The last time the Portland Winterhawks and Spokane Chiefs met in the first round, a 16-year-old won the series with an overtime winner. That rookie was Ty Rattie, who would go on to set the WHL record for playoff goals in a career and is currently playing for the Edmonton Oilers.
Saturday night in game one of the first round series between the U.S. Division’s most successful teams, another 16-year-old netted an overtime winner. This time it was Bettendorf, Iowa native Luke Toporowski who beat Cole Kehler in the extra session, handing the Chiefs a 4-3 win in game one and a 1-0 series lead.
Toporowski had the presence to settle down and take advantage of a fortunate bounce early in the overtime session. He drove the net and had the puck knocked up into the air by Portland defenseman Henri Jokiharju. Toporowski then tracked the puck and bunted it in out of the air.
Portland will be kicking themselves though for not scoring on a late power play that actually carried over into the overtime.
Kieffer Bellows had a great chance in the early stages of the extra session, but just could not quite get the puck by Bailey Brkin and into the Spokane net.
Game two goes Sunday evening at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Toporowski and Riley Woods each had three points in the game and Jake McGrew had two assists.
That trio had two career post-season points coming into this game and combined for eight.
They were not who Portland expected to be piling up the pivotal goals, but proved to be dangerous all night.
Spokane put Portland on their heels early with some constant pressure. Even when the Winterhawks were on an early power play, it was the Chiefs who had the better looks.
Finally Spokane got one by Portland’s overage netminder Cole Kehler, opening the scoring. Riley Woods, who would be a pain in the Winterhawks side all night, drove around the Portland net and set up defenseman Nolan Reid for a one-timer that appeared to glance off of something and get by Kehler.
The Chiefs, who got two NHL drafted forwards back in the lineup in Kailer Yamamoto and Zach Fischer were dynamic in the first and the Hawks did not appear to be ready for what Spokane was throwing at them.
Portland got their legs under them late in the first and Jake Gricius got into a tough area, earning a cross-check to his numbers – earning a power play with four seconds left in the first.
The carry over power play would lead to Portland tying the game. With the fresh ice and a power play, Cody Glass dangled around a defender and entered the zone with speed before finding himself with both Dennis Cholowski and Kieffer Bellows open at the back post. Glass chose Cholowski, who was closer and the d-man scored just his second goal as a Winterhawk – scored in an eerily similar fashion to how he scored his first one.
Spokane got that one right back moments later. Jake McGrew took a pass in behind the Portland net and made a nice move to give himself some room, before finding Woods in front. Woods beat Kehler for his second point on the night.
Portland tied the game again later in the middle frame. Lane Gilliss made a very nice cross-ice pass, catching Portland defenseman Henri Jokiharju in stride. The Chicago Blackhawks prospect then fired a hard wrist shot, against his body, beating Spokane goalie Bailey Brkin on the glove side.
Brkin was the surprise game one starter for the Chiefs. Dawson Weatherill was held out of the last two regular season games, but it was not expected that whatever this was, would carry into the playoffs.
Brkin, who was playing Junior A not too long ago, stopped 36 of 39, getting the win. Brkin had been acquired from the Kootenay ICE at the trade deadline.
The Chiefs took yet another one-goal lead in this tight game off a strange play. Eli Zummack set up Hudson Elynuik in front on the power play and the Carolina Hurricanes draft pick made move to get a shot on what looked like an open net. Glass blocked the shot, but the puck bounced right to Elynuik again and the overage center smartly was ready for it. He beat Kehler, who was out of position after expecting the first shot to get on him. The result was a 3-2 Spokane lead.
That lead would not last through the second period.
Kieffer Bellows drove the Spokane zone and drew the defense, who was expecting a shot from Portland’s leading regular season shooter. Instead he dropped a pass to Cholowski, who was driving the zone. Cholowski faked going one way, went the other. He then went around the net and wrapped the puck in since Brkin had come well out of the net expecting an earlier shot.
Joachim Blichfeld also had a couple brilliant looks at the Spokane net in the second, but Brkin stopped him on one and he hit the right post on the other.
Kehler stopped 35 of 39 for Portland, including 13 of 14 in the first, when Spokane was mounting a furious attack.
-Portland went one-for-five on the power play, while Spokane was successful on one of their two chances.
-The Toporowski heroics were so unexpected that the Chiefs elected to have him serve a too-many men on the ice penalty late in the third period.
-Attendance was 5,732 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
-Glass was an atrocious four for 14 on the faceoff dot. Alex Overhardt went 14 of 19 and Jake Gricius was six for 12.
-Bellows led the team in shots with six and Cholowski and Jokiharju each had five.