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Spokane Chiefs

Spokane Chiefs clamp down on defense in third, pull away from Kelowna 8-5

The Spokane Chiefs would like nothing more than to return to the Western Hockey League postseason after missing out last season. Entering play Sunday, the Chiefs had 22 games remaining, just 10 of those at home, to make that happen.

After a 6-3 road loss Saturday night against Tri-City, the team directly behind them in the standings, the Chiefs had retained a tenuous hold on the eighth and final playoff spot out of the Western Conference. 

This season has to be seen as a success already – Friday’s 6-4 win over first place Everett allowed the team to match last year’s total of 40 points with seven weeks left in the campaign. But if they are to hold off Tri-City – and Seattle right behind them – and reach the playoffs, games like Sunday’s against sixth-place Kelowna at the Arena take on ever-mounting implications. 

And with the Rockets still licking their wounds from an 11-1 loss to Portland Friday night, and losers in six of their last eight, the opportunity was there to nab two more points. 

Defense was optional, and often missing, in the contest – until the Chiefs clamped down in the third. 

Berkly Catton and Carter Streek scored two goals apiece and the Chiefs pulled away from the Rockets to win 8-5, narrowing the gap between eighth and sixth place in the conference. 

“The third period is the best period we’ve played in weeks as a team,” coach Ryan Smith said. “Everybody contributed and we really need to start to play that way all the time. As the games go by you lose chances to make up points. So tonight was a huge, huge effort.”

“It was a rough start to the game,” defenseman Brayden Crampton said. “Third period comes and we were locked down. Seems to be like that all season long. And every time third period comes we shut them down.”

Catton scored his second goal of the game nearly 13 minutes into the second period, taking a pass from Conner Roulette near the bottom of the right wing circle and snapping it past Kelowna goalie Jake Pilon for his 35th goal of the season to take a 5-4 lead.

Coco Armstrong made it a two-goal game with 56.2 seconds left in the period, picking up a loose puck along the right wing skating around a defender and sneaking it past Pilon.

But Kelowna came right back, as Hiroke Gojsic flipped a puck from below the goal line over the cage and off Michaluk’s back and in for his 13th goal of the season and third of the night with 40 seconds left in the period.

It’s been a common problem this season for the Chiefs to allow goals after scoring and at the end of periods.

“It’s a bit of a lack of concentration because there’s a euphoria, the high that you feel after the goal,” Smith said. “These are young guys and they don’t necessarily handle success always the right way.”

The goals kept coming in the third – for the Chiefs anyway. A mere 13 second into the period, Catton fed Roulette on the back door to make it 7-5.

“We had enough goals to win it already, so let’s not let them score,” Catton said about the third-period shut-down. “Let’s kind of shut them down and we did a really good job and got a couple ourselves too, which is kind of just the cherry on top.”

It became a three-goal lead midway through the period, as the Chiefs took advantage of a bad clear and Streek converted a rebound for his second of the night and fifth of the season.

“He’s had a hard time finding the net this year,” Smith said of Streek. “Hopefully these two goals springboard into a little more offense, but he worked hard tonight. He played fast and he had a little bit of sandpaper to his game.”

Smith doesn’t want his team to miss out on the opportunity it has down the stretch.

“There’s lots of hockey, we can’t start looking at the standings,” Smith said. “Obviously, our next is Tri-City, so that’s an important game, but you’ve got to take the points when they’re there and tonight I thought we did that.”

Kelowna got out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, with two goals from point blank range by open forwards.

But Streek took advantage of a turnover in the Kelowna end and whipped it past Pilon for an unassisted goal almost 8 minute in. Chiefs forward Rasmus Ekstrom tied it up 43 seconds later as he buried his own rebound with a backhander short side. 

The home fans were still cheering the goal as Kelowna won the draw and Dylan Wightman hit a streaking Tij Iginla, who potted his second of the game just 10 seconds later to make it 3-2.

The Chiefs tied it up 17 seconds into the second period as Crampton corralled a rebound, drove up ice and to the net, slid face-first and poked it under Pilon. There was a collision, and the goal was upheld after video review. 

“I kind of thought to myself, ‘Oh, I’ll look up ice,’ and there was an open lane,” Crompton said. “And I snuck through and dove for the puck and I don’t remember anything else from there.”

Catton gave Spokane its first lead of the game midway through the period. He gathered a loose puck on the right side of the cage and bounced it from behind the goal line off Pilon and into the net to make it 4-3. 

But again, Kelowna answered just 1:40 later, with Gojsic fighting through the defense and beating Michaluk stick side.