Chiefs – Royals

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The Spokane Chiefs weren’t supposed to make the playoffs this year. Then they traded away their leading scorer, and were supposed to sink fast. And when they made the playoffs, many figured they would be swept, especially with their starting goalie injured. Instead, they battled through five games to force a game 6 at home, trailing 3-2 against the Victoria Royals.

The game got out of hand fairly quickly, so much of the game was watching the clock tick inevitably down to the end of the Chiefs’ season. But what a fun team this has been to watch. What a great group of guys.

Markson Bechtold, before the team takes the ice, yells in the tunnel, “Release the Chiefs!!! Sharpen the war spears!!! Bang the war drums!!!!” at which point, Kailer Yamamoto will hit the ceiling with his stick.

Kailer and Curtis Miske exchange chin-bumps (as opposed to fist-bumps) before the games.

Matt Sozanski, undersized for a defensemen, never backs down, sacrifices his body, and then when on the bench quietly apologizes for getting in my shots.

Hudson Elynuik and Dominic Zwerger love to chirp at the opposing bench. They take turns, and build on each other’s jokes. Sort of like how they worked so well together on the same line.

The Yamamoto brothers, Keanu and Kailer, also worked well together, as you might expect. And they did so with a sense of humor and playfulness that might be surprising given they weight they carry as the local heroes.

Jarret Anderson-Dolan plays a lot like the Yamamotos–quick, fast, skating low to the ice–but he’s quiet on the ice, all business, taking instruction and doing his best. His game face is second only to Fiala’s.

Evan Fiala is the nicest guy one could ever meet before the puck drops and after the final whistle (he has been a particular favorite of Marcus’ after showing Marcus how to fight during Meet the Chiefs night), but on the ice, he has a silent intensity that is intimidating, and he carefully watches any skirmish, to see when he should step in and protect his teammates. I still remember when Jason Fram was injured on a cheap-shot, and Fiala helped him off the ice. As he did so, he glared at the opposing bench and the referees who missed the call. It was typical Fiala: compassionate, loyal and fierce, all at once.

Then there is Jason Fram, one of the all-time great defensemen in Chiefs history, a starter for five years. He doesn’t take cheap shots. Doesn’t get any many fights. He doesn’t talk a lot. Yet he was the unquestionable leader of this team. By the end of the season, when Fram would make a typically understated, but impressive play, Marcus and I would turn to each other and say, “Fram doing Fram things.” He’ll be missed next year.

Some of the other players I didn’t get to know as well, to observe as closely (partly as a consequence of where they sit on the bench). But this was a great group of kids. I love photography, and shooting hockey is fun on any night, but shooting these guys was a special privilege.