The Tri-City Americans played with a distinct home-ice advantage throughout the season. And when the season was on the line last weekend, home ice proved vital once again.
After a dreary start to the week with losses to Kamloops and Spokane, Tri-City defeated Western Conference contenders Everett and Kelowna on home ice to stay alive in the playoff race. Tri-City is now just two points behind Spokane, however the Ams have played two less games than the Chiefs. Tri-City will need Spokane to lose at least twice this week when they are on the road at Everett, Seattle and Portland. If they lose all three, then Saturday’s matchup in Kennewick between the Chiefs and Ams would decide the final playoff spot.
But back to last week: the week started Tuesday in a 6-2 loss to Kamloops. Then on Friday things got worse in Spokane, where the Ams were dominated 6-1 by the Chiefs.
Facing elimination from playoff contention, Tri-City quickly turned around on Saturday and beat Everett on home ice.
The week ended against the defending WHL champion Kelowna Rockets, sporting what I believe to be the best uniforms in the WHL this season. Kelowna is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the club moving to British Columbia, by donning the uniforms they wore while the team was located in Tacoma.
Blazers drub Ams 6-2
Kamloops took it to Tri-City on Monday, opening a 4-0 lead and only allowing 10 shots through two periods in a 6-2 win. The Ams were dominated in every facet of this game. Kamloops scored twice in the first, ending Evan Sarthou’s night between periods. Nick Sanders didn’t have much better luck, stopping 17 of 20 shots. Michael Rasmussen continued his recent hot streak with his 17th of the season for Tri-City, and Nolan Yaremko (6) added the other Ams marker.
Tri-City thumped by rival Chiefs
As if Tuesday’s loss wasn’t bad enough for a team fighting to reach the playoffs, Friday’s 6-1 beat down in Spokane wasn’t equally as head-scratching.
Spokane opened a 3-0 lead only 9:12 into the game, ending the night for Tri-City’s starting goalie for the second straight game. This time Sanders was the starter before Sarthou took over.
Max James earned a five-minute major for cross checking when he drilled Markson Bechtold along the boards after Bechtold attempted a high hit on an Ams defenseman. James was immediately suspended by the league for his hit, and missed Tri-City’s games on Saturday and Sunday. His suspension length will likely be determined early this week by the league. But with only two games left for Tri-City, his season is likely over.
The lone highlight of the night came when Parker Bowles scored on the ensuing Spokane power play. It was his 38th of the season, and Bowles now sits in sixth in the WHL in scoring with 94 points (38 goals, 56 assists).
Ams rebound with win over Everett
After a couple of rough outings to start the week, Tri-City was relieved to get a strong effort in net as Nick Sanders stopped 25 of 26 shots in a 4-1 win over Everett.
Brandon Carlo banked one off Carter Hart’s back and into the net for his third of the year to start the scoring. Young forwards Parker AuCoin (5), Jordan Roy (2), and Jordan Topping (31) chipped in goals as Tri-City built a 4-0 lead. Everett spoiled the shutout with only 9 seconds left.
For the second straight meeting with Everett in Kennewick, Hart badly misplayed a puck that immediately led to an Americans goal. Tri-City did a great job of finishing on its scoring chances, something the Ams have struggled with at times this season.
Ams stay alive, beat defending WHL champs
Though it wasn’t pretty, it was still two points at the most crucial moment of the season. Parker AuCoin had a goal and two assists and Tri-City held on to hope of a playoff spot with a 6-4 win over Kelowna to wrap up the week.
The scoring was fast and furious in this one, with AuCoin scoring in the first and later assisting on a game-tying goal after Kelowna grabbed a 3-2 lead. The game saw numerous back-and-forth swings, with Tri-City opening a 2-0 lead before Kelowna scored three straight to take the lead. The teams swapped goals before Juuso Valimaki broke a 4-4 tie on the power play with only a few seconds left in the second period.
The third saw surprisingly little action, with Jordan Topping sealing the win with an empty-netter in the final minute.
What it means
Tri-City is two points behind Spokane in the race for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. But the Chiefs have played two less games, which could spell doom for the Ams if Spokane wins any of its three road games this week. Spokane heads to Everett, Seattle and Portland before stopping in Kennewick for the regular season finale on Saturday. If Spokane loses at Seattle, Everett and Portland, then Saturday’smatchup between the Ams and Chiefs will decide who makes the playoffs.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, Tri-City (33-34-2-1, 69 points) sits in 5th place in the U.S. Division and 9th in the Western Conference. The Ams are two points behind Spokane (31-28-5-4), four behind Portland (34-30-5-0), 14 behind Everett (38-24-4-3) and 18 points behind division-leading Seattle (42-23-3-0).
The final week of the regular season has only two games for Tri-City, both coming on home ice. The Ams get the week off before hosting Seattle on Friday and Spokane on Saturday.
On the mend
Import defenseman Juuso Valimaki’s return to the lineup was the only injury note from last week.