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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Chiefs honor Ray Whitney, then beat Thunderbirds

On a night of nights, the Spokane Chiefs came from behind Friday night for a huge 5-4 win over a division rival on an evening the franchise recognized its greatest player and crowned its coach as its new wins king.

The Chiefs opened the night against the Seattle Thunderbirds by raising the banner of Ray Whitney, who got a standing ovation from the crowd in an opening ceremony to retire his No. 14 jersey. He led the franchise to its first Memorial Cup in 1991.

“I love this city. I love this organization,” Whitney told the crowd. “Thank you so much for this great honor.”

Down 2-1 heading into the third period, the Chiefs (23-19-3-2 51 points) exploded for four goals and held on late to give coach Don Nachbaur his 234th win, to surpass former coach Mike Babcock for most in franchise history.

“I just told the players that coaches don’t win games. They dug in. They deserve all the credit,” Nachbaur said. “It was a pretty special night to be a part of Ray Whitney retiring his jersey.”

A hockey game eventually broke out and then things began to go bad for Spokane in front of 7,602 fans.

Just four minutes into the game, Spokane goalie Tyson Verhelst tried to pass the puck up the ice, but Seattle’s Mathew Barzal intercepted the pass and caught Verhelst out of position for the easy goal.

It got even worse at the start of the second period. Seattle’s Scott Eansor got the puck in front of the Spokane net and backhanded a puck that dribbled between the legs of Verhelst, seemingly in slow motion. The short-handed goal put the Chiefs down 2-0.

“We didn’t give them a lot, but Tyson (Verhelst) would have liked both of those plays back,” Nachbaur said.

The Thunderbirds (26-18-3-0 55 points) controlled the game until the end of the second period.

But just as the night looked to turn into a blowout, Keanu Yamamoto stole the puck and raced the other way. He found Markson Bechtold, who slammed it into the net to make it 2-1 with only 2:58 remaining in the period.

“I thought getting that first goal gave us momentum and got the crowd back into it,” Bechtold said.

The Chiefs then scored two quick goals to start the third period. Dalton Hamaliuk tied the game when he got a shot to go under two minutes into the period.

Less than a minute later, Nik Anderson recovered a rebound off the goalie and slammed it home to give Spokane a 3-2 lead.

“We didn’t play that good the first two periods,” Anderson said. “But when we came out in the third period, we responded as a team.”

Seattle’s Keegan Kolesar scored to tie the game. But Spokane’s Dominic Zwerger got a deflection off of a Hudson Elynuik shot and made it 4-3 at the 7:48 mark of the third period.

Less than a minute later, Preston Kopeck got free behind the Seattle net and scored a wrap-around goal to make it 5-3. Seattle scored again late, but the Thunderbirds couldn’t steal the magic from a special night for the Chiefs.

“It was great to get a win on this night for Don. We are all just thrilled for him,” Bechtold said. “We are definitely hoping to carry this into tonight’s game against Tri-City.”

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