The Spokane Chiefs were last in the 10-team Western Conference with a record of 12-26-3-1 on Feb. 10 when head coach Adam Maglio was fired and replaced by associate coach Ryan Smith.
Smith, the club’s interim head coach, piloted the Chiefs to a record of 24-39-4-1, with Spokane posting a 5-2 record down the stretch to sneak into the playoffs and snare the No. 7 seed in the conference.
The No. 2 Kamloops Blazers are up first in Round 1, with Game 1 set for Friday, a 7 p.m. start at Sandman Centre.
Smith has history with Blazers’ head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston.
They were part of the Medicine Hat Tigers' coaching stable in 2018-2019 — Clouston the head coach and GM; Smith an assistant coach.
Here is a transcript of the interview, which has been edited for length.
KTW: How do you assess your tenure so far as interim head coach?
RS: It’s been a tough year for everybody here, but the last little while’s been going well. The players deserve all the credit. The goal is to win a championship and in order to do that we all know you have to make the playoffs.
There’s been a push the last little bit, especially down the stretch here. You start to feel like you’re running out of time and our guys responded really well. It’s been great that they’re picking up what we’re putting down. It’s just guys that want to buy in.
KTW: Who makes up the engine room of your team?
RS: Bear Hughes, our captain, he’s a local, from up the road in Post Falls, Idaho. It means a lot for him to play here in, basically, his hometown. He, for sure, has been a big driving point of making the playoffs and pushing for a championship.
Mason Beaupit in net, he covers a lot of our mistakes and he’s been really good. Graham Sward on D, he’s come back from injury and solidified our D core and stepped in as kind of the go-to guy back there and let everybody fall into their proper spots.
Nick McCarry has also been a big part of what we’re doing here, but I can go on and on. There’s been lot of guys who have stepped up.
KTW: How do you plan to slow down the Blazers’ top line?
RS: There’s no doubt or argument anybody can make about [Logan] Stankoven being one of the top players in our league, if not the best. And Luke [Toporowski], we know him really well, being an ex-Chief, and what he can do.
And whoever is on their wing, whether it’s [Caedan] Bankier or [Matt] Seminoff, they’ve got a plethora of players that can play with those two guys. They’re a track meet. They want to go as fast as they can. They want to make plays at high speed and high skill level and we have a lot of respect for those players.
One of the things we’re hoping to do is get in front of them and [take away] time and space, be in their area of work, where you can get your stick on their stick. The more room you give them to operate, the more concern it will be for us because they will just wheel and deal.
KTW: How do Kamloopsians Carter Streek and Manny Panghli fit into your plan?
RS: Streeker’s been good, a guy who just came back from injury for the last two games in Victoria. He’s bounced around the lineup. He’s been on the top six and bottom six. He hasn’t seen a lot of specialty teams and he’s got 10 goals, so he has a knack for the net. He’s got some really good skill and finish. He gets under the skin. When he’s playing his best hockey, he’s in on the forecheck retrieving pucks and making plays. He’s added a little bit of depth scoring when he’s on and in the lineup.
Manny Panghli has been with us all year. He’s ready to go. Mason’s been our guy down the stretch, but Manny has worked hard to get himself ready. He hasn’t had statistically the best year, but we know he’s played hard and the guys have been behind him.
KTW: You had one year crossover with Shaun Clouston in Medicine Hat. How well do you know Shaun and what’s that relationship like?
RS: The year after Swift Current, we’d won a championship and I moved on to Medicine Hat. I struck up a relationship with Shaun right away when I was looking for a job. The more we talked, the more we seemed to think it was going to be a good fit. He offered me a position and I took it. I learned a lot from Shaun. He’s a really good coach. He knows what a junior hockey player looks like. He knows how a successful team is run, with his time in Medicine Hat and now in Kamloops. The track record speaks for itself. I’ve got a lot of respect for Shaun Clouston. Him and I, we don’t talk that often, being in different divisions, but when we see each other, we have good conversations. We talk hockey. We talk about our families. I consider him a good colleague. He was a really good mentor. For me, there’s lots of respect and I know he’ll be prepared and ready to play.
I look forward to it. It’s always good when you can see your old friend and get a chance to catch up.
KTW: Is there anything you can use, considering you must know his coaching philosophy fairly well?
RS: I’m not going to tell you that. I’m not going to go down that road. I know Shaun. I know what he wants out of his players and the style he wants to play. We’re going to try and combat that the best we can and give him some things to think about, as well. That’s what the playoffs are about. It should be a really, really good series.