This season has been like a night at the dance hall for the Tri-City Americans.
Take a few steps forward, take a few more backwards.
The Ams had been taking forward steps of late: a tough loss to Portland was followed with two nice wins over bottom-feeding Vancouver.
But then came the backwards movement, most notably in Saturday night's humiliating 8-1 home loss to arch rival Spokane. The Ams were dominated in every facet for the game's final 40 minutes. Goaltender Evan Sarthou was relieved after Nik Andersen scored to make it 6-1 three minutes into the third period.
"(Hockey) is about playing a certain way and doing it for 60 minutes. I thought we did it for 20 minutes tonight," head coach Mike Williamson said on Saturday. "It's hard when things get off the tracks to get it back."
The Americans were down to only five healthy defenseman after Brendan O'Reilly went down with an injury against Kelowna. That forced GM Bob Tory to call up affiliate defender Landon Fuller for Saturday's game.
Tri-City now sits with only two healthy defenseman with any WHL experience prior to this season: 18-year old Parker Wotherspoon and 17-year-old Dylan Coghlan.
Kelowna fends off charging Ams
The defending WHL champion Kelowna Rockets invaded the Toyota Center Tuesday and escaped with a 3-1 win.
Jordan Topping scored his team-leading ninth of the season as the Ams skated stride-for-stride with the champs all night. Nick Merkley scored twice in the third - one into an empty net - to propel the Rockets (13-5-0-0, 26 points, 2nd place, B.C. Division) to victory. Sarthou made 24 saves in the loss.
"I was happy with that game," Williamson said Saturday about the Kelowna loss. "You have to do everything you can to win but we played well."
Ams blown out by Chiefs at home
Saturday showed signs of continued progress. Despite being down 1-0 after the first period, Tri-City had many scoring chances and out-shot the Chiefs 11-8. Spokane goalie Matt Berlin was the only reason Tri-City didn't lead by one or more goals.
Then the second period started.
Spokane erupted for four second-period goals and continued its scoring rush into the third period to win 8-1.
Parker Bowles scored the lone Tri-City goal on a power play in the second period. But that came right after Dominic Zwerger scored short-handed to give Spokane a 3-0 lead.
"We played a good first period, had a lot of chances," Williamson said. "We made some fundamental errors in the second that led to some goals. No reason for it. Just missed assignments, sloppy play and a lack of focus.
"That was a big game, with a big crowd, against a rival. It was too important of a game to play like that."
Tri-City hosts Portland (7-9-0-0, 14 points, 4th place U.S. Division) on Wednesday before heading to Alberta to face Eastern Conference foes Medicine Hat (5-7-2-1, 13 points, 5th place Central Division) on Friday and Calgary (9-10-0-1, 19 points, 3rd place Central Division) on Saturday.
"We have to take a deep breath and get back to work," Williamson said. "Got a few days here to prepare for another big game against a division opponent."
Roster of players the mend
Injury luck has not been on the Americans' side this season. And that's an extreme understatement. That luck, or lack of, can be summed up best by looking at defenseman Jeff Rayman. Rayman was signed last week to help fill the void after Brandon Carlo and Riley Hillis went down with injuries. Rayman only played one game before he was injured and is expected to miss two weeks. That forced GM Bob Tory to bring in affiliate player Landon Fuller for Saturday's game against Spokane.
Hillis, according to the team, is undergoing season-ending surgery for an upper-body injury. Carlo is expected back from an upper-body injury in another week or two. Austyn Playfair is close to being back from an upper-body injury that's kept him out since October 3. Forward Kyle Olson is also listed as "out" for another week with a lower-body injury that forced him to miss the U17 Hockey Challenge.
World U17 Hockey Challenge
Tri-City rookies Michael Rasmussen and Kyle Olson were selected to play for Canada Team Black at the World U17 Hockey Challenge last week in Dawson Creek, B.C. and Fort St. John, B.C. Olson missed the tournament because of injury, but Rasmussen played and excelled for Team Black, recording a pair of goals and an assist in five games. Team Black went 0-2-1 and finished 8th in the tournament. Rasmussen is expected back for Wednesday's tilt with Portland. Canada Team White captured the gold medal with a 6-2 win over Russia.