The new CHL Top 10 is out today, and the Spokane Chiefs have gone from being an unranked afterthought to No. 5 in the rankings, one spot ahead of the Portland Winterhawks (the teams play each other tonight in Portland).
This is the same Chiefs team that this site’s preseason poll projected to finish fifth … in the U.S. Division.
Is Spokane really this good? It’s hard to tell at this point, since the Chiefs have only played two teams: Tri-City and Victoria. They’ve been impressive in beating each team twice, but there are two things to note while attempting to project where things go from here for the Chiefs:
1) Mitch Holmberg is on pace to score 144 goals, and Mike Aviani is on pace for 90.
2) The Chiefs are giving up 1.5 goals per game.
Neither of these things, obviously, will hold up over the course of an entire season. So we still don’t know if this team is going to be any good when Aviani and Holmberg come back to Earth and when they start giving up a few more goals. Secondary scoring is still a likely weakness, and Eric Williams has a long track record of being an OK, but not spectacular, goalie in the WHL. You’d think this would start to balance out at some point.
Of course, Don Nachbaur has a way of taking what looks like a middling roster and making a lot out of it, so I guess we shouldn’t be shocked if Spokane somehow ends up in the top half of the conference again this season.
The main thing that Spokane’s good start highlights is just how good the U.S. Division seems to be this season. You’d think that one team would suck, right? It just doesn’t look like that’s the case this year. Perhaps this is personal bias, but it’s possible that the three (or even four if Victoria doesn’t wake up) weakest teams in the West are up in B.C.
A few other thoughts:
- The shootout has a way of really skewing our opinions of teams, especially early in a season. Seattle, for instance, has two wins because they won the breakaway contest each time. The difference between the T-Birds being 3-2-0-0 and 1-2-0-2 has nothing to do with anything they did on the ice while the clock was running. But our inclination is to believe that one of those records is much better than the other.
- Is Everett still in the league? They’ve only played twice so far. I really want to see how good this team is.
- I was worried about who was going to score for Tri-City this season. Looks like Brian Williams is taking it upon himself to be the Ams’ breakout guy. He has eight goals in six games, which is nearly half of the 17 goals the Ams have scored this season. Tri-City certainly looks like it will be the most up-and-down team in the division this season.
- Portland is still missing three key forwards due to injury (Paul Bittner, Shane McColgan and Dominic Turgeon). When all of those guys come back, the Hawks will have 15 forwards and I just can’t seem them keeping all of them. With the defense scuffling a bit (though having Derrick Pouliot back will help a lot), I could see Portland cutting 20-year-old Adam Rossignol and using an overage slot on another defenseman. It’s nothing against Rossignol, who has played well so far (four assists in four games), but the Hawks have the least invested in him. He was a camp invitee who won a competition against some other journeyman for a roster spot, and he’s neither a key part of the present or future, even if he’s a better player right now than a handful of younger guys on the team.
Photo: Spokane Chiefs
I’m a Chiefs fan, so I’ll get that out of the way first and foremost. I had some of the same concerns that an outside observer casually ascertained about this team, mainly where secondary scoring is going to come from. My feeling was that teams will just shutdown the Holmberg-Aviani-Whoever line and this team will have a hard time winning games. What I didn’t take into full enough consideration is how hard of a task that really is.Multiple elite 20s on a line together just don’t get shutdown in this league. They’ll be certain teams that can occasionally, but night in and night out these guys are going to get theirs. This team might not be too un-similar to the Tri City team of a couple of years ago where Shinnimin (god even typing that name pisses me off) and Hughesman ran this league into the ground when they were 20s. Don’t be surprised if Holmberg scores 50 and challenges for the league scoring title.
What I think people did miss, which is probably why the Chiefs wound up 5th in the US Division by you casuals (wink) in your preseason poll, is they are going to keep the puck out of their net. That is a really good defense on that team and don’t forget TWO returning goalies. I thought it was a mistake keeping WIlliams as a 20, I would have moved on mostly to give the bright youngster Verhelst (remember that name!) 20-25 games or so as a 16 so he can really take over as a 17, but since day 1 of camp I will say WIlliams has had a certain calm about him that he’s never had before. He very well could finally put it together this year. Lastly, the other constant this team should have, which couples with its defense, is early indications show they are going to be tough to play against. The teams has a little more size than recent years at the forward position and they aren’t afraid to hit and mix it up when needed (more than just that punching bag Proft).
All that said, yea being ranked 5th in the CHL is pretty hilarious, even more so than Kootenay being ranked in the preseason poll. I think this club maxes out in that 4-5 matchup in the playoffs. I can also see all 5 US teams making the playoffs too. These teams are all really well run (some more “above the table” than others) now that Seattle is catching on (please for the love of god get a goalie, you’re too good to not have one…ahhhhhhhh). Once again, its going to be a real treat to be a fan in this division. Maybe the best hockey collectively by one division over the last 5-6 years in the CHL?…. Hard to fully judge, who knows. Ok, keep up the good work boys.
Thanks for the comment. I think you have some good points here, especially about how good 20-year-old forwards can dominate.
I think the predictions for the Chiefs were not based so much on them being a bad team as much as they were based on other teams getting better (or not getting much worse, in the case of Portland). It’s possible that the 5th place team in the division could be 6th or 7th in the conference.
The Chiefs still have the most 17-year-olds in the division, and the smallest roster by height and second lightest by weight. So they have some things to overcome, but I understand your optimism. My gut at this point would be to still rank Portland and Everett ahead of the Chiefs, but I could see Spokane sliding up above Seattle and Tri based on what we’ve seen so far.
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