Preseason camp for the Spokane Chiefs looks a lot different now that new general manager Matt Bardsley is running the show. Instead of bringing together enough players to create three teams, Bardsley and the coaching staff invited more than 80 players for four teams and implemented a new tournament-style camp.
The camp concluded Sunday with the annual Red-White game, something that remains a tradition for the Chiefs. But instead of featuring returning veterans and young players looking to make the roster this year or next, the Chiefs stuck to the tournament-style and in the end, Team Tokarski – wearing red sweaters the entire camp – came out with the win, defeating Team Kidd–wearing blue sweaters for camp but switching to white for Sunday’s finale–5-2.
Earlier in the day, Team Spurgeon took third place with an overtime victory over Team McCabe. Chase Harrington, the Chiefs’ top pick in this spring’s WHL bantam draft, got the game-winner.
In the Red-White championship game, mostly veterans carried the day. Cade Hayes, Ty Cheveldayoff and Kooper Gizowski, all returners from last season, each had a goal. Berkly Catton and Josh Perreault had the other two goals for the red side. The highly touted Catton is expected to make the team as a 16-year-old. Perreault is looking to make the team as a 17-year-old.
Blake Swetlikoff scored both goals for the white side. Swetlikoff is heading into his third season with the Chiefs.
“There was lots of high-end talent. When you add a fourth team, you get more opportunities for people and guys took advantage of that,” Chiefs head coach Ryan Smith said. “The level of play was high, the practice tempo was good. It’s not easy coming to camp with a bunch of strangers and expect to play together as team while also trying to showcase yourself individually.”
Defenseman Graham Sward is entering his 19-year-old season and remains one of the team leaders. He came away impressed with the guys fighting for roster spots.
“I thought a lot of the young guys looked good and the future’s bright. The returners, I think everyone had a good summer. I wouldn’t want to be trying to make the team because it’s going to be tight with some of the decisions that need to be made.”
The Chiefs were a young team last season, and roster spots will be difficult to secure for some youngsters at camp. Smith saw plenty of stand-outs, both young and old.
“Berkly Catton’s a guy who pops off the page and plays hard from first shift to last shift,” he said. “I think Blake Swetlikoff had a good weekend. Mac Gross, Raegan Wiles and Graham Sward on the defensive side did too. Our veterans came in with something to prove.”
That something was an overall improved performance after needing a late-season surge to make the playoffs last year, only to be swept in the first round. Sward said the scores of those playoff games are posted in the team’s weight room as a reminder.
“I think they want more and they showed that this weekend,” Smith said.
The Chiefs will trim the roster, sending mostly 15-year-olds home to their club teams as they prepare for two preseason games in Everett this coming weekend. The Chiefs will host a preseason game on Sept. 15 at the EWU ice rink before playing their final two preseason games in Kennewick Sept. 16 and 18.
But for Smith, players proving they deserve a roster spot is a seasonlong endeavor, though there are deadlines, like the season-opening roster by Sept. 23.
“We have time and we have to give everybody a fair opportunity,” he said.
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