Fireworks … in January?
It sure seemed as if the Spokane Chiefs were planning to light some off Saturday night.
Mitch Wahl scored two goals to spark the scrap-happy Chiefs’ 5-2 victory over their heated Western Hockey League rivals, the Tri-City Americans, in front of a sold-out Arena crowd of 10,538.
The win, Spokane’s eighth straight, pulled the Chiefs within four points of the Americans in the U.S. Division standings, and Spokane has two games in hand.
“Obviously we’ve put ourselves right back in the race for first place,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said. “Ultimately I think it says a lot about our guys, and how hard they’ve worked and how hard they’ve played to gain the ground they have over the last week and a half.”
The Chiefs took a 2-0 lead in the opening period, taking advantage of two power plays – one of their own and one of Tri-City’s.
Ondrej Roman put Spokane on the board first with a power-play goal when he picked up a generous rebound of defenseman Jared Cowen’s slapshot from the left circle and buried it 1 minute, 21 seconds into the game.
The Chiefs scored again at 12:34 – this time while short-handed – when Drayson Bowman, who notched two assists, forced a turnover in the neutral zone and poked the puck up to Brady Calla, who broke away and scored one-on-one against Tri-City goalie Chet Pickard.
“It was good for us to get going early,” Wahl said. “That was one of our better group efforts, and especially in the first we got two nice goals and were able to keep them off the scoreboard, so it was obviously a good way for us to start the game.”
And the game only got better from there.
The matchup featured six fights – four of which took place in the first minute of the second period – and the Spokane players felt they got positive results from the on-ice battles.
“I think the second period was really the turning point. … Four fights in a row and we won every single one of them, in my opinion,” Cowen said.
The Americans did manage to get briefly make it a one-goal game in the second when Brett Plouffe scored stick side on Chiefs goalie Dustin Tokarski.
But with 30 seconds left in the period Wahl redirected a feed from Bowman, who passed the puck in front from the left board, past Pickard. Then defenseman Jared Spurgeon scored, firing a shot into heavy traffic from just inside the blue line, with three seconds remaining in the period.
After Asuchak scored 1:58 into the third for Tri-City, Wahl scored again – this time on a breakaway, which ended with him putting the puck through Pickard’s five-hole.
“Momentum’s a strange thing – when you have it you have to work hard to keep it and it can do a lot of things for you,” Sauter said.
Tokarski finished with 22 saves. … The Chiefs are still trying to get a couple of key players healthy, including captain Justin McCrae (foot) and defenseman Mike Reddington (groin). Forward Ryan Letts was out of the lineup Saturday after being hit from behind by Seattle’s Charles Wells on Friday night and consequently separating his shoulder.
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