Ladies and gentlemen, reintroducing the Spokane Chiefs.
The Chiefs have returned to their home ice at the Arena for the first time in nearly three weeks. Spokane will play Prince Albert at 7:05 Friday night.
Spokane (3-3-1-0) will play its next five games at home after completing a 2-3-1-0 road trip. The Chiefs opened the 2015-16 Western Hockey League season at home on Sept. 26 before playing road games against Kootenay, Tri-City, Victoria (back-to-back), Portland and Everett.
“We knew it was going to be a really tough start as far as the six road games and one home game,” Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz said Thursday. “That doesn’t give you a lot of comfort because you know how tough it is to win on the road, especially with young guys.”
“We played well in a couple of games (during the road trip), but in a couple of other games I think we had to learn about competing,” Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur said. “We were more structured at the end of the road trip than we were at the beginning of the trip, so it got better as we went along.”
Spokane played six games in nine days, often competing against rested teams. Speltz and Nachbaur were both pleased with the final game, a 5-4 overtime loss at Everett last Saturday after Spokane had been blanked 5-0 at Portland the previous night.
Making it tougher, Chiefs forwards Jacob Cardiff and Riley Whittingham received three-game suspensions during the trip. Whittingham is eligible to return Friday.
Spokane will play Kamloops on Saturday, Brandon on Wednesday and back-to-back games with Victoria next weekend before leaving for another six-game road trip.
“That’s something you have to survive,” Speltz said. “That’s all there is to it.”
The Chiefs’ roster has changed in the last two days as Spokane released 20-year-old goaltender Garret Hughson on Wednesday and picked up 20-year-old forward Luke Harrison during Thursday’s 20-year-old cut-down draft. Harrison, released by the Kamloops Blazers, has totaled 30 points in 183 games over five WHL seasons.
“We expect Luke to give us a veteran presence with our forward group,” Speltz said. “Luke is a big body who can play any forward position. We are looking forward to Luke joining our team.”
Hughson wasn’t selected in the cut-down draft and became a free agent.
“Having a 20-year-old goaltender is always difficult because goalies never play every game,” Speltz said. … “But we also really felt that (18-year-old goalie) Tyson Verhelst and (17-year-old goalie) Matt Berlin were ready to take that step.”
“The general manager wanted to have a younger guy in there, so we’re building for the future and giving the young guys an opportunity to play and get better,” Nachbaur said. “In hindsight, (Verhelst) has played really well. Tyson … has given us a chance to win every time he’s been in the net.”
The line of right wing Kailer Yamamoto (one goal, team-high nine assists for a team-high 10 points), left wing Dominic Zwerger (four goals, five assists) and center Hudson Elynuik (four goals, two assists) has sparked Spokane this season. Defenseman and captain Jason Fram leads the team with five goals.
“I think Dom’s been dominant, Kailer’s had a good start and Elynuik has really blossomed as a player and is coming into his own,” Nachbaur said. “But there are two or three older guys who haven’t done much and we’re expecting more of them.”
“Others have had good individual efforts, but we haven’t seen consistency of lines,” Speltz said.
Speltz said that 20-year-old forward Adam Helewka, Spokane’s top scorer last season, still hasn’t signed with the National Hockey League’s San Jose Sharks and could conceivably return to the team. But Thursday’s addition of Harrison gives the Chiefs their limit of three overage players.
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