Any goalie starting his first game in the Western Hockey League is likely to have some nerves.
If that goalie is a 16-year-old playing in an emergency role in front of 9,549 fans, the nerves should be high.
Not for Mason Beaupit. The rookie netminder, who got a phone call Friday night telling him he’d be needed Saturday in Spokane, made 25 saves in the Chiefs’ 5-3 win over the Tri-City Americans.
Adam Beckman continued his torrid pace, finishing with a hat trick on four shots. Luke Toporowski had a goal and an assist, while Jack Finley finished with three helpers. Cordel Larson, Bobby Russell and Eli Zummack all had two assists.
Beaupit was in net because the Chiefs suddenly found themselves down both goaltenders. Starter Lukas Parik is playing with the Czech Republic at the World Junior Hockey Championships, and 17-year-old Campbell Arnold suffered a lower-body injury in Friday’s game at Seattle.
Nerves? Beaupit didn’t have any.
“I was pretty relaxed. I knew there were going to be a lot of people here because it’s a rivalry game,” he said. “It was good to get in front of a great crowd.”
Beaupit said it was the biggest crowd he’s played in front of, “by about 9,000 people.”
The Chiefs needed a good response after Friday’s 9-5 shellacking at Seattle. They got it and gave their rookie goaltender his first win.
“(Friday) night was kind of a pond hockey game, and we didn’t play with much structure,” Chiefs head coach Manny Viveiros said.
Beckman got the crowd going 4:32 into the game when he got one past Tri-City goalie Beck Warm. Beckman got his second of the game at 11:47 of the first when he found himself alone in front of Warm and backhanded one top shelf.
Just 9 seconds later, Toporowski went with the same move on a breakaway to give Spokane a 3-0 lead. The goal forced Tri-City to pull Warm in favor of 17-year-old Talyn Boyko.
The Americans got on the board at 4:37 of the second when Nick Bowman scored on the power play. But 37 seconds later, Leif Mattson scored his first as a Chief at home when he took a pretty backhand pass from Toporowski and one-timed a shot past Boyko.
Parker Bell got Tri-City within two at 4:42 of the third after the Chiefs got sloppy in their end. Beckman sealed the win with an empty-netter with 1:03 remaining. Tri-City’s Samuel Huo got a late goal with 11 seconds left.
Beckman has 27 goals on the season and is tied with Everett’s Bryce Kindopp for the league lead. Beckman sits alone atop the league with 57 points.
“For us as a group, including Adam, is the structure within their game,” Viveiros said. “You create chances from structure. If you play within the system, you’re going to create a lot more chances. That’s the reason why he’s been so good.”
Beckman has 14 goals and 19 points in December.
As for Beaupit, he made a crucial stop on Tri-City star Sasha Mutala in the third period when Mutala was on a breakaway straight from the penalty box. Beaupit poke-checked the puck away and preserved a two-goal lead.
“I saw (Mutala) lose the puck and knew that if he grabbed it, he was cutting back,” Beaupit said. “I waited for him to grab it and threw my stick out there.”
His coach was impressed, given the circumstances.
“You never know how it’s going to go, and more importantly you want this young guy to have a good experience,” Viveiros said. “You don’t want him to go in there and give up goals and see a barrage of shots. I thought our team did a good job of protecting him tonight and doing a good job in our zone.”
The Chiefs gave Tri-City five power-play opportunities and killed all but one. The Chiefs scored one goal on their three power-play chances.
The Chiefs have now won seven of 10 games this month, with one more remaining on New Year’s Eve at Tri-City. Tri-City is winless in eight December games.