Kelowna holds off Spokane 5-4 to eliminate Chiefs from postseason contention
March 12, 2023 Updated Sun., March 12, 2023 at 2:15 p.m.
Spotting your opponent four goals is a good recipe for a loss. For the Spokane Chiefs, it did result in a loss, but not without a fight. The Chiefs roared back to tie the game with 2:02 remaining the game before ultimately losing in overtime.
Gabriel Szturc scored 2:24 into overtime to give the Kelowna Rockets a 5-4 win in front of 7,527 fans. Szturc had a four-point night with two goals and two assists.
Once the game went to overtime, Kelowna got one point in the standings, which was enough to nab the final playoff spot in the WHL’s Western Conference. That means the Chiefs will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
The Chiefs even pulled their goalie with the game tied to try and win in regulation.
But a night after lamenting the lack of pride in his team, Spokane head coach Ryan Smith could at least salvage the fact that his team battled until the emotional end.
“It sure didn’t go our way at the start and even the start of the second. It took that to maybe get us going,” he said. “We put our best effort forward the last half of the game and gave it everything we had. I’m proud of the guys and I think there was some pride and passion in our game.”
Kelowna scored 6:37 into the game when Szturc one-timed a shot past Spokane goaltender Cooper Michaluk. Less than two minutes later, Elias Carmichael made it 2-0 with a shot over Michaluk’s shoulder.
Things didn’t get any better in the first half of the second period for Spokane. Marcus Pacheco scored 1:03 into the period and Dylan Wightman added a power play goal five minutes later to give Kelowna a commanding 4-0 lead.
But then something clicked for Spokane as the Chiefs scored three times in less than five minutes to claw back into the game. First it was Cade Hayes scoring his 20th of the season off a face-off win at 13:18.
Then Carter Streek scored his 16th of the season on a net mouth scramble that needed an official review at 15:43. Jaren Brinson jumped into the play in Kelowna’s zone at 18:05 to put home a back door pass to get Spokane within one.
Berkly Catton scored his 20th of the season with 2:02 remaining to knot the game at four before Szturc won it in overtime.
The comeback was due to pride and passion, yes, but also some tangible differences in how the Chiefs played on the ice, Smith said.
“Our neutral zone play was better (in the second period),” he said. “We stood up in the neutral zone and didn’t back in or let them get any easy entries into our zone. In the offensive zone, we chipped pucks in and went to work. (Kelowna) was tired from their game the night before so we wanted to expose that a little bit.”
The Chiefs were again playing without stalwarts Grady Lane, Ty Cheveldayoff and Saige Weinstein. Cheveldayoff and Weinstein are injured, and Lane was serving the last game of his two-game suspension. Without them, the Chiefs were missing some grit.
“They’re very hard working, physical players. They bring an element of our game that we miss when they’re out of the lineup,” Smith said. “They’re physical players and when you’re missing one it hurts. When you’re missing all three it’s hard to replace that.”
The Chiefs will hop on a bus and head to Everett to play the Silvertips tonight in their third game in as many nights.
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