It’s been 181 days, but Saturday will finally be hockey night in Spokane.
If that doesn’t excite hockey fans enough, this should: Star defenseman Ty Smith is expected to be in the lineup after spending time with the New Jersey Devils.
Smith, the 17th overall selection in June’s NHL Draft, impressed the Devils’ brain trust enough to stick around this long. He’s not eligible to play for New Jersey’s minor league affiliate, so the only option was to play with the Devils or back in Spokane.
For the 18-year-old, playing back in Spokane is the best path for his development. His return bolsters a lineup that played its first two games of the season shorthanded.
The Chiefs were walloped 6-1 at Tri-City last week but played without Smith, forwards Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Jake McGrew and Luke Toporoski, as well as defenseman Filip Kral.
Anderson-Dolan and Kral remain out for tonight’s home opener. Anderson-Dolan is still with the Los Angeles Kings and Kral is out with an upper-body injury.
McGrew and Toporowski are expected to play tonight as well.
As the season moves along, it is assumed that Anderson-Dolan will be returned to Spokane. The 19-year-old has impressed enough with the Kings to warrant the extra time at their training camp.
Chiefs fans would be wise to remain patient, though. It was only a year ago that Kailer Yamamoto surprised many with a nine-game audition at the NHL level with the Edmonton Oilers, delaying his return to Spokane until Nov. 10 after the season was more than a month old.
But the Chiefs can only ice the team they have, so expect some line juggling in the early parts of the season, including Saturday night when they welcome the Kootenay Ice.
The game marks the home debuts for a number of newcomers, including 16-year-old forwards Jack Finley and Erik Atchison. Seventeen-year-old forwards Connor Gabruch and Adam Beckman, as well as 17-year-old import defenseman Egor Arbuzov, are also making their home debuts as rookies.
The Ice, meanwhile, are a team in search of a winning season. The last time Kootenay finished above .500 was the 2014-15 season. Last year’s 27 wins were a 13-game improvement from the previous season when they won 14. The Ice won just 12 games during the 2015-16 season.
The Chiefs and Ice get started after pregame festivities just after 7 p.m.
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