By Andy Eide
After losing in a tough seven-game series to Portland in last year’s first round of the WHL Playoffs, the Spokane Chiefs exacted some revenge last week. They dispatched the Portland Winterhawks in five games to advance to the second round for the first time since the 2013 postseason.
Their prize for advancing is a match up with the U.S. Division winning Everett Silvertips.
Its not exactly a vacation in Hawaii but vacation is something the Chiefs are looking to avoid.
“Everett’s a team, they don’t give up a lot,” Spokane head coach Dan Lambert says. “They compete extremely hard and our record against them during the regular season pretty much tells you the lack of success we’ve had against them, so it’s going to be a challenge.”
That regular season record wasn’t good for the Chiefs as they went 2-5-1-0 head-to-head against the Silvertips. The Chiefs are loaded with NHL prospects and the best two, Ty Smith and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, missed a number of those games, so the record may be misleading.
Anderson-Dolan, a 2017 second-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings, missed six of the eight games due to injury and his participation in the World Junior Championship for Team Canada. The defenseman Smith, a 2018 first-round pick of the New Jersey Devils, missed two of the games against Everett.
The Chiefs will need the two co-captains to be on top of their games as the best-of-seven series gets underway Saturday night at the Angel of the Winds Arena. With Anderson-Dolan missing most of the season series, the Silvertips outscored Spokane 28-17.
“I don’t think you win with your best players being below average,” Lambert says. “You need them but often the case is that the other team’s best players are their best players as well and often your depth is what makes the difference. Both teams have that, and you can look at the season series and Everett certainly had their way with us.”
Anderson-Dolan’s season didn’t start in Spokane. After making the Kings roster to open the season he got into five NHL games, recording one assist, before being sent back to the Chiefs.
“That’s something you dream of and I’m pretty lucky to get to do that at 19,” Anderson-Dolan says. “For a young guy, just being around guys like (Anze) Kopitar and (Drew) Doughty, guys like that who have been doing it for years, its definitely an eye opener. The competition it takes and how competitive it is opens your eyes and was a learning experience for me moving forward.”
Anderson-Dolan returned to the Chiefs and immediately suffered an injury that cost him to miss the first half of the season. He returned in time to play for Team Canada at the World Juniors so Spokane didn’t get to see him until January.
When he returned, he was productive. In 32 games, he found the back of the net 20 times while adding 23 assists for 43 points. He scored 40 goals last season but has always shown that he is more than just a goal scorer.
“He’s also relied upon as a defensive player as well,” Lambert says. “If you look at the World Juniors, he had more of a checking role. They usually don’t take guys who can’t check. He certainly does have a 200-foot game and in the last series we probably used him to check as much as we did to get offense.”
Anderson-Dolan benefits from practicing every day against Smith.
The two both say that they try to go head-to-head as often as they can which helps improve their skills.
“He’s really focused and committed to the game,” Smith says of Anderson-Dolan. “He comes to work every day whether its practice in the middle of the season or a playoff game. He’s always there and ready to go. He treats his body like a pro would and his work ethic is off the charts.”
Like his teammate, Smith started the year in an NHL camp, with the New Jersey Devils.
He played in a couple of preseason games but was sent back to Spokane prior to the start of the NHL season. Back with the Chiefs he picked up where he left off from the previous year. He scored seven times and set up an astonishing 62 more for 69 points in 57 games.
Smith quarterbacks Spokane’s power play, which was the best in the WHL, where he picked up five of his goals and 26 of his assists.
“Ty is a player that sees the ice extremely well,” Lambert says. “Typically makes the right decision with the puck. On the power play, when you have a player like him quarterbacking the power play at this level, he has the ability that really helps. Typically, our entries are good on the power play and he’s a big part of that. He makes the right decision and distributes the puck at the right time.”
Lambert will lean on Smith a lot in the coming series with Everett and he seemingly never comes off the ice.
He’s an accurate passer and pushes the pace for the Chiefs’ offense from the blue line. He’s elusive, loaded with speed and tough to keep up with for opponents.
“Going against him in practice each day I can tell you how good of a skater he is,” Anderson-Dolan says. “You can make a move and he’ll stay in front of you. He always knows what play is the best and I think he’s underrated for his defensive play because whenever I go against him in practice, he’s hard to go against.”
Both Anderson-Dolan and Smith could be in their last run with the Chiefs and the WHL.
Anderson-Dolan is 19-years-old and will join the Kings organization, either in Los Angeles or in the AHL, next season. Smith could return to Spokane for his 19-year-old season next year but has his eyes on the Devils.
“I think when you go to an NHL camp, you’re going there to make the team,” Smith says. “You’re not going to just have fun so that’s definitely going to be my goal. But, obviously it’s the NHL and it’s a really tough league to make and stay in so we’ll see what happens.”
Match up with the Everett Silvertips
While Smith and Anderson-Dolan are the marquee names on the Spokane roster, they’re not the only NHL-quality players.
San Jose Sharks prospect Jake McGrew scored 31 goals this year while Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Filip Kral is a strong compliment to Smith on the blue line. Adam Beckman, a 2019 draft eligible player, potted 32 goals this year while fellow draft hopeful Luke Toporowski added 21 more.
The series will be one of contrasting styles as the Chiefs led the U.S. Division in goals while Everett was the stingiest defense. Spokane is coming off a series against a Portland squad that plays an up-and-down, trade chances type of game and will now have to adjust to a completely different style deployed by Everett.
“They’re almost machine like when they play,” Smith adds about the Silvertips. “They’re all the same, just hard working, compete and buy into the system. They have some really good players there and the great goalie…it’s going to be a hard series.”
For the Chiefs to pull off the victory they’ll need their power play that went 6-for-11 in the first round to continue clicking and they will need to jump on the few chances that Everett is going to relent to them.
“I think it’s beating them at their own game,” Anderson-Dolan says about the keys for his Chiefs. “They’re a pretty defensive minded team and I think for a lot of the year they didn’t give up a lot of goals. We know it’s going to be a pretty low scoring series and we’ve got to be willing to do that. Obviously, we’re an offensive team so we need to buy into that game and play defensive first, and then take advantage of our opportunities.”
Game 1 of the series is Saturday night in Everett at 7 pm.