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Eli Zummack confident winless Spokane Chiefs can find footing in weekend series

UPDATED: Thu., April 1, 2021

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

As the 20-year-old captain of a winless Spokane Chiefs hockey team, Eli Zummack is trying to show teammates by example how to navigate what could be a frustrating start to the season.

“Just coming to the rink with the right mindset,” Zummack said Thursday. “Obviously, no one likes losing.”

The Chiefs have scored just six goals, are 0-4-1 through five games – one loss came in a shootout – and were shut out twice last weekend. But with games at Tri-City

on Saturday and home Sunday against Seattle, Zummack is confident that this team can find its scoring again – and soon.

“By no means are we worried here with the losing stretch we’re on here,” Zummack said. “It’s gonna change.”

The Chiefs began the year without 19-year-old forwards Bear Hughes and Luke Toporowski, who are on loan this season with teams in the United States Hockey League. They were Zummack’s primary linemates last season when Spokane finished with the third-most points

in the Western Conference of the Western Hockey League.

Then during training camp, 18-year-old center Jack Finley, suffered a shoulder injury that will require surgery. He is now done for the season.

“Jack is a huge piece to this hockey club. I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t say that,” Chiefs head coach Adam Maglio said. “But for him, the best thing right now is to have the surgery and to get back on track for next year. We’re moving on with the players we have.”

On Tuesday, the Chiefs added 2002-born U.S. player Mitchell Kohner on loan from Prince George for the remainder of this season only. Kohner, who had eight goals and six assists in 59 games last season, wasn’t able to join the Cougars this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to a release.

“I think he’s gonna fit in well,” Maglio said of Kohner, who needs to complete seven days of WHL protocols before he can skate with the team. “He’s gonna bring a little pace to our group and that little bit of grit, maybe, we need up the wall. We’re excited to get him in.”

One offensive problem the Chiefs are having, Maglio said, is that they are playing mostly along the perimeter of the ice.

“That’s a big adjustment I see for young players moving into junior (hockey) is finding ways to score,” Maglio said. “And if you’re not willing to go into those hard areas around the net, it is a struggle to get goals.

“Once you get there and you get rewarded once, it really builds confidence individually and as a group. Hey, If we get there more, we’re gonna see some more goals.”

Defenseman Matt Leduc said team chemistry had to be “fast-tracked” this season, given how the preseason was condensed into two weeks – also with no exhibition games – and how COVID-19 protocols limit their ability to get to know each other off the ice.

But with 19 games left on the schedule, Leduc is confident the team can learn from its early struggles.

“I think adversity’s really important for a team, especially a young team that has to come together quickly,” the 20-year-old Leduc said. “I think it’ll only make us stronger and only bring the younger guys up to speed even faster. Having some difficulty at the beginning isn’t the worst, because it allows us to see what’s not working right now, so come later on in the season we’ll have all our bugs worked out and we’ll be ready and prepared and be focused come whatever our next challenge is.”

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