The Spokane Chiefs had every excuse heading into Wednesday’s game against the Kelowna Rockets: Injuries, suspensions and a six-game losing streak.
But you wouldn’t know it by the way they played. The Chiefs outshot Kelowna 28-26 and kept Kelowna’s shots mostly to the perimeter. It all added up to a 2-1 win, Spokane’s first win at home this season, and their first in seven games.
Bear Hughes and Cordel Larson scored for Spokane. Mason Beaupit made 23 saves in the win.
The Chiefs iced just 10 forwards and 16 skaters total. But despite the short bench, the Chiefs were able to weather the adversity, including a six-on-four Kelowna power play in the waning moments.
“I thought we were good tonight, the third period especially,” head coach Adam Maglio said. “Typically playing short, that’s when the legs might not be there but the third was our best (period), to be honest. It was a gutsy effort killing a six-on-four to end it. Guys really stepped up.”
Guys stepped up by winning faceoffs and blocking shots. The Chiefs blocked three straight shots during a quick sequence with less than 30 seconds remaining and the Rockets pushing.
Hughes got things going for Spokane when he scored on the Chiefs’ first shot of the game at 7:16 of the first. Hughes made a nifty move in the neutral zone to get by two defenders and spring himself free on a mini breakaway and got one past Kelowna goaltender Talyn Boyko.
“It was a quick transition. I got the puck and put it in an area where the defender went right between me and the puck,” Hughes said. “It worked out for me because he hesitated and I was able to go around him for a breakaway. The whole time I knew I was going to shot it and I wasn’t going to try and dangle.”
Larson scored on the power play at 6:25 of the second to give Spokane a 2-0 lead. Hughes and Blake Swetlikoff got the assists. Pavel Novak got Kelowna on the board with just under a minute left in the second after Kelowna won a faceoff to him. Novak shot one through traffic that beat Beaupit.
The Chiefs’ Copeland Fricker took a hooking penalty with 2:28 to play, opening the door for Kelowna to tie it up. But the Chiefs’ penalty killers stood tall and preserved the win.
The Chiefs’ two goals came from two of their 20-year-olds, but Maglio made a point to highlight everyone on the team.
“The (veterans) were great but there wasn’t a man in the lineup who was off tonight,” Maglio said. “Everyone had their legs and found their game tonight and were committed to making team-first decisions.”
Hughes was playing his third game back from injury and with the shorthanded lineup, Maglio put him on the wing instead of his normal center position. Hughes’ wing experience is limited to just his first two games as a Chief three years ago.
“Before that I had never played wing before,” he said. “I’ve known how to play wing but I prefer to play center because it’s where I’m more comfortable. But with injuries and suspensions it works better for us for me to play wing right now and I’m happy to do that.”
The Chiefs haven’t played with a lead too often this season, but they never trailed against Kelowna, which sits second in the B.C. Division. It’s something Maglio hopes will continue.
“It was nice getting the lead. Our first period has kind of been our one period where we focused on being better, he said. “If we continue to focus on that it will really help our record.”
Spokane scored on one of its four power play opportunities and killed all five penalties it took.
The Chiefs and Rockets battle again Friday in Kelowna.