The Spokane Chiefs started strongly Saturday night and then faded. With Tri-City threatening to steal the game, Hudson Elynuik swiped the puck, raced up the ice and scored a short-handed goal that carried the team to a 4-2 victory.
Elynuik’s second goal of the night changed the momentum back in the favor of the Chiefs, who stayed behind on the ice after the game to bask in the cheers of the 9,534 people who attended on Breast Cancer Awareness Night.
With the win, the Chiefs (28-22-5-3 64 points) got some breathing room on the surging American (28-27-2-1 59 points), who had won eight of their last 10 coming into the game.
“That was a huge goal,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said of Elynuik’s short-handeder. “They had all the momentum. When we got up 4-2, we loosened again and we played well.”
Without four of its top players, the Chiefs started the game on fire. They played with energy, moved the puck well and played tenacious defense.
Not even three minutes into the game, during the first of five power plays provided by the Americans in the first period, Curtis Miske fired a shot and Elynuik was there to redirect it past Tri-City goalie Evan Sarthou to put the Chiefs up 1-0.
At the 6:09 mark of the first period, Keanu Yamamoto raced up the ice, turned his back on the goalie and fired a laser to Ethan McIndoe, who fired the shot in stride and got it past Sarthou to make it 2-0 Chiefs. An assist was awarded on the play to Spokane’s Preston Kopeck.
“I called his name and (Yamamoto) turned around and passed me the puck,” McIndoe said. “That was awesome with the roar of the crowd.”
At that point in the game, Spokane had three shots on goal and hit the net with two of them.
With 1:27 left in the period, Markson Bechtold pushed the puck and fired a shot that rebounded to a waiting Jacob Cardiff, who slammed it home to give the Chiefs a 3-0 lead.
But the momentum quickly shifted. While Spokane looked dominant in the first period, the Chiefs quickly faded in the second and somehow lost the ability to control the puck.
At the 3:42 mark of the second period, Tri-City’s Parker Wotherspoon fired a shot that looked like it bounced off Jordan Topping. But Wotherspoon was given credit for the goal that got the Americans on the board at 3-1.
The Chiefs again regressed into bad habits. At one point during a power play for Spokane, Matt Sozanski lost track of the puck and led to a short-handed opportunity for Tri-City. Chiefs goalie Tyson Verhelst bailed Sozanski out of the mistake.
“He was outstanding,” Nachbaur said of his goalie. “He stood tall when we needed him tonight.”
But Verhelst was out of the net trying to defend Tyler Sandhu with 3:36 left in the period when Sandhu somehow got his pass through the scrum and it found Parker Bowles, who scored easily to make it 3-2 Chiefs.
The Chiefs appeared to be lost and failed for long stretches to even get the puck on the Tri-City side of the ice.
“We stopped skating,” Nachbaur said. “We were without four key guys. It’s tough times.”
With 13:09 remaining in the game, Elynuik stole the puck during the Tri-City power play, raced up the ice and pounded it past Sarthou to make it 4-2.
“I just chipped it by him. It was great that it went in,” Elynuik said. “It was huge for us to be up by two at that point in the game.”
The Chiefs hit the road and play Sunday at Everett.
“This was the biggest game of the year, for sure,” Elynuik said. “It was great to get the win and be up by five points over” the Americans.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review's sports newsletter
Get the day's top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.