After playing at home for much of the season, the Spokane Chiefs will head into their winter break with a four-game trip.
Their first stop is Seattle, where they play Saturday night, followed by Everett on Sunday and the annual two-game stint in Victoria, British Columbia, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We’ve been at home a lot. A road trip, it’ll be good,” said Adam Beckman, the team’s leading goal scorer with 16. “Everything’s together. You’re on the bus together for a long time. You’re eating together … you learn a lot about people when you spend a little more time together.”
The Chiefs were just in Seattle on Tuesday night for a 4-2 win, the sort of out-and-back trip that has characterized most of their travel.
Last weekend, when the Chiefs played in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday and hosted Tri-City the next night, the team left Lukas Parik in Spokane so the goaltender could skip the 9-hour bus rides and get his normal rest before playing the Americans. The Chiefs beat the Americans 4-3 that night.
It was a gambit coach Manny Viveiros said he’d never attempted in the Western Hockey League, as travel from Swift Current – where he was head coach for two seasons – was minimal.
No other team in the WHL has played as many home games (18) or as few road games (11) as the Chiefs have. Spokane is 10-6-2 at home and 7-3-1 on the road.
The Chiefs, with 37 points, are in third place in the U.S. Division, six points behind both Everett and Portland. But they also have a 10-point cushion over fourth-place Tri-City.
Spokane has settled into that position mostly without Jake McGrew, the 20-year-old who was expected to be among the team’s leading scorers. In six games before suffering a season-ending knee injury, McGrew had five goals and three assists while playing on the Chiefs’ top line.
“You don’t ever replace a player like that,” Viveiros said of McGrew, selected by the NHL’s San Jose Sharks in the sixth round of the 2017 draft. “So, it changes the dynamic of our team.”
Last week, the Chiefs traded for 20-year-old Leif Mattson, who had 18 points in 25 games with Kelowna and has added one assist in three games with Spokane.
“(Mattson is) a very good player, smart player, experienced. He’s a real legit 20-year-old, a guy you want on your hockey team,” Viveiros said.
The Chiefs have also been without Parik for stretches this season, first with an injury and, most recently, while the goaltender spends time at the Czech Republic World Junior Championship selection camp. He is one of five goalies on the preliminary roster, which will be finalized before the Czech Republic hosts the tournament later in December.
But Parik’s absence has allowed rookie Campbell Arnold to start 16 times in goal. Arnold’s 2.44 goals-against average ranks eighth in the WHL; Parik has started 13 games with a GAA of 2.59.
“In my experience in the league, you’re gonna have to have two goaltenders. You can’t just run with one guy,” Viveiros said. “You need your backup, so to speak, to come in and win some hockey games.”
Ty Smith has also been away from the team and will be until early January, after he was named to Team Canada for the World Juniors for the second year in a row.
After the Chiefs’ games in Victoria, the team will disband directly from there for a weeklong break. After one more road game on Dec. 27, the Chiefs host Tri-City on Dec. 28.
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