Jake McGrew of the Spokane Chiefs scored at the 8:48 mark of the third period to snap a 3-3 tie and register what would stand as the winning goal on Friday night at Sandman Centre as the Chiefs defeated the hometown Kamloops Blazers 4-3.
The game before a packed house of 5,654 fans in downtown Kamloops was the first regular season for both squads.
Kamloops went 7-0 during exhibition play, leading to the Blazers to secure a national No. 5 spot in the first week of Canadian Hockey League rankings. Spokane was 1-4-1 in the pre-season.
On Friday night at Sandman Centre, Logan Stankoven — the Western Hockey League’s leading scorer in the pre-season — opened the scoring for Kamloops with 42 seconds left in the first period. Spokane’s McGrew tied it with 17 seconds left in the opening stanza.
After the second period, Spokane held a 3-2 lead on goals from Connor Gabruch and Luke Toporowski, with Blazer Sean Strange replying for the home squad.
Kamloops forward Connor Zary tied the game at 8:31 of the third period, with McGrew’s goalie 17 seconds sealing the win for Spokane.
Kamloops came close to tying the game in the final minute of the game, with intense pressure on the Spokane net.
Chiefs’ netminder Lukas Parik stopped 31 of 34 shots in the win, while Blazers’ goalie Dylan Garrand turned aside 27 of 33 shots he faced.
Neither team was successful on the power play, with Spokane going 0-for-6 and Kamloops 0-for-3 with the man advantage.
OVERTIME — Of the seven games on opening night in the WHL, six were won by visiting teams and all but two contests were decided by more than one goal: Spokane held off Kamloops 4-3, Vancouver beat Prince George 5-3, Tri-City defeated Everett 4-2, Winnipeg (relocated from Cranbrook this season) edged Brandon 3-2, Medicine Hat bested Lethbridge 4-3 and Saskatoon defeated Prince Albert 3-2. Regina was the lone home team to win, scoring a 3-2 victory over Moose Jaw . . . Kamloops will be south of the border this weekend, with games on Saturday in Kent, Wash., against the Seattle Thunderbirds (6:05 p.m. faceoff) and on Sunday in Portland against the Winterhawks (5 p.m. start). The Blazers will then return home to Sandman Centre for a Friday, Sept. 27, game against the Kelowna Rockets and a Saturday, Sept.28, contest against the Vancouver Giants. Both games feature 7 p.m. faceoffs.