When Spokane Chiefs captain Jared Cowen missed 10 games to play in the World Junior tournament, his teammates responded with some of their best hockey of the season.
Coach Don Nachbaur expects the same thing to happen with record-breaking goalie James Reid out indefinitely with an ankle injury.
“Adversity … you always find what you’re made of,” Nachbaur said. “We can’t sit here and mope. Other guys are going to have to play better. I think we’ll be fine.”
Mac Engel, who has played in a dozen games but is winless in six decisions, starts tonight against Everett and likely Friday against Chilliwack and Saturday against Tri-City, all at the Arena.
“Practice is one thing, getting into a game is a whole other thing,” the 17-year-old from Red Deer, Alberta, said. “I don’t think I’m doing anything different, just working real hard in practice to get ready. I’m the guy now, so I’ve got to do my part to pump up the guys and get a few wins this week.”
It’s not all on Engel to replace Reid, who set the franchise record last week with his 78th win. Reid is also second in the league with a 2.48 goals-against average.
“Before you get to your goalie, you have to go through your forwards and ‘D,’ ” Nachbaur said. “That’s what we did so well when Cow(en) was gone. We had more pressure coming from the front. … Some of our young ‘D’ seemed to step up.
“The leader of that group at that time was Kich (Brenden Kichton). He stood up and took over that group. Now it’s Mac’s turn. Not to put pressure on him – everybody has to step up and do his part, maybe a bit more.”
The Chiefs won eight of 10 with their defensive anchor and one of the losses came in overtime.
To the coach, there’s no reason to believe that won’t happen after the way the team responded when Reid was hurt in Portland on Sunday.
“We had every reason to quit in Portland and didn’t,” he said. “It was 4-2 (deficit) when our goalie got hurt. We played better after that. We’ve got some good leaders in that room, a good group of veterans showing the path for our young guys.”
The Chiefs rallied to tie Portland at 5 before losing in overtime. It was the second straight loss for Spokane after they had won 11 of 12 to move into a tie for first with the Winterhawks.
“I thought we played well … except we made some key mistakes, key decisions,” Nachbaur said. “That’s what I was talking about entering our game. We got away from what we were doing. We strayed, we were looking for something a little more appealing.
“Right from the get-go we’ve been a simple team that plays a simple game. We made it a complicated game.”
The Chiefs had caught Portland after being 17 points behind two months ago but had a stretch of eight games in 12 days, including the hoopla surrounding the outdoor game at Avista Stadium.
“In hindsight, some of the things that happened to our team were fatigue problems,” Nachbaur said. “Any time you make poor decisions, you can attribute it to the guys straying from the plan or making poor mental decisions.
“You look at what we’ve been through, it’s been a hectic month. We haven’t had much practice time and when we have had practice time it’s been maintenance, getting ready for the next day’s game.
“You can’t get out there and practice hard for two hours just because of the schedule.”
Spokane native Tyler Johnson, the Western Hockey League player of the week and player of the month for December, added a national honor.
The Chiefs’ forward, who leads the league in goals with 36 and is tied for the league lead in points with 79, is the Canadian Hockey League player of the week.
He had 10 points, eight of them assists, in four games last week.
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