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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Chiefs finding success in wacky season

Two examples illustrate why this has been a bizarre – but, so far, successful – season for the Spokane Chiefs. For one, it’s reasonable to say that the Chiefs’ best and worst moments came back-to-back, five days apart. Secondly, Spokane (18-12-3-0) has managed to fashion the seventh-best winning percentage in the Western Hockey League (.591) despite logging much of the season with fewer goals scored than allowed. Only with Wednesday’s 5-0 win at Prince George – Spokane’s fourth consecutive victory – were the Chiefs able to head in to the holiday break with more goals scored (93) than allowed (91). The Chiefs will officially hit the one-half mark (36 games) of the season on Dec. 31 at Tri-City. Worst moment of the year: Spokane’s season-long losing streak reached five with a 4-1 home loss to Seattle on Dec. 7. The Chiefs faded after a fight-filled second period. Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said afterward that it was the first time his team had lost its composure this season. But as Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz points out, it was the team’s sixth game in nine days, including trips back and forth to Seattle and Everett. “That is a very, very, tough, demanding stretch,” Speltz said. “Every team has those, but we didn’t react as well as we could. … So we gave the guys a couple of days off – they needed that – and they regrouped for the weekend.” Best moment of the year: Sure enough, as Speltz mentioned, five days later (Dec. 12) the Chiefs shrugged off their losing streak and a bigger albatross by scoring three times in the third period for a 4-3 outcome at Portland. Spokane had lost 16 consecutive games to the Winterhawks since Jan. 23, 2013. Biggest surprise: Spokane’s defense has allowed only 91 goals, the fourth-lowest total in the league. The Chiefs have done so despite losing defensemen Colton Bobyk, Tyson Helgesen and Matt Sozanski to injuries for a significant amount of time. Biggest disappointment: The Chiefs expected a solid season from 20-year-old Connor Chartier, who had 14 goals and 18 assists while playing every game last season. Instead, Spokane released Chartier on Nov. 6 after he produced one assist in 12 games. He’s now playing for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League. Biggest breakout player: Spokane native and Mead High student Kailer Yamamoto, 16, ranks fourth on the team in points (23) and goals (nine). Among WHL rookies, he’s tied for fifth in points. Best individual stats: Left wing Adam Helewka, 19, leads the Chiefs with 16 goals and 36 points. Calder Brooks, a 20-year-old left wing acquired from Prince Albert on Sept. 29, ranks second in both categories at 13 and 31. Captain Jason Fram, a 19-year-old defenseman, has a team-high 24 assists and 30 points. Best position: The Chiefs are in good hands at goaltender whether they turn to Garret Hughson, 19, or rookie Tyson Verhelst, 17. Hughson (12-8-3-0) is tied for eighth in the WHL with a goals-against average of 2.80 and has a save percentage of .903. Verhelst (6-4-0-0) hasn’t logged enough minutes to rank among league leaders, but his numbers are better: 2.55 GAA and .914 save percentage. “I don’t think our goaltending has cost us a game this year,” Speltz said. “That was our expectation going in.” Best team stat: The Chiefs, at 85.1 percent, are the third-best team in the league at penalty killing. Only Swift Current (86.7 percent) and Tri-City (85.9) are better. Worst team stat: Given the man advantage, the Chiefs rank 18th in the WHL in power plays at 17.6 percent (22 for 125). Biggest trend: Twenty of the Chiefs’ first 33 games have been decided by one goal, including eight that ended with 2-1 decisions. Spokane is 12-8 in one-goal games. Best recent trend: The Chiefs have scored 17 goals in their last four games (all wins) after being held to 17 goals in the nine games before that. Best scheduling outcome: The Chiefs have fared well away from the Arena, posting a road record of 10-5-1-0. Biggest thing to watch in the second half: The Chiefs have a solid record of 9-5-2-0 in the U.S. Division. How they finish in the division race will be heavily influenced by seven remaining games against Portland. The Chiefs (39 points) are two points behind second-place Portland and five behind division-leading Everett. “I think, for us, we just have to keep on doing what we’re doing,” Speltz said. “The key is going to be consistency. That’s going to give you a chance.”