The Spokane Chiefs got an epic effort from a goalie and opportunistic scoring Wednesday night to somehow beat the Seattle Thunderbirds 4-2.
The Chiefs (16-10-2-1) scratched out a gutsy win in a game in which they were outshot 39-21. It took Spokane 8 minutes to record its first shot on goal. But 37 of those Seattle shots got gobbled up by goalie Tyson Verhelst.
“We started out slow,” Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur said. “We had way too many situations where we didn’t defend. But (Verhelst) was like a brick wall back there.”
The U.S. Division-leading Thunderbirds (17-9-2-0) came out to start the game with a plan and the Chiefs looked rattled.
The Thunderbirds were aided by two Curtis Miske penalties, both for holding. But Spokane got two penalty kills, including a huge defensive play by Adam Helewka, who deflected pass to break up a threat directly in front of Verhelst.
Some seven minutes later, Helewka broke free from a defender and Kailer Yamamoto found him in front of the Seattle net. Helewka smashed the puck home to give Spokane a 1-0 lead at the 14:20 mark of the first period for his team-leading 16th goal of the season.
“We needed someone to make a big play,” Nachbaur said. “He was excellent on the penalty kill. He was the leader we needed him to be.”
About the 15:40 mark, Seattle pulled its goalie for a stretch, but Spokane’s defense stiffened.
At the 17:28 mark of the first period, Jamal Watson slapped a shot that hit a Chiefs defender’s skate before the puck fluttered seemingly in slow motion past Verhelst to tie the game.
The game was tied despite a huge 18-7 advantage of shots on goal for Seattle.
“Eighteen shots in the first period, that’s a lot of work,” Verhelst said. “When you see that many shots, it’s easier to keep a rhythm going. I weathered the storm.”
The Chiefs opened the second period struggling to control the puck and the Thunderbirds continually slammed any Chiefs player they found into the boards.
But the Chiefs just kept finding ways to find creases in the Seattle defense. Eight minutes into the period, Taylor Ross smashed a shot that was deflected by Jacob Cardiff and past Burman to make it 2-1 Chiefs.
Just a few minutes later, Ross headed up the ice hounded by a Thunderbirds defender. Ross flashed some nifty skating to come free and he got it past Burman to make it 3-1 at the 11:24 mark of the second period for his first career goal for Spokane.
“I shot the puck and I was lucky it went in,” said Ross. “It was special. It was a great experience. I’m hoping there are more to come.”
Thunderbirds coach Steve Konowalchuk then pulled Burman and replaced him with goalie Logan Flodell. But it didn’t seem to matter.
After the Thunderbirds again camped out on offense only to come away empty, Keanu Yamamoto gathered up a Seattle turnover and raced the other way. He juked Flodell and put the puck into the other side of the net to give Spokane a 4-1 lead at the 18:07 mark of the second period.
The period ended with Spokane’s Dalton Hamaliuk dropping gloves against Seattle’s Josh Uhrich to the delight of the sparse crowd.
The Thunderbirds made it interesting in the third period when Watson broke free to score a short-handed goal at the 14:53 mark to make it 4-2.
“We let the foot off the gas,” Nachbaur said. “We let them back in it. But we weathered the storm.”
The Chiefs hit the road to play the same Thunderbirds on Friday before returning home Saturday to play Tri-City for the annual Teddy Bear Toss game.
But on Wednesday, the night belonged to an 18-year-old kid from Brandon, Manitoba, who made saves with everything from his stick to his skates.
“You want to stop them all,” Verhelst said. “But tonight was a great night for us.”
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