The Tri-City Americans head into the Christmas break playing some of their best hockey of the season. Wins over Portland and on the road against Seattle showed why this team can be a force in the U.S. Division, if they can stay healthy.
But then a third-period flop against Seattle Saturday sure sent the club into the break with a sour taste in their mouths.
While top defenseman Brandon Carlo's absence is certainly noticed, one place it hasn't yet shown up is the scoreboard (perhaps minus Sunday's defeat). Carlo departed for the World Juniors last week and the Ams were without the Boston Bruins second-round pick for all three games.
Nick Sanders also picked up a win Friday against Seattle. It was Sanders' first start in net since November 1st. The club recently added goalie Beck Warm to the roster, but I believe that was precaution in case Evan Sarthou was invited to the U.S. Junior Team camp (he wasn't).
Here's a recap of the week for Tri-City:
Ams win Tuesday despite furious Portland rally
The week started with a bizarre, yet familiar, win for the Americans. After storming out to a 4-0 lead in the first period, Tri-City saw Portland respond with four of their own to tie the score in the second. It was the second time the Ams broke out to a lead of at least 4 goals early, only to see it slip away. In October Tri-City blew a 5-0 lead at home to Seattle, only to win in overtime.
Just like the previous occurrence the Ams woke up just in time for the third period, where goals from Parker Wotherspoon and Jordan Roy (first career WHL goal!) gave Tri-City a 6-4 win.
With starting goalie Adin Hill resting on the bench, the Ams feasted on backup Michael Bullion in the first, scoring four times on 12 shots. Brian Williams (7), Tyler Sandhu (7) and Jordan Topping (12, 13) provided the scoring for Tri-City.
Then the roles reversed, with Portland pouring it on starter Evan Sarthou in the second. Portland got a short-handed goal from Alex Schoenborn and another on an odd-man rush from Dominic Turgeon, as the Winterhawks showed no signs of panic after a brutal first period.
The third saw Tri-City regain its composure and secure two crucial points. Wotherspoon's shot from the blue line cleared a screened Bullion, and Roy buried one off a nice pass from Austyn Playfair 21 seconds later for some insurance.
Bowles sparks comeback victory over Thunderbirds
After a late start due to horrendous conditions at Snoqualmie Pass, Parker Bowles tied the game late in the third and added two assists to lift the visiting Ams past Seattle 3-2.
Bowles earned his first assist when Beau McCue got things going with a power play goal at 6:53 of the first. Seattle tied the game a few minutes later and grabbed the lead midway through the third on a Donovan Neuls goal.
Bowles' team-leading 19th of the season beat Logan Flodell with just under five minutes left to tie the score. He then fed Jordan Topping for the overtime winner less than a minute into the 3-on-3 extra frame.
Sanders got the win in his first start in nearly two months, stopping 27 of 29 shots. He was snubbed out of a 3-star spot, but hometown teams tend to give hometown players those awards.
Seattle was without star center Mathew Barzal, along with Alexander True and Scott Eansor, who are all playing for their home countries in the World Juniors.
Defensive struggles emerge again in 6-3 loss
In Saturday's rematch in Kennewick, the Thunderbirds scored three times in a seven-minute stretch in the third to win 6-3.
The Ams picked right back up from Friday, grabbing a 2-0 lead on goals from Jeff Rayman (1) and Michael Rasmussen (9). It was Rayman's second career goal and first since he was with Spokane during the 2013-14 season.
But Seattle answered back with three of their own, two coming from the elusive Ryan Gropp (17, 18). After Juuso Valimaki (6) tied the score 40 seconds into the third, the teams traded power plays but remained tied until Seattle's outburst. Owen Seidel's first career WHL goal started the rush and proved to be the winner for the T-Birds.
In a ‘you-don't-see-that-everyday' move, head coach Mike Williamson pulled Sarthou with only 5:22 left in the game after Seattle's sixth goal. Sarthou stopped 24 shots and Sanders stopped the one shot he faced.
Heading into the Christmas break, the Americans sit fifth in the U.S. Division with a record of 14-19-1-0 (29 points), four points behind Portland (16-16-1-0), nine points behind Spokane (17-13-3-1), 11 points behind Everett (19-11-0-2) and 12 points behind division-leading Seattle (19-11-3-0). In the playoff race, Tri-City sits in ninth in the conference, four points behind eight-place Portland and nine points behind surging Kamloops (17-11-3-1). If the Blazers continue their recent success, the Ams may only have Portland left to track down to try and make the playoffs as the final seed.
Tri-City takes the Christmas week off until a game at Portland on Sunday the 27th.
On the mend
Rookie forward Kyle Olson should make his return from injury this week. Olson hasn't played since October 23rd. Brendan O'Reilly should be out another 3-4 weeks with a lower-body injury. Taylor Vickerman is still listed as indefinite with an upper-body injury.
Carlo to play for U.S. World Junior team
Brandon Carlo has made the most recent cut for the United States in the upcoming World Junior Championships in Finland. Carlo played for Team USA last year, which placed a disappointed fifth. Team USA's first game is Saturday against Canada. All of Team USA's games can be seen on the NHL Network in the United States. Carlo is a lock to make the final squad, which must be submitted by December 24.