The Spokane Chiefs started slow but turned on the heat on a snowy Sunday night to beat division rival Seattle 3-0 at the Arena and regain a tie for second place in the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division.
With the victory, Spokane (18-13-3-1, 40 points) pulled into a tie with Everett and within a point of the Thunderbirds (19-12-3-0, 41). The Chiefs also earned the 650th career WHL win for coach Don Nachbaur.
“They outworked us the first 10 or 15 minutes,” Nachbaur said. “But our goalie was fabulous when need be. I thought we gutted it out when we had had to.”
The play of the night should have been a highlight for Seattle. Two Thunderbirds broke free and attacked Spokane goalie Tyson Verhelst, who bit on a fake and left the net open for the shot.
“In desperation, I threw my glove back and luckily (the puck) went in,” said Verhelst, who had 19 saves for the shutout victory. “It’s a good game for our first game back (from the holiday break). I felt like if we all carried our weight, we were going to get a good win.”
Dominic Zwerger, who traveled 24 hours to get back to Spokane after representing Austria in an international tournament, said Verhelst did more than carry his weight.
“That was the save of the year,” Zwerger said of Verhelst’s magic trick. “It changed the momentum for us.”
After Seattle camped out for most of the first period in front of Verhelst, and Spokane failed to do anything with a power play, Zwerger put a shot into Seattle goalie Logan Flodell. The puck came free and Zwerger pounded the rebound home for his 12th goal of the season.
Assists were awarded to Jason Fram and Jacob Cardiff on the goal that made it 1-0 at 18:55 of the first period.
Verhelst made several more saves before Spokane got another power-play opportunity in the second period. Keanu Yamamoto fired a perfect pass to Curtis Miske, who powered it past Flodell to make it 2-0 at 13:07. An assist was also awarded to Zwerger.
Seattle failed to get anything going and the scoring was completed at 18:48 of the third period when Hudson Elynuik turned and flicked the puck down the ice for an empty-net goal. Assists were awarded to Zwerger and Kailer Yamamoto.
“That was a huge game for us,” Zwerger said. “Our next four games are against teams from the U.S. Division. They are all huge for us.”
In the end, the Zwerger lauded more praise on the kid behind the mask.
Seattle “pushed us around the first 10 minutes but after those key saves, he turned the game around,” Zwerger said. “We were the better team at the end.”
Verhelst, who scored his first shutout of the season, said the team was pleased to be back in the thick of the division race.
“It feels great knowing that with our next game we could be in sole possession of first place,” he said. “We are looking forward to the challenge.”
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