If there was ever such thing as a “moral victory,” the Chiefs loss on Saturday against Prince George would be the closest thing to it.
The Spokane Chiefs scored three goals in the third period, but couldn’t erase a three-goal first-period deficit in a 4-3 loss to Prince George on Saturday at the Arena.
The resilience from his young team – out of playoff contention – was refreshing to see for Spokane head coach Don Nachbuar, whose Chiefs are outnumbered in players 19-years-old and older, 14-6.
“They battled hard,” he said. “And you know what, it’s a feather in our cap because at least a few more seconds on the clock and we tie the game. We had a lot of momentum.”
Spokane was presented a 6-on-4 opportunity after Nachbaur pulled the goaltender and Colby McAuley was called with a tripping penalty with 42 seconds remaining.
The Chiefs had a few chances, the best one being Keanu Yamamoto’s one-timer as the horn sounded. But Price George netminder Nick McBride reached up and made a glove save to prevent the game from heading to overtime.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored the Chiefs first goal and kickstarted the comeback, as the second-year forward sniped a shot past McBride only 57 seconds in to the third period, cutting Prince George’s lead to 3-1.
“That goal gave us belief we were in it,” Nachbaur said. “Without that goal it’s just another game.”
Josh Anderson responded for the Cougars, as the Colorado Avalanche’s third-round pick in 2016 whizzed a shot past Chiefs goalie Jayden Sittler from the blue line to provide Prince George a three-goal advantage once again.
But the Chiefs didn’t quit.
Kailer Yamamoto followed with the Chiefs’ second power-play goal of the night, posting up in the crease and scoring on a rebound past McBride to cut the lead to two.
Hudson Elynuik was the beneficiary of a nice pass threaded into him by Pavel Kousal as he cut into the crease to cut the Cougars’ once-resounding lead to one.
Each of the Chiefs’ three third-period goals came from their veterans. Nachbaur wants his older players to set a good example for Spokane’s 10 rookies.
“It sure wouldn’t be very encouraging if we shut it down,” Nachbaur said. “That’s what we are asking our guys,”
The Chiefs gave themselves a three-goal deficit after a lackluster opening period, a theme during the Chiefs six-game losing streak. Spokane has been outscored 11-3 in the first period during the skid.
Josh Curtis scored the first goal with 6:55 remaining in the first, as the New York Rangers’ fourth-round pick in 2015 capitalized on a nice pass from former Spokane forward Tanner Wishnowski off the boards to put the Cougars up 1-0.
Jared Bethune followed with a goal 1 minute, 15 seconds later and Nikita Popugaev scored on the power play 17:42 into the game to push the Cougars’ lead to 3-0.
Development is a key for Spokane moving forward with several rookies given significant ice time due to injuries. The final four games of the regular season will be a chance for them to grow.
“When you’re young, you see how big all the other guys are and maybe let them push them around a little bit,” Keanu Yamamoto said. “But once they realize they can play with these guys, and just getting that confidence, is huge for them.”
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