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Spokane plays spoiler, beating Kamloops Blazers in home opener

Chiefs 4-3 win sends a nearly sold-out Sandman Centre home sad
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After cruising through the preseason, Kamloops head coach Shaun Clouston knew his team would face adversity at some point over the WHL's opening weekend. He just didn't foresee it coming moments after the Blazers scored. 

The Spokane Chiefs potted goals 14 and 17 seconds after Kamloops to suck the wind out of a packed Sandman Centre and propel them to a 4-3 win in the Blazers home opener.

"We scored some goals and then twice, the very next shift within a few seconds, it's in the back of our net," says Clouston. "We're going to have to recognize that the shift after a goal is extremely important and you really have to dig in and commit to playing defence." 

Jake McGrew's second of the night stood as the winning goal for Spokane. The marker silenced a raucous Kamloops crowd the very next shift after Connor Zary tied the game at 3-3 on an excellent feed from Kyrell Sopotyk. 

The Blazers couldn't even the game late on the power play after the Chiefs Filip Král was called for a hold.

It was an unusual spot for Kamloops, who spent a majority of the night as the team playing down a man. In total, the Blazers racked up 35 minutes in penalties. As far as silver linings go, they went 6-for-6 on the penalty kill.

"During the PK, we committed to playing defence... that's all you're thinking about doing, the structure and hard work. We have to take that same mentality into the five-on-five, it's structure plus hard work," says Clouston. "You take care of your own end and you make sure you get the puck out and get it in the offensive zone. I think we were cheating a little bit and looking to go on offence before we had done our job defensively."

Brodi Stuart and Quinn Schmiemann both got fighting majors for tussles with Jordan Chudley and Owen MacNeil respectively. Schmiemann also got a game misconduct for a cross-check to the head.

That left the Blazers short on the back end and things got worse when Luke Zazula left the game with an injury. Clouston says the prognosis "looks like it's not going to be great."

"We had a couple of younger guys out there," he says of the defence. "There were some good things. We lost our gap for a little bit, and that's the tendency: Spokane is a fast team so you back off but you just give them way more time to crank it up. So we've got to a better job with our gap, but we'll get better." 

Logan Stankoven opened the scoring with his first regular season WHL goal. He ripped a shot past Lukáš Pařík on a delayed penalty call late in the first period. 

"I hopped off from the bench for the extra attacker and I think it was (Pillar) who got the puck to me and I just kind of walked into the top of the circle tried to get a puck on net. Fortunately, it went in, so that was good," says Stankoven

McGrew had the quick response for that goal too, tying the game 28 seconds before the intermission.

"It's tough to swallow for sure," says Stankoven. "It's one of the things we need to work on, shifts after goals, we get all the momentum and it's tough getting scored on, 10-20 seconds later. It kills the momentum and the pace of the game, but that's probably a thing we can work on. We'll just build off the positives we had tonight, it's going to be a long season, so we'll go from there."

Spokane took the lead in the second after a mad scramble in front of Dylan Garand. Montana Onyebuchi fell down in the paint and ended up kicking the puck in his own net. Connor Gabruch was credited with the goal.

Sean Strange responded for the Blazers with Kobe Mohr and Sopotyk getting the assist. Luke Toporowski gave the Chiefs the lead after two, beating Garand top-shelf. 

Garand finished the night with 33 saves on 37 shots. Pařík turned away 31 of 34 shots for Spokane.

Attendance was announced at 5,654 people.

Kamloops hits the road bright and early tomorrow as they travel to Seattle for their first road game against the Thunderbirds. Puck drop is at 6:05 p.m.




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Eric Thompson

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