It was a Saturday night of firsts and near-firsts for the streaking Spokane Chiefs.
Defenseman Jordan Henderson scored his first career Western Hockey League goal and 17-year-old goaltender Tyson Verhelst came within 29 seconds of his first shutout as the Chiefs notched their fifth consecutive victory with a 2-1 decision over the Lethbridge Hurricanes at the Arena.
Spokane (14-7-3-0, 31 points) joined the Portland Winterhawks in second place in the U.S. Division, four points behind idle Everett. Portland has played five more games than the Chiefs.
Four of the Chiefs’ wins during the streak have been by 2-1 counts.
“It’s been a good run,” said Verhelst, who had 25 saves in improving to 5-1-0-0. “Guys have been working hard and we always come to play. We always find ways to score and play as a team and play hard for each other. We have a good thing going. … We’re going to be a team that battles, grinds away and finds a way to score a couple of goals and hopefully not give up too many.”
Verhelst’s shutout bid ended when Tyler Wong of the Hurricanes (6-17-3-1) scored after a late faceoff while the Chiefs were protecting a 2-0 advantage.
“I saw a minute left and I thought, ‘Just work hard for a minute and a good thing will happen,’ ” Verhelst said. “But 30 seconds were left and they got a play and capitalized on a chance. I was a little upset but glad we got the victory.”
Verhelst’s 6-foot-4 counterpart, 16-year-old Stuart Skinner, finished with 37 saves and had some bad luck on Spokane’s first goal. On the play, at 11:31 of the first period, Curtis Miske centered a pass that deflected off Skinner’s pad and was redirected by Jacob Cardiff’s skate for his second goal of the year and his first since Oct. 22.
Henderson’s milestone, assisted by team scoring leaders Adam Helewka (31 points) and Calder Brooks (25), came early in the third period, after the Chiefs had killed a power play and Henderson had stopped a shot that nearly dribbled in behind him.
“I have to credit that to (Helewka),” said Henderson, who nearly scored off a similar play against Victoria. “He just fed me back door and I kind of put it in there.”
“That play was just part and parcel,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “I thought our ‘D’ was our best group tonight. Good for Hendo. It was great to see him score that goal and we needed that.”
The Chiefs travel to Kent, Washington, tonight for their sixth game of the season against the Seattle Thunderbirds. Spokane is 3-1-1-0 against Seattle.
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