The Tri-City Americans are beginning to play their best hockey of the season during a most crucial stretch.
In the midst of a 14-game stretch against only U.S. Division opponents, the Ams played solid against Everett on Friday but came away empty in a 3-2 loss.
Then Saturday Tri-City played one of its best games of the season, scoring twice in the third period to overcome a 3-2 deficit and win in Spokane for the first time this season. For a club that routinely struggles to come away with victories in the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, gutting out a win in from of 9,000-plus on the Chiefs teddy-bear toss night was as good as it gets.
Here's a quick recap of the week for the Tri-City Americans:
Another lead lost Friday against Everett
It was a familiar scene for the Americans on Friday night against the Everett Silvertips. Taking on a top-tier division foe, Tri-City skated stride-for-stride with the ‘Tips all night but couldn't find a late tying goal and fell 3-2.
On the annual teddy-bear toss night, the Ams built a 2-0 lead in the first on power play goals from import players Juuso Valimaki (5) and Vladislav Lukin (8). Valimaki's goal sent the fans into a craze as thousands of stuffed bears covered the playing surface.
The Silvertips scored twice to tie the score before the end of the first and Graham Millar potted the winner near the end of the second period. Tri-City couldn't get the equalizer despite out-shooting Everett 9-3 in the final period. Evan Sarthou made 22 saves in the loss.
Americans ruin Spokane's teddy-bear toss with 4-3 victory Saturday
The Ams responded in a big way Saturday night by overcoming a third-period deficit to beat Spokane 4-3. It was Tri-City's first win in Spokane this season and second in the past three meetings after dropping the first three this season to the Chiefs.
Spokane trailed 2-1 entering the third but quickly grabbed a 3-2 lead on goals from Kailer and Keanu Yamamoto. Beau McCue beat Tyson Verhelst top-shelf one minute later on the power play to make it 3-3, the third power-play goal for the Ams in the game. It was the seventh consecutive Tri-City goal that was scored on the power play, an interesting stat pointed out by television announcer Kevin Uretsky. That streak ended when Parker Bowles scored an even-strength goal for his second of the night and the winner with just under four minutes to go. For the night Tri-City was an impressive 3 for 5 with the man advantage.
Lukin (9) also scored for Tri-City, while Sarthou stopped 27 shots to improve his record to 11-17-1 this season between the pipes.
Some shenanigans took place as time expired, with Spokane players obviously frustrated they couldn't even the score with the goaltender pulled. Chiefs leading goal-scorer Adam Helewka threw a fit and began fighting Parker Wotherspoon, who wanted nothing to do with the situation. It was something the league may look at for supplemental discipline. All in all a huge win for the Ams during a crucial stretch of the season.
Tri-City currently stands with a record of 12-18-1-0 (25 points), still 5th place in the U.S. Division. They sit 5 points behind fourth-place Portland (15-15-0-0) in the division, 10 points behind Spokane (16-12-2-1), 11 points behind Everett (17-10-0-2) and 13 points behind division-leading Seattle (18-10-2-0). In the playoff hunt, the Ams are 9th in the conference (currently out of the playoffs), five points behind Portland and seven behind Kamloops in the race for the final two wild card spots in the Western Conference.
The tour of the U.S. Division continues as Tri-City hosts Portland on Tuesday before traveling to Kent to face the Seattle Thunderbirds on Friday. The Ams continue their streak of 14 straight division games Saturday when they face the Thunderbirds in Kennewick.
On the mend
Taylor Vickerman was the only addition (or re-addition) to the injury list. Vickerman is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, while Kyle Olson and Brendan O'Reilly also remain out of the lineup. Austyn Playfair has been making a difference since his recent return to the lineup.
Carlo to join U.S. squad for World Juniors
Brandon Carlo was invited to the United States World Junior evaluation camp, which begins this week. Barring injury Carlo, who played for the U.S. in last season's disappointing 5th place finish, is a lock to make this year's squad. His final game with the Ams was Saturday against Spokane, and Carlo is expected to miss up to 10 games. Rookie defenseman Dakota Krebs and Dylan Coghlan have been rotating in and out of the lineup, so it would appear the club would suit them both regularly in Carlo's absence. The club may also bring back Landon Fuller, who played two games earlier this season, or another young defenseman to fill the roster spot.
To honor my fellow Sin Bin writers, who do an awesome job of tying relevant YouTube videos to their blogs, I'd like to remember my favorite Team USA World Juniors moment. It was the Gold Medal game in 2010, the U.S. was up 5-3 and blew the lead when Jordan Eberle scored twice in the final 2:49. Current-Washington Capital John Carlson then beat Martin Jones (of the WHL's Calgary Hitmen at the time) in overtime to give the U.S. its first gold medal since 2004 and its second overall. It also ended Canada's run of five straight gold medals in the tournament, and it was on Canadian soil (does it get any better?!?). Spokane native and Chiefs player Tyler Johnson was on this U.S. squad, and I can say this was the tournament that really piqued my interest in the World Juniors. Now every December I count the days on the calendar until my two days of gifts: Christmas on the 25th and World Junior hockey on the 26th!
Sin Bin Podcast
In case you missed it, I was on the weekly Sin Bin Podcast last Tuesday with Paul Rogers and Otto Rogers. We discussed star defenseman Brandon Carlo, whether the Ams would consider trading Carlo, stud rookie forward Michael Rasmussen, and what the Ams need to do to perform better against the rival Chiefs (SPOILER: it worked on Saturday, and they won!).