KENNEWICK – Preseason games in the Western Hockey League are not always played at the highest level, but you get out of it what you put into it. Some teams want to win; others want to evaluate – some want to do both. Put the Spokane Chiefs in the last category.
After a lackluster afternoon game between Vancouver and an uninspired Portland team, the Spokane Chiefs met the host Tri-City Americans on Saturday night in the teams’ second preseason tournament. The U.S. Division opponents were both in Everett over Labor Day but didn’t face each other.
In a game played much more at the level of an early regular-season game, Michael Grabner had a hat trick as the Chiefs downed the Ams 7-4 in a tightly contested contest before 1,362.
For coach Bill Peters, Saturday’s game and today’s matchup with Vancouver at Three Rivers Coliseum are more than just chances to see the cadre of younger players on the roster. He wants to see his team play good hockey.
“We’re still in the evaluation process, but we also want to see some more structure to our game – more team play and some of the things we’ve worked on since the Everett tournament have to start happening on the ice so we can lay a foundation for the regular season,” Peters stressed.
For the most part, Peters saw that. Spokane had one rough 10-minute stretch to start the second period before bouncing back and taking control of the game early in the third period.
But the chance for those 16- and 17-year-olds to impress should not be lost. Six veterans were missing Saturday, all of them away at National Hockey League camps for undetermined amounts of time. Everyone remaining after opening camp played against the Americans.
And many of them impressed – not the least of whom was goalie Thomas Stehr, a 17-year-old who went the distance as he tries to earn one of two goalie roster spots. Several other Chiefs newcomers looked good, especially 18-year-old defenseman Taylor Sutherlin and 16-year-old blue-liner Jared Spurgeon.
The Chiefs came out and played a disciplined first period and had a 4-1 lead to show for it – on a pair of beautiful goals each by Grabner and Kyle Howarth. The second was another matter, as the Chiefs fell into a more wide-open, undisciplined game which favored the Americans. The result was a slim 4-3 Spokane lead heading into the final period on goals 21 seconds apart.
But the Chiefs put the game away on two goals in the first 2 minutes, 38 seconds of the third period, the first giving Grabner the hat trick and the second by J.P. Szaskiewicz (between his legs, with his back to the goal on a rebound). Matt McCue closed out the scoring for Spokane with a power-play goal at 17:34. Tri-City got a goal with 12 seconds remaining for the final margin.
Dan Mercer is missing the weekend games after sustaining a hand injury in the Everett tournament that has him out for seven to 10 days. … Chiefs 20-year-old Chad Klassen was a healthy scratch and will play in today’s game. … Also not dressing was returning goalie Jim Watt. … Jason Lynch, who squared off with Aaron Boogard in a heavyweight matchup, leaves today for NHL camp, the last of Spokane’s seven pro prospects to do so.
Chiefs 7, Americans 4
First period: 1, Spo, Howarth (Ryan) :49; 2, TC, Basek (McDonald) 3:35; 3, Spo, Grabner 14:31 (sh); 4, Spo, Howarth 17:15. Second period: 5, Spo, Grabner (McCue, Spurgeon) 1:26 (pp); 6, TC, Magistrale (Vey) 9:39 7, TC, Johnstone (Pettapiece, Toll) 10:00. Third period: 8, Spo, Grabner 2:22; 9, Spo, Szaskiewicz (Ryan) 2:38; 10, Spo, McCue (Je Lynch, Compton) 17:34; 11, TC, Vey (Meaver, Prochysen) 19:48. Goalies – Spokane: Stehr; Tri-City: Pickard; Olynyk, 10:21 2nd. Shots on goal: Spokane 31
Tri-City 19. Attendance – 1,362.
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