During the long playoff run for the Spokane Chiefs last season, there was one name that everyone in the Western Hockey League was aware of — Ty Smith.
For good reason. The then 18-year-old blue liner was a former first-round NHL Draft pick for the New Jersey Devils, had played big minutes for the Chiefs ever since coming in as a the first overall pick in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft.
While Smith would go on to claim WHL and CHL Defenseman of the Year honors, there was another guy out there with him roaming the Spokane d-zone who also was key for the Chiefs.
Noah King came to the Chiefs in a much different route than Smith. He was a 10th round pick in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft by the Swift Current Broncos. He was dealt to the Chiefs last season as the Broncos unloaded many of their older players after winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2018.
The 6-foot-4, 220 pound defenseman from Winnipeg, Manitoba was paired with Smith right away and his shutdown style of defense meshed well with his flashy teammate.
The pair were instrumental in the Chiefs holding off top lines from the Portland Winterhawks and the Everett Silvertips that boasted players like Cody Glass, Joachim Blichfeld, Connor Dewar and Bryce Kindopp.
“That’s the game I want to play. I want to be played against the top line in a kind of shut down role. And just be the hardest thing I can be to play against. I want people to be like, ‘I do not want to play against this guy every night.’ I was honored to play against those top lines. And it makes it pretty easy with Smitty as a D partner as well. Our run was pretty good, but I think we can go farther this year,” King said.
After the Chiefs had their season ended by the Vancouver Giants in the Western Conference final, expectations were for Smith to make the Devils. With seven signed NHL guys in front of him though, that did not happen. That meant he came back to the WHL and his d-pairing partner King.
The two picked up right where they left off.
“Last year, we played I think, basically every game he was here together. So it’s definitely comfortable when he comes back. And I think we did pretty good for jumping right back into it. It was definitely nice to have him back for sure.”
New Spokane head coach Manny Viveiros got to see first hand what King and Smith can do. Overall though, he sees his entire blue line as strong.
“I look at our defense, we’re really solid all the way through and we have Noah, we have with Ty together. They are a top pairing match D-pair that can go against any top line in the league.”
“Also even our second pairing with Filip Kral and Bobby Russell right now those guys we can match them up against anybody in the league also too. Then we also have Matt Leduc coming back also. So, our defense is really strong all the way through. We have mobility and we have size so we’re not afraid to match any of our pairings against top lines. So that’s a real luxury we have here,” Viveiros said.
Viveiros knows King quite well as the big d-man played key minutes for him as an 18-year-old on the championship Broncos team Manny coached.
“I knew him from the past, obviously. So there’s no kind of feeling out period or anything. I just kind of jumped right into things. I knew his coaching style which is pretty similar. Little things have changed in the one year that we’ve been apart. But most of things are the same, which is really nice. And that made it easy for me. So I tried to help the guys along through it, but it’s definitely exciting for me,” King said.
Another thrilling thing for Noah was getting to go play for the Devils at their Prospects Challenge. He got to play with a very familiar face.
“It was a huge honor. I never really expected it coming into it. So it was nice to get out there and play against higher competition. I think it brought my speed up for sure, and it was something to look forward to all summer. And then with Smitty being there, it made it super, super easy for me. We even played together one game, which I was really comfortable with.”
His speed is something King is well aware he needs to improve.
“Being a bigger guy, you tend to slow down when you grow and stuff, but I wanted to get faster. I worked on it over the summer. And I think I improved but there is always more room to improve.”
King is taking strides in that area, but he already excels at others. If he and Smith continue to shut down the best players in the WHL, King should be overlooked no more. Even with one of the biggest names in the league out there nearly every time he is. He’s bound to get noticed.
Let’s take a look back at Spokane’s busy weekend.
Friday, 10/4: Spokane 5 | Seattle 1
Smith came back and made an immediate impact. He had two goals and an assist in a big U.S. Division win. The Chiefs scored three times in the first and twice in the second to put the T-birds away.
Spokane went 2-for-4 on the power play.
Campbell Arnold stepped in for Lukas Parik and turned away 30-of-31 shots.
Jake McGrew had two goals and Eli Zummack and Adam Beckman each had two assists.
Saturday, 10/5: Spokane 7 @ Tri-City 1
The power play was clicking again on Saturday as the Chiefs ruined Tri-City’s home opener. Smith and Zummack had first period markers on the man advantage. Jack Finley and Connor Gabruch also scored in the first to set Spokane up with a 4-0 lead.
Beckman, Finley and Bear Hughes all added goals later giving the Chiefs a 7-0 lead.
Parik turned away 18-of-19 shots.
McGrew had two assists, Beckman had three points while Finley, Gabruch and Hughes each added two points.
The power play went 3-for-7 for a total of 5-for-11 through Saturday.
Sunday, 10/6: Everett 4 @ Spokane 3
In a hard fought contest on Sunday, the Chiefs lost a 3-2 third period lead and fell to the visiting Silvertips.
Hughes, Beckman and Brandon Reller all scored for Spokane. For Reller it was his first career WHL marker. Reller is a 16-year-old forward from Hanover, Minnesota.
Smith had two assists and thus six points over the weekend. Beckman also had six points over the weekend.
Arnold was called upon again and stopped 21-of-25.
The power play was 2-for-5 and 7-for-16 over the weekend.
-Viveiros liked how his team played over their first three-in-three this season.
“I thought we played Friday and Saturday exceptionally well. We did everything you need to do to get the two points. I thought for the most part our game was really solid. Sunday- – short turnaround three and three. Everett came in they had a long trip the night before from Kamloops and give them credit. They came in and played a real smart game and you know kept it pretty compact and organized.”
-The Chiefs power play had just one goal on 12 power-play opportunities coming into the weekend and had seven markers on the weekend after Smith returned.
“Right away there’s no question that he made our team better just as far as our defensive zone. It doesn’t take him long when he moves the puck or uses his legs get out of the zone. He’s dynamic there’s no question about it. He’s a good player and a real good person and a leader so he’s made our team better
in all aspects of the game too and we are very fortunate to have him back.”
-While Smith played a role in getting the power play going, Viveiros expected the man advantage unit to take some time to gel this season.
“I think special teams are the last to come together. Especially this year with the new coaching staff plus new players that are playing in different positions or roles than they did last year. It’s taken us a little bit of time to get going but this weekend was very positive and certainly time makes a huge difference.”
The team who had the top power play last year in the regular season and then the postseason, has the talent to do it again this season.
“We’ve got two guys on the back end in him (Smith) and Filip Kral who both see the ice very well and shoot the puck very well. Great vision and up front for us too. Eli Zummack also has great vision, and we got guys who can finish and that’s really important to have too. So that part is the luxury to have. Even our second unit has the potential of also being a pretty deadly second unit also too. We hopefully will continue to keep improving as we have over the last weekend here.”
-McGrew was involved in a fight with Everett’s Gianni Fairbrother on Sunday. He took an awkward fall to the ice and is now listed as out day-to-day with both upper and lower body injuries.
-Also listed on the report are Parik (day-to-day), Matt Leduc (now down to day-to-day) and defenseman Jordan Chudley (day-to-day).
“It’s a great opportunity for someone else to step up in that situation to get more ice time in different situations they normally don’t get so it’s a great challenge for these guys,” Viveiros said.
-2000-born blue liner Luke Gallagher was released from the active roster. He is expected to go play in the BCHL for the Wenatchee Wild per a Spokane press release.
“He is a great kid. He’s one of those kids that you’d love to have on your hockey team, but right now we need him to continue to keep playing. There is going to be a time that if we need to bring him back we will bring him back for sure,” Viveiros stated.
-A reason Gallagher was released from the active roster was a young blue liner coming back from injury and looking ready to play every game.
“Our d-corps is really, really deep and our 16-year-old Graham Sward hadn’t played until this weekend due to injury. He was outstanding last weekend. He didn’t play like a 16-year-old. he played like a veteran. I liked his poise with the puck,” Viveiros said.
-Finley was listed as a “B”prospect in the initial players to watch list put out by NHL Central Scouting this past week. Viveiros feels Finley has progressed and should continue to progress as an NHL prospect.
“He had a great 16-year-old year and right now his progression is continuing in an upward direction. He’s a guy that right now we throw out there on our number one penalty kill unit right away. He’s really good in faceoff circles. Very intellectual player, very smart. He’s one of those big kid for a young age. So you know, he’s 6-foot-5 still still growing. And he’s still trying to get his feet underneath a little bit. Once he starts to improve his skating, he’s going to be a force in this league.”
-Spokane heads into a weekend of home games with the Prince George Cougars (Friday) and the Victoria Royals (Saturday). Viveiros looks for his club to keep growing.
“We just want to continue to keep building on what we’ve started at the beginning year and we feel the kids are grasping our systems they are grasping what we want to accomplish as a team and just continue to build our team identity. For me, that’s the biggest thing. We want to continue to get better every week and we feel so far we have. We know we haven’t seen either of these teams at this year though, but everybody in this league is good. So we expect real hard games again, even though we’re playing at home.”