The Thanksgiving long weekend has given the Chilliwack Chiefs and their fans much to be thankful for, or at the very least a reason to relay and breathe a whole lot easier.
With back to back wins over two BCHL powers, the BCHL team may have pulled out of an early-season tailspin. Neither Friday’s 5-4 win over Wenatchee or Sunday afternoon’s triumph over Trail was a piece of hockey brilliance. But after starting the season 1-5-1-1, they represent two massive steps in the right direction for a team that carries massive expectations into this season.
Chilliwack has won two in a row for the first time this season and has something positive to build on.
Tommy Lee led the Chiefs past the Smoke Eaters Sunday, producing two goals. More importantly, Chilliwack’s leaky D looked a lot less porous against a Trail offence that has lit the lamp a league-leading 49 times already this year.
It was one of their big guns who opened the scoring 9:29 into period one, with Ross Armour netting his 10th of the season.
Defenceman Jeremy Lucchini got the assist, darting deep into Chiefs territory on a rush down the left wing. From below the faceoff dot, Lucchini flipped a backhand centering pass into the blue paint where Armour waited to pop it past Chilliwack goaltender Mathieu Caron.
Shots on goal through 20 minutes favoured Trail 11-9.
Until Lee’s first goal in the waning seconds of period two, the most interesting moment of the yawn-inducing middle frame was a penalty call, as Chilliwack newcomer Jake Gresh was handed two minutes for illegal equipment.
Best guess in the press box? The defenceman who was just acquired from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Bonneyville Pontiacs brought with him a hockey stick that isn’t a BCHL approved brand (Bauer).
Why that should affect a hockey game is an excellent question, but the Chiefs escaped that wierdness unscathed and tied it at 1-1 on Lee’s third of the year. Kaden Pickering did the heavy lifting with some nifty stick-handling to evade two Smokies on his way to the slot. Pickering fed the puck to Wil Calverley, who was camped at the right goal-post. The captain sent the puck across the blue paint for Lee to bang it in.
Chilliwack and Trail combined for nine shots in the second period, with the Chiefs holding a 6-3 edge.
Two goals 87 aparts early in period three put the Chiefs on top, starting with a big effort from 16 year old rookie Harrison Blaisdell.
Chasing a dump-in into the Trail zone, the Abbotsford native caught Smokies blueliner Karsten Jang flat-footed and burst by him. Catching up to the puck in the goal-mouth, Blaisdell slammed on the brakes, pulled it to the forehand and tucked it inside the left post for his second of the season.
With the crowd still buzzing, Trail’s Ethan Martini took a high sticking minor, sending the Chiefs to the power play. A Corey Andonovski shot from the high slot rattled off the end boards and came back to Lee at the right post, where No. 11 shovelled a backhand shot past goaltender Brandon Wells.
Trail got both of those back when Chilliwack ran into penalty trouble later in the period.
Back to back minors to Wyatt Elmer (roughing) and Jared Turcotte (slashing) gave the visitors five-on-three for 1:06 and a power play for 3:06.
A second or two after Turcotte stepped out of the box, Trail’s Seth Barton bulled his way into the Chiefs goal crease and got a skate (if you believed the booing crowd) or the blade of his stick on a Spencer McLean centering feed, bringing the Smoke Eaters within one with 9:12 to play.
Levi Glasman tied it up with 3:49 to play. On another Trail power play, the forward was left unchecked in the goal-mouth, collected a pass from Andre Ghantous and lifted a shot over Caron for his fourth of the season.
But Ryan Miotto made sure Chilliwack had the last laugh.
Less than a minute after Glasman’s equalizer, Chiefs defenceman Bryan Allbee carried the puck into the Smoke Eater zone, gliding down the left wing wall. Allbee saucered a centering pass into the blue paint where crease-crashing Miotto was able to poke it past Wells with 3:12 to play.
Chilliwack survived a Trail push in the final seconds, with Caron producing a couple huge stops. The young goalie finished the night with 24 saves on 27 shots.
The three stars were Lee (first), Andonovski (second) and Blaisell (third).
The Energy Player of the Game was Allbee.
Announced attendance was 1,908.
Chilliwack’s next game is Wednesday night, on the road in Coquitlam.