Moments after Kailer Yamamoto won the game-sealing faceoff with 4 seconds remaining, he skated over to his goaltender, Dawson Weatherill, patted him on the helmet and came in for an enthusiastic hug.
Weatherill, who entered the game with 7:04 remaining in regulation for Jayden Sittler, was tasked with holding onto a one-goal lead against a surging Tri-City team.
The 17-year-old netminder made five saves, all with the game on the line, and the Chiefs pulled out a 4-3 win over U.S. Division rival Tri-City at the Arena on Saturday.
“Dawson has been playing great the last five games and I think it gave us a little bit of a kick,” Yamomoto said. “In the end, it worked out.”
Spokane entered the third period with a four-goal lead, but it dwindled quickly after the Americans rallied with goals from Brett Leason, Tyler Sandhu and Juuso Valimaki in first 13 minutes of the final frame.
Head coach Don Nachbaur said fatigue may have come into play at the start of the third period for the Chiefs, fresh off a shootout loss to Portland on Friday. The team didn’t return to Spokane from Portland until 5 a.m. Saturday.
“It only takes a few guys to come off the wagon to lose your team structure,” Nachbaur said. “I think our guys are all pulling together right now.”
After T-C’s flurry of goals, Nachbaur inserted Weatherill in the game to swing the momentum.
“We needed something to change,” Nachbaur said. “And I didn’t want to burn my timeout. Dawson has been playing well, so I was confident he would get the job done.”
Weatherill, a rookie goaltender the Chiefs acquired in a trade with Red Deer this offseason, said it’s a bit of a shock entering the net midgame, especially in a one-goal game, but his defense in front of him allowed him to make influential stops down the stretch.
“They’re weren’t getting too great of chances,” Weatherill said. “A lot of point chances my ‘D’ was really boxing out so I could get a clear lane at the shot. I’m really going to have to give credit to my team because they were working hard out for me out there.”
Kailer and Keanu Yamamoto both scored in the game’s first 5 minutes to provide the Chiefs with their early two-goal lead.
Ethan McIndoe potted his 13th and 14th goals of the season in the second period, adding insurance that came in handy later.
The win puts Spokane eight points behind Portland for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Winterhawks fell 8-5 to the Seattle Thunderbirds, giving the Chiefs a chance to close the gap.
Kailer Yamamoto and Weatherill discussed just that on the ice directly following the horn. After all, the rest of the season will come down to whether the Chiefs can rally to catch Portland and sneak into the playoffs.
“He was just glad we got the two points,” Weatherill said. “That’s all that really matters.”
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