EVERETT — There was an air of resignation from the Comcast Arena crowd Wednesday night.
Normally there’s a level of energy and excitement at the Everett Silvertips’ home arena that is unique in the WHL, an atmosphere that had Tips fans voted the Western Conference’s be
st fans for the sixth straight year in the Best of the West poll.
But Wednesday night against the Spokane Chiefs that atmosphere was gone. This was a fan base that knew it was supporting a team that was out of its league.
Spokane reaffirmed the gulf that exists between the two teams as
they cruised to a 7-2 victory over the Tips.
Levko Koper had a hat trick and Brenden Kichton added two goals for Spokane, which dominated all phases of the game, outshooting Everett 53-23. Only some desperation work from Everett’s overworked goaltender, Kent Simpson, prevented the Chiefs from reaching double digits.
It was just the latest episode of what’s been a one-sided season series. Spokane has won six of the seven meetings between the two teams, and while the final scores haven’t been as lopsided as Wednesday’s margin, the shot totals often have been. It’s been a case of one team having just that much more puck control, that much more awareness and that much more jump in its game.
“They’re a tough team to play against,” Tips winger Tyler Maxwell said of the Chiefs. “They’re a team that knows how to win, they have a good coach over there and a group of guys who like to work. We definitely need to pick it up.
“The whole game like that is about work and our work ethic,” Maxwell added. “Tonight it just wasn’t there. They got a good bounce in the beginning, but as the saying goes, ‘If you work hard you get those bounces.’ We know their structure, we were prepared Xs and Os wise. We just need to pick up our compete level when we play against them.”
Blake Gal and Collin Valcourt also scored for Spokane (35-16-4-2), which pulled within three points of Portland for first place in the conference. Mac Engel made 21 saves in net for the Chiefs.
Spokane coach Don Nachbaur, who’s coached many a game against Everett during his stints with the Chiefs and Tri-City Americans, was at a loss to explain why his team has fared so well against the Tips this season.
“I don’t know,” Nachbaur answered. “Personally as a coach I’ve never had success in this building, so it’s kind of nice to see a turnaround. They’re a good team, they work hard. We know with their structure they’re hard to play against. Somehow we’ve had some success.”
Maxwell and Ryan Harrison scored for Everett (23-25-5-4), which dropped its third straight. Simpson finished with 46 saves in net for the Tips.
“We were out-competed all night,” Everett coach Craig Hartsburg lamented. “Every race, every battle, we were second best. In hockey when that happens this is usually what happens on the scoreboard — unless your goalie is miraculous. He was probably miraculous to keep it where it was.
“It’s one thing to lose when a team’s better than you,” Hartsburg added. “There’s not much you can do about that. But there’s no excuse for not competing and fighting and scratching and clawing for your ice. Tonight we didn’t even put up a fight. There’s teams in our conference that are real good. But you have to show your character against teams like that. We showed character, and it wasn’t very good here tonight.”
Not only was Spokane good Wednesday night, the Chiefs also received the early luck. The game was scoreless midway through the first period when a touch of fortune allowed Spokane to open the scoring. A rimmed puck took a bad hop off the boards, popping right in front with Simpson stranded behind the net. Gal had the easiest of tap-ins to give Spokane the lead at 10 minutes, 16 seconds.
Despite the bad-hop goal, the Tips managed to keep themselves in it, coming back to tie the score at both 1-1 and 2-2 thanks to a laser-beam wrister by Harrison at 14:06 of the first period and a blind backhander on a rebound by Maxwell at 3:23 of the second.
But those goals only delayed the inevitable as Spokane tightened its grip on the game more and more as it progressed. The Chiefs regained the lead on Kichton’s second goal of the game at 7:41 of the second, Kichton picking out the corner following a drop pass from Valcourt in transition.
Spokane then had an apparent goal ruled out at 12:16 when a puck that deflected in off Darren Kramer’s foot was waived off after a lengthy video review. But Spokane scored 58 seconds later anyway when a deflected puck in transition bounced to Koper’s feet, and Koper buried his shot in the top corner.
The Chiefs then toyed with the Tips in the third period, outshooting Everett 21-7, and Koper finished off his hat trick with two garbage-time goals, scoring twice in the final seven minutes to complete the rout.
Chiefs 7, Silvertips 2
Spokane 2 2 3 — 7
Everett 1 1 0 — 2
First Period—1, Spokane, Gal 17, 10:06. 2, Everett, Harrison 18 (Rissanen, Morden), 14:06. 3, Spokane, Kichton 15 (Bardaro), 16:03. Penalties—Cowen, Spokane (interference), 0:16; Kramer, Spokane (fighting), 3:28; Elynuik, Everett (fighting), 3:28; Yadlowski, Everett (high sticking), 5:40; Baldwin, Spokane (hooking), 17:49; Maxwell, Everett (tripping), 18:27.
Second Period—4, Everett, Maxwell 37 (Rissanen, Harrison), 3:23. 5, Spokane, Kichton 16 (Valcourt, Bardaro), 7:41. 6, Spokane, Koper 27, 13:18. Penalties—Uher, Spokane (holding), 3:37; Fowlie, Everett (holding), 9:32; Koper, Spokane (roughing), 13:46; Birkholz, Everett (boarding), 19:26.
Third Period—7, Spokane, Valcourt 7 (Bardaro, Cowen), 2:26. 8, Spokane, Koper 28 (Cowen, Vandane), 13:20. 9, Spokane, Koper 29 (Uher, Johnson), 16:09. Penalties—Birkholz, Everett (holding), 4:44; Uher, Spokane (roughing), 10:02; Harrison, Everett (roughing), 10:02; Brassart, Spokane (roughing), 11:40; Erricson, Everett (roughing), 11:40; Harrison, Everett (hooking), 18:49.
Shots on goal—Spokane 17-15-21—53. Everett 10-6-7—23. Power-play opportunities—Spokane 0 of 6. Everett 0 of 4.
Goalies—Spokane, Engel 6-7-2-1 (23 shots, 21 saves). Everett, Simpson 17-18-5-4 (53 shots, 46 saves).
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.