For the Spokane Chiefs, there’s no place like home.
That was especially true for forward Colin Valcourt on Saturday night.
Valcourt scored three times in the third period, his final shot finding its way into an empty net with less than 2 seconds remaining to complete his first career natural hat trick in the Western Hockey League, and Spokane (6-2-0-0) remained undefeated at home (4-0) with a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Giants in front of nearly 6,000 fans.
The win came on the heels of Spokane’s second overall loss of the season on Friday night to the Kamloops Blazers – currently ranked in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top 10. The Chiefs boarded a bus immediately following the game and arrived in Spokane around 6 a.m. Saturday – about 12 hours before the puck dropped at the Arena against the Giants.
“To be honest, I thought we had a real good effort (on Friday) night, we just made too many mistakes against a good team,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “But this was a good rebound – tough circumstances getting home early, and I thought the guys responded with a positive effort.
“We got a strong performance in net, some guys played real well in the back end and we got some scoring from some unlikely sources, so it was good.”
Better than good – again – were Spokane’s special teams.
The Chiefs finished 2 for 4 on the power play – which gave them a 2-1 lead after two periods – and 6 for 6 on the penalty kill. The only problem with that number: It means the Chiefs are taking too many penalties, some of which are entirely avoidable and the result of sloppy play.
“I’m a bit concerned on that end,” Nachbaur said. “We’re getting the job done, but we’ve got to clean up the penalties we’re taking. We’ve got to be better with our discipline, but I’m glad we’re not letting them score on the penalties.”
That’s not just a testament to the penalty killers, but also to starting goalie Eric Williams, who stopped 22 Vancouver shots and improved to 5-1-0-0. Williams had several big saves to keep the Chiefs in front of the Giants – one of two teams to beat Spokane this season – and to hold Vancouver scoreless on the power play.
Giants goalie Liam Liston (0-5-0-0) wasn’t so fortunate while the Chiefs were on the power play.
In the first, Chiefs captain Brenden Kichton scored his third of the season on a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe play late in the period to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. The play began with Dylan Walchuk, who finished with two assists, feeding a quick pass to league-leading goal scorer Mitch Holmberg, who promptly moved the puck to Kichton to finish the play with an open look at the net.
Holmberg, who failed to score a goal for only the second game this season, also finished with a pair of assists.
Winger Todd Fiddler widened Spokane’s lead with a top-shelf goal 7:37 into the middle period, but Vancouver’s Jackson Houck scored late in the period to keep the Giants within a goal heading into the final period.
That’s when Valcourt went to work. He scored his fourth of the season 1:53 into the period, again at 10:05 when he banged home a rebound, and for the last time – from Spokane’s blue line – with a shot he thought for sure wasn’t going to find its way between the posts of Vancouver’s unguarded net.
“I was watching the clock a little as the puck was rolling toward the net. I wasn’t sure if it was going to beat the clock,” he said.
“He was fortunate to be on the receiving end of some good plays,” Nachbaur said.
The win allowed the Chiefs to hold on to second place, behind Portland (7-3-1-0, 15 points), in the U.S. Division. Spokane has three games (a possible six points) in hand. Spokane’s .750 winning percentage is second-best (behind Kamloops) in the Western Conference and tops in the division.
The Chiefs are on the road with a game against the Seattle Thunderbirds on Tuesday. They’ll return home on Friday to host the Thunderbirds.
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