One thing has remained constant during the Spokane Chiefs’ up-and-down season – their domination over the Tri-City Americans.
The Chiefs improved to 8-3-0-0 against the Americans this season as Kailer Yamamoto and Calder Brooks scored two goals apiece during a 5-2 Western Hockey League victory at the Arena.
Spokane (34-29-3-1, 72 points) won its third consecutive game and clinched no worse than the Western Conference’s No. 7 seed to the playoffs. Tri-City (29-36-0-3, 61) lost for the 10th time in 13 games and saw its postseason hopes take a hit. The Americans are in a battle with Prince George, which defeated Portland in a shootout to improve to 63 points, and Kamloops, which lost to remain at 61 points, for the conference’s final two playoff berths.
“They’re a good team,” Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur said of the Americans. “Even when the score was 4-1, they kept coming. … They’re a desperate team trying to make the playoffs and they need to win games.”
The Chiefs’ specialty teams have been another constant. Spokane entered with the league’s fourth-best power-play percentage at 22.4 and boosted that by finishing 3 for 7. The Chiefs also had the WHL’s third-best penalty kill at 83.2 and did nothing to harm that by holding the Americans to a 0-for-4 night.
“We’re sneaking up there,” Nachbaur said of the Chiefs’ power play. “You have to execute and you have to put it in the back of the net, and we’ve been doing that on a pretty regular basis. It’s gone unnoticed, but we notice that in our locker room.”
After a scoreless first period, Yamamoto deflected Adam Helewka’s shot at 5 minutes, 18 seconds of the first to get the Chiefs off and running with their first power-play goal.
“It tipped off the ‘Tri’ player and then it redirected toward me and it hit off (me), which I guess was pretty lucky,” said Yamamoto, a Spokane native and Mead High School student.
Brooks’ power-play goal 5 minutes later, set up by a perfect pass from Kailer’s older brother, Keanu, allowed the Chiefs to take a 2-0 lead into the final period.
Both teams amped up their offense in the third, starting with Yamamoto’s second goal, beating Eric Comrie top-shelf at 4:13. Liam Stewart added a power-play goal at 9:04 and Brooks an empty-netter with 1:34 remaining for the Chiefs.
“I think we had a very average first period,” Nachbaur said. “I think we turned the heat up in the second. … We got to our game plan and our best players were way better in the second than they were in the first, and that’s the difference. In the second and the third, our best line was where it needed to be going into the playoffs.”
Yamamoto, who had his fourth multigoal game of the season, missed out on his second hat trick when Comrie stopped his breakaway with 3:15 left.
“I wanted it, but Comrie made a good play,” Yamamoto said. “I thought I had him five-hole, but he made a good save.”
At the end of the night, Yamamoto, Brooks and Stewart all stood at 22 goals for the season. Helewka, who had three assists on the night, leads with 39 goals.
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