at the 8-minute, 40-second mark of the second period. His 147th career goal and league-leading 62nd goal of the season allowed him to pass Pat Falloon on the list.

“Mike (Aviani) had a great pass for me and he made that play happen,” Holmberg said. “But I think bigger than anything was getting those two points and staying in the playoff hunt.”

Stewart shot fourth in the shootout to give the Chiefs a 2-1 edge that goalie Eric Williams preserved by blocking Jessey Astles’ final attempt. It was Stewart’s first game back after he broke his right foot against Kelowna six weeks ago.

“Mitch shot first and scored, and he just looked at me and said, ‘Go ahead and shoot,’” Stewart said. “You have to listen to him. Sixty-two goals, you might as well listen to the guy.”

“We’re a different team when (Stewart is) in the lineup and that was clear tonight,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “He logged more minutes than I had planned to give him, but that’s because there were a lot of guys who were in the back of the bus looking out the window.”

The Chiefs (40-25-3-3, 86 points) moved into a tie for fourth place in the Western Conference with Seattle, which lost at home to Portland 5-2. Spokane remained one point ahead of sixth-place Everett, a 5-3 winner at Victoria.

The fourth-place team will have home-ice advantage during the first round of the WHL playoffs and meet the No. 5 team. The sixth-place team will play No. 3 Victoria.

Spokane completes its regular season tonight at Tri-City (28-32-4-6). Seattle is at Portland tonight and at Tri-City on Sunday. Everett hosts Victoria tonight and travels to Portland on Sunday.

Even if the Chiefs win the No. 4 and home ice, they’ll open postseason Friday and next Saturday on the road, because the Arena will be in use for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Spokane’s first home playoff game figures to be March 25.

Astles scored at 5:05 and 12:04 of the first period to give the Americans a 2-0 lead. Stewart assisted on Keanu Yamamoto’s goal 20 seconds later and the period ended 2-1.

Connor Chartier tied the game at 2 assisted by Holmberg and Jason Fram, at 7:31 of the second.

Holmberg’s record-breaking power-play goal held up until Parker Bowles forced OT with a power-play goal with 31 seconds left.

Notes: Holmberg was honored as Spokane’s player of the year and most sportsmanlike player before the game. Other winners: Aviani, humanitarian and players’ player; Reid Gow, defenseman of the year; Dominic Zwerger, rookie of the year; Williams, coaches’ award; and Jeff Rayman, scholastic player of the year. … Dr. Mary Smith, the Chiefs’ dentist since 1985, received the WHL’s Distinguished Service Award before the game.