Patience, fans, patience.
The Spokane Chiefs never seemed in danger of losing their home opener Saturday night, but they waited until the third period before wrapping up a 5-2 win over their Western Hockey League rival Tri-City Americans before a crowd of 9,504 at the Arena.
“That’s basically the message,” Spokane coach Hardy Sauter said. “Besides being down 1-0, we were real happy with the start. We did some real good things tonight that we can build off of. I think it shows a lot of character of the group that they just stuck with it and kept playing hard and eventually they knew things would go their way.”
Then again, two periods doesn’t seem too long to work out the kinks, considering the bulk of the offense came from players who missed most of all of the preseason.
Mitch Wahl, who scored the Chiefs’ first goal that allowed them to escape the first period with a 1-1 tie despite being outshot 14-5, spent time at the Calgary Flames’ camp. Captain Jared Cowen, who made it 3-1 with a power-play goal in the opening minute of the third period, just joined the team this week from Ottawa’s camp. Kyle Beach, the former Public Enemy No. 1 who scored the final two goals, was picked up in a Wednesday trade.
It was Wahl’s goal that seemed to take the pressure off. He made a spectacular lateral move at the left circle, which gave him an open path to the net, where he went top-right past Drew Owsley.
“It was just a smooth breakout, Beach over to Koper, Koper over to me,” Wahl said. “It kind of loosened the tension and got us going.
“With the pregame ceremony and everything else it took us a few minutes to get our legs. We only had a few shots the first period, but we battled back. We ended up with 37 shots and just did the little things right … overall it was a pretty good night.”
It didn’t take long for the Chiefs to take the lead. With both teams starting the second period playing 4-on-4, the Chiefs moved the puck from the right circle to the blue line to the left point, where Brett Bartman whizzed a shot Owsley didn’t appear to see into the net. Tyler Johnson and rookie defenseman Tanner Mort picked up the assists on the goal that came at 1:38.
After Cowen’s goal, a slap shot from the top of the left circle, Beach’s goals were particularly telling.
The first came a tally on a 5-on-3 power play.
The line of Wahl centering Beach and Levko Koper, with veterans Cowen and Stefan Ulmer, who had three assists in the third period, on defense, kept the pressure on for 1:45.
But after about a half-dozen shots and a few whiffs, Cowen finally put the puck on Beach’s stick with a wide-open net for him to make it 4-1.
Then, midway through the period, Beach just bulled down the middle, through the T-C defense, to make it 5-1, ending Owsley’s night.
“I was a little worried, but once you get a couple of goals in they really took me in, got behind my back and really pushed me,” Beach said.
The Americans, who got a power-play goal from Tyler Schmidt at 2:17 of the first period, closed the scoring with a power-play goal by Johnny Lazo, with less than 4 minutes to go.
Beach said getting introduced after local favorite Tyler Johnson was a tough introduction to the fans who used to love to hate him when he played for Everett, but a penalty on the opening shift of the game made it worse.
“We had a great check going, had them hemmed in,” he said. “I was trying to get better position and gave him a little hook. … First shift, getting a penalty, wasn’t how I wanted to start, but I think I came back well.”
As did the Chiefs. It just took a little time.
The teams meet again Saturday at Tri-City, one night after Spokane plays host to Portland.
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