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Spokane Chiefs’ No. 1 line gets off to quick start

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 27, 2019, 7:32 p.m.

Fans celebrate with Spokane Chiefs forward Jake McGrew  after his goal during the second period of a WHL hockey game, Friday, March 8, 2019, in the Spokane Arena. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Fans celebrate with Spokane Chiefs forward Jake McGrew after his goal during the second period of a WHL hockey game, Friday, March 8, 2019, in the Spokane Arena. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Jake McGrew spent the early part of September playing hockey with San Jose Sharks prospects he didn’t know nearly as well as he knows his Spokane Chiefs teammates.

He got used to doing a lot more talking on the ice than usual.

“We’re not very familiar with each other, so we don’t know what the other person’s gonna do. We were pretty vocal out there,” McGrew said of his time with the NHL team that drafted him in 2017. “So, when we came back here, it was a habit.”

That combination of a new habit and old chemistry has been a good one for the Chiefs’ forward, who returned to the team just in time for the season’s first road trip last weekend – and what a weekend it was for Spokane’s top line.

Adam Beckman, Eli Zummack and the 20-year-old McGrew combined for 10 points in the Chiefs’ first two games, which included a 4-3 win at Kamloops and a 4-3 overtime loss at Kelowna.

The Chiefs host the Tri-City Americans at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in their home opener.

Beckman spent time with the Minnesota Wild this month as one of their 2019 draft picks, while Zummack accepted an invitation to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s training camp.

All that time with NHL clubs meant they only played the first two WHL preseason games together and then had little common practice time once they got back.

But it didn’t seem to matter.

“It’s something we had last year a little bit,” Beckman said of the line combination. “As we’ve started to play together, it’s started to jell a little bit.”

Zummack said centering Beckman and McGrew – who led the Chiefs with 32 and 31 goals, respectively, last season – is an easy gig.

“We all really like playing with each other. They’ve got great speed and obviously they’re both amazing players,” Zummack said. “When you’re playing with guys like them, anyone can be in (my) position.”

Riley Woods led the team in scoring last season with 75 points (29 goals, 46 assists), followed by Ty Smith, who had seven goals and 62 assists and was named the WHL Defenseman of the Year.

Woods, now in his 21-year-old season, is playing in the American Hockey League. Smith, 19, is still with the New Jersey Devils and might rejoin the Chiefs later this fall if the Devils don’t keep him on the roster.

But after those two, the team’s next three points leaders last season were Zummack (68), Beckman (62) and McGrew (54). So the Chiefs certainly have enough returning scorers to give first-year Spokane coach Manny Viveiros a formidable No. 1 line.

“We’ll mix and match lines all year long, but from Day 1 when we put those (three) guys together, they seemed to have chemistry,” Viveiros said. “And they all bring something different, which is very important, too.”

After the top line, Viveiros praised the combination of Luke Toporowski, Jack Finley and Cordel Larson, all regulars in the lineup last season who have formed the No. 2 line through two games.

The third line of Connor Gabruch, Michael King and Erik Atchison has produced two goals so far. The fourth line hasn’t been stable so far beyond center Owen MacNeil.

“We’ve got a lot of really good lines,” Beckman said. “From one to four, we’re really deep.”

Zummack said he doesn’t expect their line will stay intact all season, as “hockey is hockey.” Guys get hurt. Players slump. But for now, the Chiefs’ first line is rolling.

“I mean, eventually, once you develop a certain amount of chemistry, you’re able to just know where the player is from the kind of player they are,” Zummack said. “It’s definitely nice to stick with one line, and if you’re doing good, obviously that’s gonna happen.”

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