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Above the Glass

From the Dub: Hail to the Chiefs

This past weekend, the Portland Winterhawks won two back to back games against one of their biggest rivals in the WHL, the Spokane Chiefs. They are no ordinary opponent; we have a history with them and they have a roster full of hockey names, they’re just as stacked as we are in draft talent and they boast one very supersized defenseman in Davis Vandane. Their captain Darren Kramer likes to drop the mitts whenever and on whomever possible. They are currently in third place in the U.S. Division, 7 points behind the Winterhawks. Plus, they’re just plain good. Therefore, it is my humblest of hockey opinions that the Spokane Chiefs are to be feared and respected. But first, I thought it would be a good idea to get to know them.

What’s in a name: If you are the Spokane Chiefs, everything. The very best one belongs to 6’4” Davis Vandane. He’s huge, he was named to play hockey and if you’ve ever seen him play he looks scary even from up in the stands. Attention must be paid. As for everyone else on the roster, the Chiefs come equally loaded with the proper hockey names: defensemen Cole Hamblin and Cole Wedman, Connor Chartier, Tanner Mort, Collin Valcourt, Carter Proft, Brendan Kichton and Tyler King.

If your name is Mac and your number is 31, step up and mind the net: Spokane’s goalie Mac Engel wears number 31. So does Portland Winterhawk and Chicago Blackhawk prospect Mac Carruth.

Good hockey players’ hometowns come in twos: The Chiefs have two American-born players: forward Liam Stewart is from Hermosa Beach, CA and defenseman Tanner Mort is from Idaho.Two players are from the Czech Republic: standout Dominik Uher and player to watch Marek Kalus. Carter Proft and Brendan Kichton are from Spruce Grove, Alberta. Collin Valcourt and Mac Engel are from Red Deer, Alberta.

Oh, the irony: Captain Darren Kramer, who led the WHL in penalty minutes last season, hails from Peace River, Alberta.

Players to watch: Be on lookout for Dominik Uher, Anthony Bardaro and Mitch Holmberg, because they are scary good. 

Today’s opponent is tomorrow’s teammate: Uher may one day play alongside Joe Morrow in the NHL, as he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 5th round of the 2011 Entry Draft. He racked up 21 goals and 39 assists for a total of 60 points in 65 games in 2010- 2011. He notched his first career hat trick last December in a full scale routing of the Kamloops Blazers in which the Chiefs won 10 - 5.

Maybe he’ll just see Joe around town: Mitch Holmberg and Joe both hail from Sherwood Park, Alberta. Holmberg played there before moving on the big time, where he spent last season amassing 15 goals and 33 points in 58 games. But no season is complete without a playoff run, where he recorded six goals and seven points in 11 playoff games. In between that, Holmberg scored an overtime winner versus Tri-City on October 2nd, 2010 in the team’s home opener, which turned out to be his second of the game. He went on a four-game goal scoring streak from February 5th through the 12th, during which time he racked up six points. Holmberg was also instrumental in helping Team Pacific to a fifth place finish at the 2010 World under 17 Hockey Challenge, where he scored one goal and four points in five games.

Something tells me we’ll see him around the NHL: As yet undrafted by the NHL, Bardaro scored 24 goals, and he had 46 points in 63 games last season. Oh, and he did this: scored goals in four straight games from October 23rd through October 30th and he had points in six straight games through November 3rd. In the final 12 games of the regular season Bardaro had 12 goals and 14 points, including a hat trick on February 25th versus Prince George. He is currently the team’s leading scorer.

It was the Winter Classic, junior hockey style: Last season, the Chiefs played host to the Rockstar Outdoor Hockey Classic, where they beat the Kootenay Ice 11 - 2. Bardaro, by the way, scored five assists in that game. It was also proof that you never know where things will end up until after the final buzzer. The Winterhawks eliminated the Chiefs in the semi-final round of the WHL playoffs, and the Ice would go on to capture the WHL title and play in the Memorial Cup.

Maybe the Ottawa Senators just like drafting the Chiefs’ captains: Former captain Jared Cowen was drafted by the Sens and made their roster out of training camp this season. He scored his first NHL goal on November 1, 2011 in a game against the Boston Bruins. Current captain Darren Kramer was drafted by Ottawa in this year’s entry draft.

Famous alumni: Among the most notable former Chiefs coaches or players who went on to NHL greatness were Mike Babcock (coach), current Winterhawks assistant coach Travis Green, Valeri Bure, Calder nominee Michael Grabner and Jason LaBarbera, who went on to mind the net for the Winterhawks as a member of their 1998 Memorial Cup winning team.

And finally, there’s always this: For the past two post-seasons, the Winterhawks have eliminated the Spokane Chiefs from the WHL playoffs. The first time was in 2010, when Ty Rattie scored a legendary OT winner in a Game 7. It was the first time the Winterhawks had been in the playoffs in four years, and they made it into the second round before being eliminated by the Vancouver Giants. This year, after eliminating Spokane, the Hawks made it all the way through Game 5 of the WHL finals, where the Ice eliminated them. History is what makes rivalries, and so a new one has begun in the Dub. Some fans here call them Spocan’t. But I beg to differ; the Spokane Chiefs are a force to be reckoned with. And I for one will be keeping my eye on them. 


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Hippy Dave's avatar

I was at Friday’s game, Spokane scored 3 own goals that game.  There was no reason we should have won that one, but glad we did. 

Samantha - do we have a new coach this year or something?  They seemed to be all over the ice with no direction.  I’m hoping that isn’t their strategy for the entire year…

Posted by Hippy Dave from Portland by way of Detroit on 11/16/11 at 07:30 PM ET


I agree. I’ll take a win any way we can get it. And of course, leave it to Sven to save the day with the OT winner on Saturday.

We don’t have a new coach this year. What we do have is a very young forward line (most are rookies or in their second year) and some new trade acquisitions who’ve only been here a few months. We also lost five of our older, more experienced players to the AHL, including captain Brett Ponich. Taken together, I think what you are seeing isn’t a different or new strategy; in a way, it’s a whole new team, and it’s taking them a while to connect. They are all over the ice right now, but if you saw them even a month ago, this is actually an improvement. I think they will hit their stride after the New Year, when everyone is back from World Juniors and hopefully, healthy.

Posted by Samantha from Portland, Oregon on 11/16/11 at 09:06 PM ET


cool info about the Chiefs, but you failed to mention Ray Whitney who won a memorial cup in 1991, and the stanley cup in 2006 perhaps the best Chief alum ever.

Posted by John on 11/24/11 at 12:17 PM ET

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com