The Spokane Chiefs were set to play a home-and-home series against the rival Tri-City Americans on Saturday and Sunday, but a positive COVID-19 test within the Americans’ team cohort postponed those plans.
Instead, the Chiefs, who were not yet in Kennewick when the Western Hockey League announced the suspension of Tri-City team activities, will get some extra rest before hosting the Everett Silvertips on Thursday.
The pause comes right at the midpoint of the COVID-shortened, 24-game season for Spokane. The Chiefs sit at 4-5-1-2 on the season, good enough for fourth place in the five-team U.S. Division. The Chiefs needed eight games to notch their first win, but since that 5-2 win over Tri-City on April 7, Spokane has won three of its past four.
The Chiefs seemed to have turned a corner during this development-focused season. Here are three observations from the first 12 games:
Zummack leaving it all on the ice
The 5-foot-9 forward is playing his last season of junior hockey and he’s making the most of it. Zummack, in his fifth season with the Chiefs and playing for his fourth head coach in that time, has five goals in his past five games, including the tying and winning goals at Portland on April 14, and the shorthanded winner at Everett the night before.
This all comes after going without a goal in the season’s first seven games.
Zummack has put the team on his shoulders in the past two weeks and is taking advantage of each shift, knowing his junior hockey career is nearing its end.
“My time here in Spokane has flown by. It just goes to show that every single shift you have to be ready to go,” Zummack said after Spokane’s 7-6 loss to Portland on April 10. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing 8 minutes a night or 28 minutes a night, it’s the same thing every single time you’re on the ice.”
Zummack is second on the team with 15 points, one back of Adam Beckman’s 16.
Youth counted on to play big minutes
With forwards Bear Hughes and Luke Toporowski playing in the United States Hockey League as a result of COVID-19’s impact on the WHL season, coupled with injuries to key players like Jack Finley (out for the season) and Graham Sward (hasn’t played since March 27), the Chiefs are relying on younger players to fill the holes caused by those casualties.
Players like 18-year-old Reed Jacobson (five goals, five assists), 17-year-old Blake Swetlikoff (three goals, three assists) and 18-year-old defenseman Raegan Wiles (one goal, five assists) are getting major minutes. Jacobson and Wiles were with the team all last season but had limited ice time. Swetlikoff played in just 11 games last year before being reassigned to his midget team in Saskatchewan so he could gain more ice time.
This year, Swetlikoff finds himself on the top line skating with Beckman.
Wiles is often on the top defensive pairing with 20-year-old Matt Leduc, and Jacobson has shown his scoring ability while playing second line minutes. All three also get time on the power play.
Given that this year is focused on development, the Chiefs hope the experience gained by the younger, more inexperienced players pays off down the road.
Beaupit emerges as top goaltender
Lukas Parik, Spokane’s top goaltender last season and also the only Chiefs goalie to score a goal, is also playing this season in the United States Hockey League.
That opened up a spot on the depth chart, and 17-year-old Mason Beaupit is taking full advantage. The 6-5 backstop takes up a lot of space in net and has evenly split time with Campbell Arnold. In six games, Beaupit has an impressive .924 save percentage. Arnold’s sits at .895 in six games.
Beaupit played so well in Spokane’s 4-3 win at Everett on Tuesday that he got the start again the next night and made 48 saves in Spokane’s 4-3 overtime win in Portland. Starting on back-to-back nights isn’t unheard of, but it was noticeable, given the condensed schedule.
The Chiefs are also carrying 16-year-old goaltender Manny Panghli, who hasn’t appeared in a game .
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