It was an intrasquad scrimmage and each and every one of the sweaters bore the same Spokane Chiefs logo, but it was hockey.
A normal game of hockey played in front a handful of fans.
“That’s got to be the highlight, doesn’t it?” Chiefs general manager Scott Carter said. “We actually played a game with fans in the stands and there was music playing whenever someone scored. It’s been so long since we’ve done that.”
Team White pulled out a 7-6 win over Team Red in a shootout to cap an afternoon of spirited play that looked as rusty as you would expect at the end of a brief Western Hockey League training camp, yet hinted at a promising season yet to come.
“We scored 13 goals out there – that tells you something about what we have,” veteran Luke Toporowski said. “We had two pretty evenly matched teams, and we played a good game. It was good to get out there again.”
Carter called the three-day camp “normal” in all of the on-ice ways a training camp works, but said the fact that most players have played only a handful of games in the past year – practically none for players from Canada – leaves them behind in their development.
“We had no 15-year-olds in camp so this was a group that’s 16 and up,” he said. “But their skills are about a year behind where they would normally be. But every team is in the same position.”
Kooper Gizowski took the first of three penalty shots in the shootout but lost the puck as he tried to elude Team White keeper Manny Panghli. Ethan Rosenoff scored, beating Team Red’s Grant Llang low to his stick side for the game winner.
Panghli stopped back-to-back chances by Carter Nallan and Cam Smith to seal the win.
As expected, Chiefs veterans took the lead at the end of a training camp that featured 55 players.
Toporowski scored twice in the third period for Team Red, the second to put them up 6-5 with nine minutes left.
Jack Finley, a 2020 second-round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning, set up a late goal by Ty Cheveldayoff to put Team White even at 5-5, and after Toporowski’s second goal Bear Hughes, a 2020 pick by the Washington Capitals, evened the game at 6-6.
“It was just great to get back and to see all of these guys,” Finley said. “That felt really good. It’s going to take a little while to get back to where it all feels normal, but no we can get back to work every day.”
Finley missed the entire 2020-21 season after a shoulder injury that required surgery. At 6-foot-5 and more than 200 pounds, he was back to being a handful for young defenders in front of Team Red goaltenders Mason Beaupit and Llang.
The Chiefs’ first-round selection from the bantam draft, defenseman Saige Weinstein, played a solid game despite picking up a third-period penalty.
“He’s looked good in camp and I think we’re ready to see what he can do in our preseason games,” Carter said. “I think that’s where we are. You start with training camp, you have the Red-White game and then you take a look at what you have in preseason games. You build toward the season opener.”
The WHL will play six preseason games beginning Sept. 10.
Spokane opens the regular season at home against the Tri-City Americans on Oct. 2.
Players who will be cut from the Chiefs roster following camp will return to their respective teams but could be recalled at a later date.