The Tri-City Americans are beginning to look like a dangerous club in the WHL's Western Conference - and at just the right time.
Another successful week for the Ams concluded Saturday with another impressive win over rival Spokane, this time a 4-1 decision on home ice. Tri-City erupted with four straight goals after a scoreless first period and Evan Sarthou continued his recent hot streak in the win.
The Ams picked up key victories against Kamloops and Spokane, two of the four teams they are currently in a battle with for the final three playoff spots. The other, Portland, split games over the weekend.
There was also some exciting off-the-ice news, with former American and current co-owner Stu Barnes being named one of the WHL's top-50 players of all time. He was ranked No. 50 on the list.
Here's a quick recap of the week for Tri-City.....
Balanced, solid effort propels Ams over Blazers
Five different Americans scored and Sarthou stopped 15 of 16 shots in the third period to help Tri-City beat Kamloops 5-3 on Tuesday.
Morgan Geekie stayed hot and Mackenze Stewart's second of the season gave Tri-City a 2-0 lead before most of the crowd got comfortable. Vladislav Lukin notched his fifth point in the past two games to make it 3-0 in the first.
Kamloops cut the lead to 3-1 in the second but less than a minute later Parker Bowles scored his team-leading 29th of the year. Michael Rasmussen scored in the third and Kamloops potted a late goal to make the score more respectable. But no doubt another solid effort on home ice.
Tri-City falls to Victoria in shootout after wild game
In a game that saw huge momentum swings and both starting goaltenders pulled for backups, Victoria edged the Ams 5-4 after a shootout that lasted four rounds.
The momentum started early with Tri-City gaining a power play only 37 seconds into the game. But in an odd twist, it was the Royals who only needed 12 seconds to score shorthanded. A power play goal 8 minutes later made it 2-0 Victoria before Tyler Sandhu (12) potted a shorthanded marker of his own. The string of shorthanded goals continued when the Royals added another while down a man with two minutes left in the period, chasing Sarthou from the Tri-City net.
Brendan O'Reilly's first of the season was followed by goals from Nolan Yaremko (2) and Parker Wotherspoon (10) as the Ams roared back in the second to take a 4-3 lead. That also finished the night for Royals starter Coleman Vollrath. Vladimir Bobylev tied the score midway through the game, and the teams went scoreless the rest of the way.
Dante Hannoun scored in the fourth round to seal the win for Victoria. The Ams hadn't lost a home game since New Year's Eve.
Ams dominate Spokane for second consecutive Saturday
Tyler Sandhu scored twice and captain Beau McCue potted his 20th of the season as Tri-City handled Spokane for the second straight week in a 4-1 win.
After a scoreless first, the floodgates opened. Sandhu's pair of goals sandwiched Austyn Playfair's second of the season and the Ams were cruising up 3-0. McCue scored 2:17 into the third and the Ams coasted to the victory. Sarthou posted his second victory of the week in goal.
Naturally, a game between arch rivals drew some penalties. The game saw two fights and 66 combined penalty minutes, although neither team was able to score with the man advantage. Mackenze Stewart had fights against Evan Fiala in the first and Dalton Hamaliuk in the second and showed why he's one of the league's best with the gloves dropped.
Tri-City (24-25-2-1, 51 points) still sits in 5th place in the U.S. Division and 9th place in the Western Conference, but is drawing closer and closer to a playoff spot. The Ams are three points behind Portland (26-25-2-0), six behind Spokane (26-21-3-2), eight behind Seattle (28-21-3-0) and 17 points behind division-leading Everett (32-16-2-2). Tri-City is only three points behind 8th-place Kamloops (23-22-5-3) and Portland for the final two wild card playoff spots.
Tri-City will spend nearly a week on the road beginning Wednesday in Cranbrook against the league-worst Kootenay Ice (9-40-4-0, 22 points, last in Eastern Conference). From there they head a few hours northeast to Lethbridge (37-16-0-0, 74 points, 1st in Central and Eastern Conference) on Friday, Red Deer (34-16-1-2, 71 points, 2nd in Central) on Saturday and Edmonton (23-23-6-1, 8th in East) on Monday. Facing some of the Eastern Conference's best talent, this will without a doubt be the Ams' toughest road trip of the season.
On the mend
Riley Hills was re-added to the injury list with an upper-body injury, and also returning to the injury report was rookie forward Kyle Olson. Olson is listed as a lower-body injury, and both are listed as out indefinitely.
Barnes among top-50 WHL players of all time
Former Ams star and current co-owner Stu Barnes was named to the Top 50 WHL Players of All-Time on Saturday. Barnes came in at No. 50 on the list, amassing 157 goals and 251 assists for an astounding 408 points in 223 career games. His No. 14 hangs with the other banners at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
Ams sign Jeri-Leon to standard agreement
The club announced the signing of 2015 Bantam Draft pick Keltie Jeri-Leon. Jeri-Leon, of Kelowna and the Okanogan Hockey Academy, was picked in the fifth round of the 2015 draft and attended rookie training camp with the Americans in August.