What do the Spokane Chiefs and Paul McCartney have in common? They’re both playing at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena this month.
It will all be explained.
The Chiefs are set to take on the Kamloops Blazers in the opening round of the Western Hockey League (WHL) playoffs, with Game 1 of the best-of-seven series in Kamloops on Friday night. It’s a different set-up than traditional best-of-sevens as the first three games will be in Kamloops, followed by the next three in Spokane with Game 7, if it gets that far, back in Kamloops. A normal series would see both teams play two home games each with Games 5 through 7 flip-flopping between both cities.
So why is it like that? That’s where Paul McCartney comes in as Yellowknife’s Logan Cunningham explained.
“He’s having a concert at our arena (on April 28) and that took up our ice time,” said Cunningham, a defenceman for Spokane. “I guess the arena wasn’t expecting us to be in the playoffs so that’s why they probably scheduled it for then.”
In any case, the Chiefs go into the WHL playoffs as the seventh seed in the Western Conference, and it’s a spot that Cunningham didn’t think they would occupy at any point this season. They spent most of the first half of the regular season languishing near the bottom of the conference.
Cunningham said it all had to do with Adam Maglio, who started the season as head coach but didn’t finish as he was fired in early February.
“The team culture just wasn’t good earlier in the season with our old coach,” he said. “All he did was coach by video and the guys just didn’t seem to want to battle every night for him and that’s not good.”
Ryan Smith, the team’s associate head coach, was named as Maglio’s replacement, and Cunningham said that’s when things began to change.
“He’s connected with all the players and everyone loves him because he brought a totally different attitude,” he said. “You want to go out and fight for a guy like that and the results have been obvious. We’ve been a much better team since he took over.”
Being a lower seed means the pressure isn’t there, said Cunningham.
“Our goal is to win it all but if we can get Game 1, then we get into their heads a bit,” he said. “We pop them on home ice early and they start getting nervous. There’s no pressure on us. We’ve come up from last place in the standings so why not go out there and try to do some damage?”
The attitude in the locker room is that there’s nothing to lose, he added.
“We’re going all in, go out there and do what we can,” he said. “If we aren’t at our best, they’ll roll over us but if we play like we have the last little while, we can do some damage.”
This will be Cunningham’s first playoff run in the WHL and he said the feeling is one of nervous excitement.
“I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I didn’t get to do the playoffs last season because our season was cut short and I haven’t been around long enough to experience what it’s like but I’m expecting it will be a battle for sure.”