The Spokane Chiefs are good enough to win the Memorial Cup.
That’s the opinion of no less an authority than Bob Lowes, coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings. Lowes addressed Spokane’s chances Saturday night in the Arena after the Chiefs erased a 4-1 deficit to beat Lowes’ club 6-5.
“They would want to win the division and the league to earn the right to be there, but even if Spokane doesn’t do that they could win the Memorial Cup, based on it being in Spokane, and based on their being good enough,” Lowes said.
Lowes won the ‘96 Western Hockey League championship with the Wheat Kings, who won their first two games in the Memorial Cup tournament that year before running into a loaded Quebec team.
Some critics contend that the Quebec league has sent a virtual all-star team to the Memorial Cup the last two years.
Lowes was asked to compare this year’s Spokane club with the Chiefs of two years ago, who won the WHL West title before losing to Brandon in the WHL finals.
“Marian Cisar is doing what (Jason) Podollan did for them (in ‘96),” said Lowes, referring to Cisar’s ability to finish a play. “With (Zenith) Komarniski and (Perry) Johnson they have two really good puck-handling defensemen (that they didn’t have then).
“(Otherwise) They’re much the same,” Lowes said. “Trent Whitfield is a sparkplug, like he was on that team. His work ethic ignites their team. (Greg) Leeb is kind of the same way.”
The Chiefs are assured of a berth in the Memorial Cup as the host team. The Wheaties could play their way back here as the WHL representative. The champions of the Western, Ontario and Quebec leagues join the Chiefs here May 9-17 for major junior hockey’s Final Four. “I’d like to think we’re going to get an opportunity to play in it (but) coming out of the East is a tough go,” Lowes said. “We have the makings of a good team - we’ll be right in the hunt - but Regina and Swift Current are good. Lethbridge has really come on and Red Deer is better than they’ve shown.”
Nobody can afford to overlook the Prince George Cougars.
“Their record is not bad now and they’ve already taken care of that Eastern swing,” Kelowna Rockets president Bruce Hamilton pointed out this week. “They have a good team, a good skating team.”
So good that last week coach Ed Dempsey was accused of running up the score in a 7-0 win over the Edmonton Ice. Off-ice officials had to keep interim coach Ryan McGill away from Dempsey after the Cougars blew out the Ice.
“It’s 6-0 and he sends his first power-play unit out there, all five guys,” McGill told the Prince George Citizen after the Ice lost their 15th straight.
If the Memorial Cup were held this week, the team to beat would be the Portland Winter Hawks, who extended their franchiserecord unbeaten streak at home to 24 games and their winning streak to 10 Saturday night with a 5-3 victory over the Kelowna Rockets.
The Hawks, who play in both the Coliseum and the Rose Garden, are 22-0-2 at the Coliseum since a 4-1 loss to Prince George on Jan. 11.
Although they have nothing really to play for, with their spot in the Final Four already reserved, coach Mike Babcock’s Chiefs are pushing Portland in the West.
Babcock, typically, played down his team’s impressive start.
“All I see is we need to get a lot better if we want to win the Cup,” he said before boarding the bus for the Chiefs’ current road swing. “You’ve seen how talented Brandon and Portland are. Our work ethic is the key to playing with the big dogs.”
Around the WHL
The Kelowna Rockets lifted the suspensions of winger Todd Fedoruk and defenseman Scott Hannan Tuesday. Hannan is still out with a concussion suffered in San Jose’s training camp but Fedoruk has been cleared to play. Both were suspended last week for conduct unbecoming of the club. … Continuing a pattern of rotating coaches, Red Deer sacked Rick Carriere, who wound up with the coaching job in Medicine Hat last week. Carriere replaced Kurt Lackten. The Lackten firing in Medicine Hat was the WHL’s fourth coaching change of the season … … Tri-City rookie Scott Gomez is out with strained ligaments in his left shoulder. Gomez said he’ll return next week but doctors say it could be until midDecember before the Americans’ sniper is back in the lineup.
Ryan Duthie, who scored eight game-winning goals here in the ‘93-94 season - second on the Chiefs’ all-time list - is playing in Finland. He’s scheduled to return home for Christmas on Dec. 12, then go back to his team. … Although he has yet to win the award, right wing Jason Podollan twice has been nominated for player of the week in the American Hockey League. Podollan is with Toronto’s farm club in St. John’s. … Goaltender David Lemanowicz played in six of the Beast of New Haven’s first 14 games. The Beast, Carolina’s club in the AHL, includes former Chiefs captain Hugh Hamilton. Hamilton has one assist in nine games.
Record ticket pace
Spokane is on pace to break the Memorial Cup attendance record set in ‘89, when the Saskatoon Blades hosted the tournament. Average attendance for nine games that year was 8,588. Chiefs director of ticket sales Mark Miles said that 6,000 ticket packages have already been sold.
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.