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Group of Spokane Chiefs players find ice time on other rosters ahead of WHL restart

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 13, 2021

Kelowna Rockets forward Mark Liwiski and Spokane Chiefs forward Luke Toporowski compete for control of the puck Feb. 1, 2019, at the Arena. (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Kelowna Rockets forward Mark Liwiski and Spokane Chiefs forward Luke Toporowski compete for control of the puck Feb. 1, 2019, at the Arena. (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Four current Spokane Chiefs players will get a chance to play elsewhere as they await a firm restart plan from the Western Hockey League, the team announced on Wednesday.

Luke Toporowski and Bear Hughes, both 19 years old, will be transferred to teams in the United States Hockey League for the duration of that league’s season. The USHL regular season, which is underway, ends on April 24.

They could rejoin the Chiefs after that date but not before it, depending on when the WHL begins its announced 24-game season and whether their USHL clubs reach the playoffs.

Hughes, a Post Falls native, will play for the Fargo Force. Toporowski, who is from Iowa, will play for the Sioux Falls Stampede in South Dakota.

“Our league and USA Hockey reached a unique agreement regarding American players from (WHL) U.S. Division clubs,” Chiefs general manager Scott Carter said in a statement from the team.

“Despite the WHL’s commitment to play this season, there are still uncertainties, and this opportunity will provide Luke and Bear the chance to play right away.”

Hughes was a fifth-round selection by the Washington Capitals in the 2020 NHL draft.

In addition, NHL prospects Adam Beckman and Jack Finley will be allowed to play in the American Hockey League when it begins its season on Feb. 5.

Beckman, a 2019 third-round pick by Minnesota and the WHL’s leading scorer last season, will report to the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Iowa. Finley, a 2020 second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has been in the NHL club’s training camp and was assigned to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.

Normally, the AHL does not allow players younger than 20 to participate, but with many junior leagues not underway, 18- and 19-year-olds like Finley and Beckman, respectively, will be allowed until junior teams resume.

Six ex-Chiefs on NHL rosters, taxi squads

Former Chiefs defenseman Ty Smith was named to the opening-night roster of the New Jersey Devils and is set to play his first NHL game following a 240-game career in Spokane.

“It’s obviously something I’ve been working toward for a while now, and it feels pretty good to be on the roster to start,” the 20-year-old Smith told reporters on Wednesday. “Hopefully, I can keep working and keep getting better to try my best to stay here.”

Jared Spurgeon – who billeted with the same Spokane family as Smith did during his time with the Chiefs – is entering his 11th season with the Minnesota Wild, his first as team captain.

Kailer Yamamoto, a Spokane native, is the other former Chiefs player who will begin the season on an NHL opening-night roster, with the Edmonton Oilers.

Three other former Chiefs will start the season on taxi squads, including NHL regulars Derek Ryan and Tyler Johnson. Both Spokane natives have established themselves as NHL players already but were put on waivers this week in an effort to clear salary cap space.

Ryan (Calgary Flames) and Johnson (Tampa Bay) cleared waivers and were placed on the six-player taxi squads by their NHL clubs, although it is likely they will be called up to the active roster soon.

It was the second time this offseason that the Lightning waived Johnson, but no team was willing to take on his $5 million annual salary and a contract that runs through the 2023-24 season.

Ryan’s annual salary with the Flames is $3.125 million. This is the final year of that deal.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan of the Los Angeles Kings is also on his club’s taxi squad. The former Chiefs center has played nine career NHL games.

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