March 20, 2014 in Sports

Chiefs veterans seeking one last shot at WHL glory

Trio from 2012 playoff series want to end their Spokane careers on a high note
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The evening of March 27, 2012, means more to Spokane Chiefs overage players Mitch Holmberg, Mike Aviani and Eric Williams than any other during their careers.

On that day, the Chiefs opted for a change in goal and started Williams in Game 3 of a Western Hockey League playoff series against Vancouver that Spokane trailed 2-0.

Williams made 26 saves as the Chiefs won 3-2 to start a turnaround that resulted in a 4-2 series win.

“It wasn’t just me,” Williams said. “Our team got to playing the right way and got that competitive edge. I was able to ride that out and we were able to win those four games.”

“Mitch played awesome that series,” Aviani said. “I was fortunate to play with him and we played really well together. Those are two great guys and I’ve been very blessed being on the same team as them for the past couple of years.”

The three have reached the home stretch of their time with the Chiefs. They would like to go out in style, with memories to match the 2012 postseason that only ended after a 4-3 series loss to Western Conference top-seeded Tri-City.

The sixth-seeded Chiefs (40-26-3-3) begin their playoff push Saturday and Sunday at Victoria (48-20-1-3). Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-seven series are set for Wednesday and next Thursday at the Arena.

Holmberg has played 314 games with the Chiefs, including 52 during his rookie season of 2009-10. Aviani also joined the Chiefs that season, but only for seven of the 273 games he has logged in his career. Williams played 40 games during his 2010-11 rookie season with Prince Albert and has played 131 games with the Chiefs since his December 2011 trade to Spokane.

The three have been the heart and soul of the Chiefs this season. Holmberg led the WHL with 62 goals and 118 points; Aviani finished second on the team with 38 goals and 81 points; and Williams served as workhorse with a 33-19-2-2 record and four shutouts in 58 games.

For their careers, Holmberg has a team-record 147 goals and 296 points, fifth in franchise history; Aviani has 89 goals and 207 points; and Williams is 98-76-9-5 with 10 shutouts.

“It was an honor to play with Mike and I was so lucky to play on his line,” Holmberg said. “He’s a good linemate and teammate, but he’s any even better guy. Same goes for Willie. He … played unreal all season and I don’t think we would have had a 40-win year if we didn’t have him backstopping us.”

All three are undrafted and hope to impress pro scouts with their play during this postseason.

“It’s one of those things where you have to take whatever door is open your way, and go with it,” Aviani said.

“The main focus is going to be the playoffs,” Williams said. “That’s where you’re going to make your money, make your contracts.”

The Chiefs usually followed the hot and cold streaks of Holmberg and Aviani.

Holmberg had 16 goals and 15 assists as the Chiefs raced to a 10-2 record this season. He had no goals in 19 of the Chiefs’ final 30 games, a stretch in which the team went 14-13-2-1 after starting the season 26-13-1-2.

“Whether (Mitch) scores or not, the effort was always there, which is a good thing to show the young guys, so they can carry that over going forward,” Williams said.

Aviani accounted for 22 goals in Spokane’s first 25 games, including a four-goal outburst against Victoria. He was limited to two goals from Jan. 10 to March 5 before scoring six in four games from March 7-12.

“I think we had our highs and our lows,” Holmberg said. … “But when we did lose, I think it made us stronger.

“There have been so many good times, it’s going to be fun to reflect when you’re older.”

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