Hang a banner and beat your biggest rival on opening night as you begin your 25th season in the Western Hockey League.
Would have been nice, but the Tri-City Americans fell short of that goal Saturday night in a 5-2 loss to the Spokane Chiefs before a crowd of 5,227 at Toyota Center.
“I thought the first was fairly even, but in the second we didn’t skate and we lost our heads,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. “That was obvious. We have to come back and be better (today). It’s always a new day.”
The Americans had won 11 consecutive home openers, including six over the Chiefs. Their last loss during a home opener was Oct. 7, 2000 — an 8-0 loss to Spokane.
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Tri-City will be back at Toyota Center tonight, hosting the Portland Winterhawks at 5:05 p.m.
Mitch Holmberg had a goal and two assists for the Chiefs in their season opener, while goalie Mac Engel had 29 saves.
“Coming into this building you always know it will be hard,” Holmberg said. “It didn’t feel like it was 4-0 at the time. We were lucky.”
The highlight of the night for the Americans was presenting their 2012 U.S. Division banner to the fans. From there, the memorable moments were few.
Trailing 4-0 in the middle of the third, the Americans finally got on the board at 11:53 of the third as rookie Parker Bowles scored his first WHL goal. Bowles split the Spokane defense going after a loose puck and beat Mac Engel to avoid the shutout.
“Parker was our best player in the third,” Hiller said. “He’s a young guy who’s hungry. There are guys in our room who need to take note of that.”
Justin Feser had a breakaway a minute later, and Engel came out to challenge, but in the end, the puck ended up in Engel’s pads.
Malte Strömwall would cut Spokane’s lead in half with a goal at 17:48.
Tri-City pulled goalie Eric Comrie for an extra attacker, but a turnover by Tri-City behind the net allowed Carter Proft an easy goal and a 5-2 Chiefs lead.
“At times we played really well and at times we didn’t,” said Spokane coach Don Nachbaur. “We had a good second, but give them credit, they didn’t quit. We are still trying to refine our game. It will take some time.”
In a scoreless first period, the Americans held a 15-10 shot advantage, while the Chiefs failed to take advantage of two power plays.
Come the second, the Chiefs were hitting on all cylinders.
Todd Fiddler got Spokane on the board at 9:26, taking a pass across the slot from Holmberg and beating Comrie at the left post.
The Americans were able to hold the Chiefs to just the one goal for 8 minutes, but a goal by Liam Stewart at 17:38 opened the floodgates.
Mike Aviani followed at 18:34, and Holmberg finished off the three-goal barrage at 19:27.
The Americans managed just three shots on goal in the second.
Tri-City held the Chiefs without a shot the first 11:04 of the third, and put seven shots on Mac Engel, but couldn’t get the puck past the veteran netminder until Bowles’ goal.