SPOKANE — Mitch Holmberg came out of the dressing room after the game wearing a 10-gallon orange foam cowboy hat. He said it was punishment for losing a bet.
After scoring two goals to help the Spokane Chiefs to a 4-1 victory Friday night over the Tri-City Americans in Game 1 of their first-round series at Spokane Arena, one would think he would have been forgiven for his transgression.
“This was a huge win,” Holmberg said. “It was a hard-fought battle. We both had our chances.”
The best-of-7 series continues today with Game 2 at Spokane Arena. Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said he doesn’t expect much different from either team.“It wasn’t an easy game,” Nachbaur said. “Both teams has momentum in the game and we capitalized on our chances. Four to one is not indicative of how the game was played.”
Americans coach Jim Hiller knows his team has more to offer than what they put on the ice Friday night.
“I thought we played OK, but not well enough to win,” Hiller said. “That just is not good enough this time of year.”
The Chiefs held a 3-1 lead going into the third period, and Holmberg added his second for good measure at 12:26, putting the puck just past Troy Trombley at the right post.
“The first goals were hard to score,” Holmberg said. “(Trombley) got better and better. He’s a big guy to try and score around.”
Tempers flared with seven seconds left in the game, which resulted in a slew of penalties. Nothing new for a Tri-City-Spokane game.
“It’s a long series and we have to play against tomorrow,” Nachbaur said. “Emotions get involved.”
After giving up three goals on eight shots in the first, Trombley shook off the jitters of playing his first WHL playoff game and stopped all 13 Spokane shots in the second period.
He stopped a flurry of five shots in the first 2 1/2 minutes, then had back-to-back saves — with his stick and his glove — at 6:44 to stop a Chiefs attack.
“He made some really big saves and kept us in it,” Hiller said of Trombley. “He gave us a chance. He did his job.”
The Americans picked up a power play at 17:49, and Brian Williams looked to pull Tri-City within 3-2 with a goal at 18:07.
Williams put the puck behind Spokane goalie Eric Williams at 18:07 at the right post. Eric Williams fell back onto the puck and inched forward off the goal line as play was stopped.
After a video review, it could not be determined, without a doubt, that the puck fully crossed the goal line.
“Our guys came back and said it was a goal, for sure,” Hiller said. “Without a doubt. That’s who I’ll trust.”
The start of the game wasn’t what the Americans wanted, trailing 3-1 after the first period.
Spokane got on the board early as Blake Gal got past Tri-City defender Justin Hamonic, drove to the net and backhanded the puck past Trombley at 1:08.
The Americans answered 5 1/2 minutes later as defenseman Brandon Carlo, playing his first game in a Tri-City sweater, beat Williams from the right point at 6:36.
“I was in shock that it went in,” Carlo said. “I felt we would get the momentum off that, but then they got that tip.”
Carlo, from Colorado Springs, Colo., joined the Americans this week to help fill in for the injured Mitch Topping.
“I was really nervous,” Carlo said. “I’ve never played in front of a crowd like this before. I knew it would be a physical game. It was a lot of fun to play at this level.”
The Chiefs replied with a pair of goals in a span of 2:14 as Alessio Bertaggia redirected a shot from the point by Brenden Kichton at 11:15, and Holmberg scored on the power play at 13:39, picking up a rebound off a shot by Kichton and beating Trombley at the right post.