On Saturday, the primary tenants – in their familiar red sweaters with a blue horizontal stripe and white accents – were back in action to open the 2021-22 Western Hockey League regular season.
While there wasn’t the same amount of hoopla or pageantry, that didn’t dim the excitement of the 7,327 in attendance, or those on the ice, for the start of a new hockey season in Spokane – a full one, with cheering fans in the stands for the first time since March 2020.
And for 50 minutes, the home team had the much better of showing.
But a 5-minute 5-on-3 in the third period for the visitors flipped the script, and the Tri-City Americans topped the Spokane Chiefs 5-3.
Spokane outshot their visitors 45-21, dominating play in the Americans’ end of the ice much of the night. Tri-City had 13 shots in the deciding third period.
“Obviously I liked our game even-strength, of course,” Chiefs coach Adam Maglio said. “I think the play was indicative of that. The shots, the shot attempts, every analytic would tell us that. But certainly it comes down to team discipline. Disappointing.”
Early in the third, the Chiefs’ Cordel Larson ran Americans goalie Tomas Suchanek on a high puck. In the ensuing scrum, Timafey Kovgoreniya punched a Tri-City player without retaliation. Both players took major penalties and misconducts, giving Tri-City an extended two-man advantage.
Maglio had no beef with the calls.
“I mean, that’s a call all day so, you know, we got to be a little bit smarter there.”
Tyson Greenway hammered home a rebound to tie it at 3-3 just over a minute into the penalty kill, but Chiefs goalie Campbell Arnold made three saves in the last minute of the two-man advantage to keep it tied.
It didn’t last. After some sloppy play in neutral ice, Dwayne Jean sprang Parker Bell on a breakaway and his backhander slipped past Arnold to hand the home team its first deficit of the game at 4-3.
“I think things were going in our favorite a bit through most of the game,” newly-named captain Jack Finley said. “And then, you know, a couple unfortunate events and I think it gave them some momentum. But it’s a lesson learned for us. I know we got to shut games down like that and, you know, make sure we stay out of the box.”
Rhett Melnyk lofted an empty-net goal from center ice late for the two-goal lead.
After the brief 21-game spring season in front of empty seats and playing only U.S. Division foes, the Chiefs enjoyed the normalcy of the start of 68-game season, their 37th WHL season in franchise history.
For opening night anyway, it was back to business as usual at the Arena.
Finley was happy to see patrons back in the seats.
“Last year we didn’t have any fans, you know, even the NHL teams didn’t have fans, so for everyone in the hockey community it’s so much better with fans, and especially our fans here, it’s awesome.”
“It was great,” Maglio said. “I thought our guys responded well to the crowd. The guys haven’t seen that in a couple years. We have such great fans, the energy is electric in there. It was exciting. It was great for our guys. It just would have been nice to get them the win tonight.”
The Chiefs’ leading scorers from last season, Adam Beckman and Eli Zummack, have moved on, but that didn’t stifle the offense.
Spokane defenseman Mac Gross registered the first shot one goal a little over a minute in after a big hit by 2021 CHL import draftee Kovgoreniya at the half-wall kept the puck in the Chiefs zone.
Two minutes later, Kooper Gizowski was robbed point-blank on a sliding save by Suchanek, but Finley was there to stuff in the rebound and give the Chiefs their first lead of the season.
“The puck was just sitting right there for me to tap it,” Finley said. “A good shift all around for our line. Cordell (Larson) made a nice play, poked it through the goalie’s legs and it was a gift just sitting there for me.”
The Chiefs outshot Tri-City 8-1 in the first 6½ minutes. The Americans’ second shot found paydirt.
A scramble in front of Arnold midway through the first saw a loose puck drift to Ams defenseman Bryson Andregg, who put the puck on his forehand in the slot and whipped it through a crowd and past Arnold, who never saw it.
On the next shift, Andregg was sent off for high-sticking and the Chiefs capitalized. Raegan Wiles’ shot from center point deflected off a couple of players along the way and beat Suchanek stick side for a 2-1 lead at 12:40 of the first.
Spokane led in shots 18-3 after one period.
Kovgoreniya was sent off for interference early in the second period and the Americans converted. Bell went across the slot to Petr Morovec at the right dot and he sent a wrister past Arnold with 14 seconds left in the minor penalty to tie it at 2.
Later in the period, Graham Sward took a stick up high and the Chiefs were the beneficiary of a double-minor. Bear Hughes walked one in from the point and his shot caromed to Luke Toporowski, who buried the wrist shot for a 3-2 lead.
Moments later, TC’s Elouann Lemmonier was called for interference, giving the Chiefs a 5-on-3 for 91 seconds, but they couldn’t get one to fall.
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