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