The 2019-20 season was shortened due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but that didn’t mean that the Spokane Chiefs weren’t having an incredible season up to the point when the pandemic hit. When the WHL season was suspended, the Chiefs were on a 10-game winning streak and playing some of the best hockey in the WHL at the time. Take a look at it this way — the Chiefs had won 10 straight games and still found themselves 10 points behind the Portland Winterhawks for first in the U.S. Division and 9 points behind the Everett Silvertips for second place. This season was a plethora of ups and downs for the team. Let’s take a look at the season as a whole and what could’ve been for the Chiefs.
Going into the 2019-20 season, the Chiefs had selected import goaltender Lukáš Pařík in the first round, 43rd overall, in the 2019 CHL Import Draft. Pařík, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound netminder from Neratovice, Czech Republic, is also a third-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings. Pařík was backed up by Nanaimo, BC, native Campbell Arnold for much of the season before Arnold suffered a season-ending knee injury during a December game against the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Chiefs looked for experience to back up Pařík after Arnold went down and traded an eighth-round pick to the Moose Jaw Warriors to grab Bonners Ferry, Idaho, native James Porter, Jr. Pařík finished the shortened season appearing in 32 games and posting a 2.73 GAA, 0.917 save percentage, and holding a record of 22-7-2. In the final game against Kamloops on March 10th, Pařík became the first goaltender in WHL history to record a shutout and score a goal in the same game.
Spokane had plenty of guys that could score. 20-year-old Jake McGrew was off to a fast start in the early part of the season, notching eight points, including five goals, before going down with a season-ending knee injury. Spokane needed to fill the spot left by McGrew and traded a third-round pick to the Kelowna Rockets for 20-year-old Leif Mattson on December 5. The trade paid off for the Chiefs as Mattson formed an instant bond with linemates Luke Toporowski and Eli Zummack. The trio became one of the best scoring lines in the WHL.
Spokane also featured Minnesota Wild third-round pick Adam Beckman. Beckman, the 2019-20 WHL Player of the Year and top scorer, was the first Chief since Mitch Holmberg to eclipse the 100 point mark in a season. Beckman led the Chiefs in goals for the second consecutive year and posted a career-best 48 goals and 59 assists for 107 points.
With the likes of Beckman, Jack Finley, Toporowski, Zummack, Mattson, and many more, the Chiefs were poised to make a serious run for the WHL Championship this season. Their ability to score almost at will made their forwards extremely hard to defend.
Not only were the Chiefs solid upfront, but they were pretty good on the back end as well. Something that helped Spokane tremendously this past season was the huge step taken by 20-year-old import Filip Král. Král has been a staple on defense for the Chiefs since being drafted in the second round of the 2017 CHL Import Draft. He was rewarded for a stellar rookie season in the WHL in 2017-18 by being drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coming into this past season, Král found himself still unsigned by the Maple Leafs and looking to prove he was worthy of gaining a contract. He was solid on the back end all season for Spokane, earning co-defenseman of the year honors for the team. He posted 12 goals and 37 assists for 49 points, his highest total with the team in his WHL career.
You can’t talk about Spokane’s defense without mentioning Ty Smith. The 2019 CHL Defenseman of the Year was a big maybe for Spokane headed into the 2019-20 season. Smith was heading into his second go-round at training camp with the New Jersey Devils. Smith was drafted 17th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft by the Devils and was looking to crack the team as a 19-year-old, but he had a tough preseason with the Devils and was ultimately sent back to Spokane for more seasoning. Smith had a tough start coming back to Spokane with a new coach that he hadn’t spent time with during training camp and the WHL preseason. Nevertheless, he was named an alternate captain for Team Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championships. After that tournament, Smith began to heat up. After setting the team record for most points in a game with seven against the Prince George Cougars in 2019, he outdid himself and scored eight points against the Seattle Thunderbirds in February. Smith should be AHL or NHL bound as a 20-year-old this coming season and most likely will not return to the Chiefs.
What Could’ve Been
Spokane was on its way to the 2020 WHL Playoffs either to play the Winterhawks or the Silvertips. They were one of the hottest teams in the WHL heading into the final stretch of the regular season and were a consensus pick around the league to represent the Western Conference in the WHL Championships. Granted, we don’t know what could have happened, but Spokane would have been a tough out for any team. With the 2020-21 season not starting until December or January, we will see what it brings for a Chiefs team that has been very good over the past two seasons.