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Spokane Chiefs notebook: Coach Ryan Smith addresses turnovers, strong goalie start to campaign

Spokane goalie Dawson Cowan stops a shot while defenseman Saige Weinstein looks on during a Western Hockey League game against Tri-City at the Arena on Sept. 30, 2023.  (CHERYL NICHOLS/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Spokane Chiefs are off to a 2-1-0-0 start with road wins over Kamloops and Everett before falling to Tri-City in the home opener last Saturday. They’ve been off since, an atypical early break ahead of a home matchup against Seattle on Friday and a quick road trip to Kelowna on Saturday.

In Saturday’s game against the Americans, Chiefs goalie Dawson Cowan stopped 42 of 45 shots but fell victim to some shaky defense as turnovers in the home end led to all three Tri-City goals in the third period in the loss.

Chiefs coach Ryan Smith addressed those issues and Friday’s opponent in his press conference after Thursday’s practice at the Arena.

Practice this week

“These weeks are hard because you have a long runway before between games and you get concerned that there’s complacency, or lack of enthusiasm – but it’s still quite early in the season. There’s lots to work on, introducing some new structure and things like that as the season goes on, you constantly do that. I thought (Thursday’s) practice in particular we were flying, we looked really crisp. It was a little bit shorter, just to give guys a bit more rest heading into a pretty busy weekend.”

Defensive-zone turnovers

“One of the things analytically we look at after every game is our turnovers. And we had way too many last game. So this week we concentrated on our passing skills, working on receiving, giving passes – some of it very simple, some of it a little more complex. When we talk about things that we’re struggling with, we would be crazy not to work on those things. That’s part of our job as coaches and I think we identified that and did a good job this week. Hopefully, that’ll transfer into the games this weekend.”

Communication when on defense

“I think these guys are all pretty, pretty good hockey players. There’s a reason they’re here. I think some of its nerves, maybe, in a big game like that. And we talked a little bit about that after the game on the weekend against Tri. That probably played into it a bit. I think one thing that our guys sometimes forget is the other team wants to try and stop you, therefore being a little loose with the puck they’re going to take advantage of that.”

Goalie Dawson Cowan’s hot start

“It’s a bit of a shame to waste a really good goaltending performance on Saturday against Tri. At one point it felt like they were never going to score just the way he was playing and stopping and his confidence. Both goalies, him and Cooper (Michaluk), have come to this season feeling confident, looking strong. Dawson’s had a good summer. He’s worked hard. He’s very technical, very professional. He’s not here to waste any time – he wants to get better each and every day. He was lights out the other night and was definitely the best player for us on Saturday.”

Friday’s home matchup versus Seattle

“They’re heavy and hard. They always have been. They play very fast and physical. They’ll surround the puck. There’s always going to be a couple of Thunderbirds around you. So that’s why we have to take care of the puck. We have to support the puck. I mean, they’re the defending champs and they were one win away from winning Memorial Cup. They have a different team, a little bit, but they still have some carryover from that. They still have pride … Talking about not being ready or expecting a team to check you, it could be a long night. But if we’re ready for it and we can break them down we might be able to get some odd-man rushes and some advantage out there.”

Catton’s hot start

Forward Berkly Catton has two goals and five assists through three games. He leads four Chiefs with two goals apiece. Defenseman Brayden Crampton has a goal and five assists, tying Catton for the team lead in helpers.

Between the pipes

Cowan and Michaluk have each registered a win this season. Cowan has stopped 76 of 82 shots (.951 save percentage) and has played to a 2.01 goals-against average.