For the first time since the 2002-03 season, there will be no playoff hockey in Kennewick.
The Tri-City Americans wrapped up their season last week, and despite winning both games and ending the season on a four-game win streak, the Ams were eliminated from playoff contention on Friday night.
Tri-City’s playoff hopes ended when Spokane and Portland each earned a point Friday night. Had the Chiefs not earned any points on Friday (when they defeated Portland) the Ams would have tied Spokane in the standings, requiring a sudden-death game in Kennewick.
There were many positives and negatives to the season, and I’ll look back at them in my season review due out next week. But in quick review, the Ams were a young team decimated early by injuries that found its stride after the New Year, but couldn’t quite streak into a playoff position. There is loads of young talent: players like Jordan Topping and Michael Rasmussen burst onto the scene and look to have great WHL careers ahead. New import player Juuso Valimaki is a future NHLer on the blue line and forward Vladislav Lukin, the Ams’ other import product, was much more productive offensively in his second season.
In goal, Evan Sarthou had an up-and-down season, his first as the starting goalie after sitting behind current AHLer Eric Comrie. Like the rest of the club, Sarthou was much improved as the season went on, especially after the New Year. His solid play helped the Ams get back into the playoff race, but inconsistency riddled Sarthou for much of the season.
I’ll dive deeper into the season next week, but until then here’s a quick recap of the final two games of the 2015-16 season…
Ams defeat Seattle in OT, but playoff hopes end
Brandon Carlo scored off a beautiful feed from Michael Rasmussen in overtime and Tri-City beat U.S. Division champion Seattle 2-1.
The celebration was muted however, as Tri-City’s playoff chances were eliminated when Spokane and Portland each earned a point when they faced each other in Portland. Tri-City could only catch Spokane or Portland in the standings but only if either team didn’t earn any more points in the season.
Nolan Yaremko potted his 7th of the season in the first for a 1-0 Tri-City lead. It stayed that way until Scott Eansor tied the score in the third period on a short-handed breakaway. He fooled Sarthou, and himself, and lost the puck but Sarthou couldn’t close the five-hole quick enough.
In the 3-on-3 overtime, Rasmussen found Carlo cutting to the net to complete a give-and-go for the win. Evan Sarthou was fantastic in his season finale, stopping 27 of 28 shots and earning second-star honors.
Tri-City caps season by beating Chiefs
In a game that meant nothing for Tri-City, the Ams found a way to end the season on a high note. Parker Bowles capped his WHL career with a goal and an assist to lift the Ams past Spokane 5-3.
It was an impressive atmosphere given the circumstances, and the Ams didn’t sound the crowd home disappointed. Brandon Carlo scored in what was likely his last WHL game, and overager Mackenzie Stewart added the empty netter in his final WHL game.
In a nice gesture after the game, Bowles could be seen exchanging pleasantries with Spokane captain Jason Fram. Fram, a fellow 20-year-old, and Bowles have battled each other for years and the mutual respect was refreshing to see in this rivalry.
Final Regular Season Standings
Tri-City finished in 5th in the U.S. Division and 9th in the Western Conference with a record of 35-34-2-1 (73 points). The Ams finished two points behind Spokane (33-30-5-4), two behind Portland (34-31-6-1), 11 behind Everett (38-26-5-3) and 31 behind U.S. Division champion Seattle (45-23-4-0). Tri-City finished two points behind 8th-place Spokane and four behind 7th-place Prince George for the final two playoff spots in the West.
Victoria vs. Spokane
Seattle vs. Prince George
Everett vs. Portland
Kelowna vs. Kamloops
Brandon vs. Medicine Hat or Edmonton (MH-EDM tiebreaker game on Monday)
Prince Albert vs. Moose Jaw
Lethbridge vs. Regina
Red Deer vs. Calgary
Season in review
Keep an eye out for my season review of the Americans, due out sometime next week.