The Spokane Chiefs' season ended on April 3 with a 6-2 loss to the Victoria Royals. The Chiefs lost the first round series, 4-2.
The Chiefs - basically the 8th seed going up against the top team in the league - actually made the series closer than it seemed. The Chiefs' two wins in the series were convincing 5-2 and 4-1 wins. The losses were by scores of 5-3, 4-3, 3-2 (OT) and the 6-2 Game 6 score. If that overtime game goes the Chiefs way, the series would have been tied at two at that point.
In a way, the series kind of mirrored the Chiefs season: games where they supremely dominated, with other games where they were constantly playing catch up.
Season in Review
Nobody thought the Chiefs would contend for the U.S. Division title this year, what with Seattle and Everett returning solid rosters. But the general consensus was that the division would be pretty competitive.
The Chiefs fielded a young roster and oftentimes had a line of all rookies. But with top scorers like Kailer Yamamoto, Adam Helewka and Dominic Zwerger returning, the Chiefs were not to be taken lightly.
They also had Jason Fram anchoring the defense.
Helewka ended up sticking with the AHL San Jose Barracuda for a little longer than most expected, but his eventual return to the Chiefs infused some offense into the lineup.
The Helewka and Wittingham Trades
Junior hockey is similar to college sports in that teams only have their players for a certain amount of time. The big difference, however, is that junior hockey teams can trade their players.
General Managers have big decision to make - do I go for it this year? Stay put and see what happens? Trade veterans and secure assets for the future?
Chiefs GM Tim Speltz chose option C when he traded Helewka and Riley Wittingham prior to the trade deadline. Helewka went to the Memorial Cup host Red Deer Rebels, while Wittingham was traded to the Kootenay Ice, although he refused to report.
Through those trades, the Chiefs got 20-year-olds Presten Kopeck and Wyatt Johnson, as well as 15-year-old Eli Zummack and a couple draft picks.
Just speculating here, but it seems Speltz sensed his team could be pretty good in about two years. They've got Kailer Yamamoto (71 points) for the next three seasons at most. Jaret Anderson-Dolan (26 points) was a 16-year-old this past season, and fellow rookie Ethan McIndoe figures to be a key player in the coming years.
Forward Hudson Elynuik (44 points) turned on the burners after getting healthy and receiving top line minutes. He'll be a 19-year-old next season.
Defenseman Evan Fiala looks like he could be a top defenseman the next two years. Ty Smith, the 2015 no. 1 Bantam Draft pick, played two games and could turn into a top defenseman someday.
The question for next year is what 20-year-olds will stay? Here are this season's 19-year-olds vying for one of three spots next year:
- Keanu Yamamoto
- Markson Bechtold
- Jacob Cardiff
- Dominic Zwerger
- Matt Sozanski
Sozanski is the only defenseman. Zwerger is an import player, and import players don't typically stick around for their 20-year-old season (though some do, to be clear).
Yamamoto is a Spokane native with a brother on the team, so it's tough to see the team parting ways with him (but in the past they've traded "local" players before, like Richland native Seth Compton).
Bechtold turned a corner this season, too.
Assuming Zwerger leaves, I'd guess the last 20-year-old spot would come down to Cardiff and Sozanski.
Of course, the team could make some trades and bring in someone else.
Yamamoto and Anderson-Dolan to compete in Under-18's
This is only possible because the Chiefs' season is over, but Kailer Yamamoto and Jaret Anderson-Dolan will represent the United States and Canada, respectively, in the Under-18 World Championships in Grand Forks, N.D.
Yamamoto is one of two CHL players on the team - Windsor's Logan Brown is the other. High schooler Casey Mittelstadt is also on the roster. The rest of Team USA consists of players from the National Team Development Program.
Anderson-Dolan is one of eight '99-born players on a young Canadian squad.
The tournament begins on April 14. The United States is gunning for its third straight gold medal.