It’s only been two games, but the Spokane Chiefs are off to the kind of start a team in transition wants, especially in the always competitive U.S. Division.
The Chiefs opened the season last weekend with two straight wins in Victoria, British Columbia, winning 7-4 on Friday and 5-4 on Saturday. It may have been a throwback to the 1980s and early ’90s high-scoring Western Hockey League, but the Chiefs will take the wins.
The Chiefs return to Spokane for their home opener Saturday when they welcome the Kamloops Blazers. Kamloops eliminated Spokane in last season’s playoffs.
The Chiefs return plenty of faces from last year’s squad, but a few notable newcomers are ready to show off.
Among the returners is 17-year-old Kooper Gizowski, who paced Spokane with a goal and four assists over the two games in Victoria. Gizowski totaled just eight points all of last season in 47 games.
Mac Gross, a 20-year-old defensemen and one of the team’s veteran leaders, scored three goals on six shots in the two games in Victoria, matching last season’s total.
Gross is one of three overage players alongside fellow defenseman Raegan Wiles and forward Cade Hayes. Spokane released veterans Erik Atchison and Reed Jacobson last week to get down to the league-mandated three 20-year-olds.
Chase Bertholet and Ty Cheveldayoff each finished the weekend with three points. They’ll both be counted on this season at forward – Bertholet for his scoring and Cheveldayoff for offense and physical play.
Spokane’s lone import player, Tommaso De Luca, also finished with three points, including his first career goal on Friday. De Luca isn’t the only newcomer the Chiefs will rely upon. Rookie Berkly Catton, the top overall selection at the December bantam draft, is also expected to play a big role. It’s a lot to ask of a 16-year-old, but Catton already has a goal and an assist on the season.
Catton joins forwards Cameron Parr and Cole Wadsworth and defenseman Will McIsaac as the team’s four 16-year-olds.
Spokane won its two games in Victoria without star defenseman Graham Sward and starting goaltender Mason Beaupit. Sward was at the Nashville Predators’ preseason camp before being returned to Spokane this week. Sward will be in the lineup for Saturday’s home opener. Beaupit remains with the San Jose Sharks preseason camp.
In Beaupit’s absence, Cooper Michaluk tended net in both games in Victoria with Manny Panghli backing him up. Michaluk faced 49 shots in the two games.
Saturday’s home opener will be the first for Ryan Smith as head coach. Smith was the interim coach in the latter half of last season before being named the head coach this summer.
The Blazers come to Spokane having been defeated 3-0 by the Portland Winterhawks in their season opener last week. Logan Stankoven, who dominated Spokane for seven goals in the Blazers’ four-game sweep last spring, remains with the Dallas Stars’ preseason camp.
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