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Spokane Chiefs send players home to await league decision on resuming play

By Kevin Dudley For The Spokesman-Review

Nobody knows when exactly the Western Hockey League will resume playing games. With concerns about the novel coronavirus still atop everybody’s priority list, teams are left in a waiting mode.

The league’s Board of Governors is expected to hold a conference call Tuesday to discuss the next steps as it relates to a potential timeline of resumption of play, ticket policies and more.

The Spokane Chiefs, like much of the league, started sending players home Sunday as they await word on when play can resume. The Winnipeg Ice announced two players on its roster were awaiting results for COVID-19 tests after showing symptoms. They will be sent home if their tests return negative.

The Chiefs season was suspended just two days after they notched their 10th straight win, a 3-0 victory over the B.C. Division-leading Kamloops Blazers.

And if that’s the last game of the regular season, here’s an interesting footnote: The last regular-season goal scored by the Spokane Chiefs came off the stick of their goaltender, Lukas Parik. He became the ninth goalie in WHL history to score a goal, and the only one to score a goal and record a shutout in the same game.

Odd tidbits like that will be fun trivia questions one day. But those days are far off, and the immediate need is knowing what comes next.

The season came to a halt right when the Chiefs were playing their best hockey of the season. With four regular-season games left, the Chiefs were in a perfect position heading into the playoffs.

Those 10 straight wins weren’t all against bottom feeders, either. Six of them came against teams currently in playoff positions, and two of them –March 4 at Edmonton and March 10 at home against Kamloops – came against division leaders. The win over Edmonton was especially impressive – a 6-2 decision against a team with 94 points, which trails only Everett and Portland for best in the league.

Speaking of Everett and Portland, the Chiefs also trail their division rivals and have no chance at catching either before the playoffs begin, assuming postseason hockey happens. Should the playoffs be scheduled, the Chiefs will face either Everett or Portland in the first round. The Silvertips and Winterhawks are jockeying for first place in the U.S. Division, and given the league’s playoff format – interdivision matchups for the first two rounds – the Chiefs will have a daunting task right off the bat.

Spokane has shown lately, though, it can beat anybody in the league.

The Chiefs beat both Portland and Everett in the playoffs last season, and both division rivals will be looking for revenge.

The stoppage also halted one of the greatest individual seasons in Chiefs history. Adam Beckman was on his way to a 50-goal year and, based on his points-per-game average, would almost certainly have scored more than 110 points. Beckman hit the pause with 48 goals and 59 assists for 107 points.

Beckman leads the league in goals and points.

The last Chiefs player to score 50 goals and 110 points was Mitch Holmberg during the 2013-14 season. Holmberg finished with 62 goals and 118 points.

Other players are having career years, too. Eli Zummack leads the league in assists with 64. His 86 points are a career high and sixth-best in the league.

A trio of Chiefs are in the top-five in plus/minus. Noah King leads the league with plus-60. His defensive partner Ty Smith is third at plus-49. Beckman is fifth at plus-44.

While nothing is decided and the league remains suspended, a decision to cancel the rest of the season and the playoffs – it already happened in the minor league ECHL – would mark the end of junior careers for 20-year-olds Leif Mattson, Filip Kral and Noah King, as well as 19-year-old Ty Smith. Mattson, Kral and King will age out, and Smith will be part of the New Jersey Devils system next season.

Jake McGrew, who has been rehabbing a knee injury, would also see his Spokane stay come to an end. The 20-year-old was injured on Oct. 6 and will be part of the San Jose Sharks system next season.

A lot of issues are up in the air and there are more questions than answers right now. There might be clarity after the Board of Governors meets on Tuesday.

For now, though, teams remain in a waiting mode and players are headed back home.

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