For the first time all season, the Spokane Chiefs iced a full lineup, and it showed.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Ty Smith and Filip Kral all returned from playing in the World Junior Hockey Championships and gave the Chiefs’ lineup a boost in a 4-1 Western Hockey League win over the Kamloops Blazers. Kral scored a second-period goal, while Smith and Anderson-Dolan finished with an assist each.
The Chiefs haven’t had their services for a month, and getting them back had a ripple effect.
“It affects 21 other guys, and it should in a positive way,” head coach Dan Lambert said. “You have to buy in and it’s starting to look a lot more like our team.”
It’s not often a team lacks its full lineup until the second half of the season, but that’s where the Chiefs are. Anderson-Dolan missed time at the beginning of the season while playing for the Los Angeles Kings. Kral started the season injured and when he returned to the lineup, Anderson-Dolan had taken his spot on the injury report.
Once Anderson-Dolan healed, it was time for him, Smith and Kral to head off to Vancouver for the World Juniors.
Despite their early exit from the tournament – all three saw their World Juniors end in the quarterfinals – they’re ready to make a push in the second half of the Western Hockey League season. There is an adjustment period, though.
“It’s a really fast game (at the World Juniors),” Smith said. “It’s different hockey, but Kamloops challenged us tonight and the guys are playing well for our team, so this was a big one for us.”
Smith assisted on Spokane’s first goal when Riley Woods poked the puck past Kamloops goaltender Dylan Ferguson on the power play at 12 minutes, 43 seconds of the first. It was Woods’ team-leading 24th goal of the season.
Woods left the game after a collision at the end of the first period.
“I certainly hope Woods isn’t gone for any length of time, but if we lose Woods and don’t have those guys, it hurts your lineup a lot more,” Lambert said. “The nice thing is, I thought other guys stepped up when Woods went down and it was a good team effort.”
Kobe Mohr redirected a pinball shot by Zane Franklin to tie the game at 1 at 18:52 of the first.
Jake McGrew turned a Kamloops defenseman around as he whizzed by and backhanded his 14th goal of the season past Ferguson just 1:28 into the second period. Kral’s goal came after he got his rebound off a blocked shot and took advantage of his second chance.
“It was a rebound right to my skates and after that I just shot it top shelf,” Kral said.
Kral’s goal celebration was a tribute to former NHL star and fellow Czech Jaromir Jagr, in which he takes his glove off and salutes the crowd.
Luke Toporowski added an empty-netter to ice the game.
Goaltender Bailey Brkin was only really tested in the third period and finished with 20 saves. The Chiefs were 2 for 6 on the power play and 2 for 3 on the penalty kill.
The Blazers outshot the Chiefs 8-6 in the third and had a power-play opportunity with 7:30 remaining down two goals. But Spokane’s defense and Brkin came up big.
“I thought it was more of us starting to become careless with the puck in our D-zone and through the neutral zone,” Lambert said. “Hopefully, it’s something that doesn’t become a habit for us, but certainly they applied a little pressure and our goalie was there for us when we needed him.”
With a full lineup, the Chiefs hope to make noise in the U.S. Division. They sit three points behind the Portland Winterhawks for second in the division.
“Now we are better, better than before,” Kral said. “Hopefully, we keep going.”
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