You don’t go looking for defining moments in the first home game of a long hockey season, but you can find flashes of what a team might become.
Spokane beat Tri-City, 5-2, to win its ninth straight home opener on Saturday night in front of 8,108 in the Arena – breaking open a game that was tied 2-2 through two periods.
The Chiefs bounced back from the 8-3 loss they suffered in the Tri-Cities the week prior by working through a few of the jitters and growing pains a young team is bound to encounter.
“We have some guys with some pretty wide eyes, still,” Spokane coach Don Nachbauer said. “We’re a young team by Western Hockey League standards.”
And, on the whole, a smaller-than-average WHL team as well.
Saturday night the team’s defining skill – its speed and skating ability – began to show itself in flashes.
The teams traded power play goals through the first two periods, with Spokane making short work of its man-advantage situations.
Curtis Miske scored just 10 seconds into Spokane’s first power play, slicing home a wrist shot from the point to even the score at 1-1.
The Chiefs needed just five seconds of its second-period power play to even the score when Kailer Yamamoto beat Tri-City netminder Nicholas Sanders to the stick side.
But the Ams returned the favor, tying the score at 2-2 on a power play goal of their own.
Five minutes into the third period Hudson Elynuik stepped up. The third-round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes got the puck inside the face-off circle, drew in the defender as he drifted toward the goal and dropped a perfect pass to newly-named team captain Tyson Helgesen, who beat Sanders cleanly to make it 3-2.
And then came the game’s defining 83 seconds.
Dalton Hamaliuk drew a minor penalty to put Tri-City into a man advantage, and a half-minute later Evan Fiala drew a minor for holding on the penalty kill and suddenly, the Americans had a two-man advantage.
“We needed our veterans to step up in that situation and they did,” Nachbauer said. “You can’t rely on the young guys at a time like that.”
With the penalty successfully weathered the Chiefs broke the game open.
Elynuik showed off his puck-handling skills, deking a defender completely out of the play in front of the Tri-City bench and whipping a wrist shot past Sanders to make it 4-2.
When the Americans pulled Sanders late to get a man advantage, the Chiefs found Yamamoto for the second time and he responded with an empty-net goal to create the final score.
Helgesen said earning the captain’s sweater is an honor and he plans to live up to it.
“There have been some outstanding team captains here,” he said. “I know I earned this for a reason and I don’t want it to change my game. I just want to go out there and keep doing what I’ve been doing.”