Kennewick, Wa. The Tri-City Americans (15-10-3-0, 33 pts.) were once unstoppable at home this season. They opened up the year by going 7-0 on home ice. Recently however, it has been a different story. Tri-City had gone 1-4-1 heading into tonight’s contest with the Everett Silvertips (19-12-1-1, 40 pts.) who have been one of the league’s hottest teams lately riding a eight-game winning streak. Everett extended that streak to nine games on Sunday night in Kennewick by beating the Americans 4-3 to move to within one point of the U.S. Division lead. Tri-City has now lost six of its last seven at home.
One of the biggest parts of Everett’s success lately has been the unworldy play of goaltender Carter Hart. Hart, however, didn’t get the start tonight as he played the last two nights and was due for a rest. Everett would play in front of rookie goalie Dustin Wolf who has been solid in his own right this season. Wolf has played in four games this season and has a 1.75 GAA and a 0.952 SAV%. He was tested early as the Americans came out firing. Fast starts have been important to Tri-City’s start this season as they play much better when getting an early lead. It was the Silvertips, however, who would open the scoring at the 10:35 mark. Everett forward Riley Sutter netted his 10th of the season to give the Silvertips the early 1-0 lead. It wouldn’t take Tri-City long to respond and tie the game up. On their second power play opportunity of the period, Americans forward Michael Rasmussen continued his hot streak by netting his 13th goal of the season from his office in front of the net. Tri-City outshot Everett 13-4 in the opening frame but the game would enter intermission tied at one.
Everett is a team that historically is near the bottom of the list when it comes to penalty minutes . They don’t take many. This year hasn’t been much different for them. Tonight, however, the Silvertips would give the Americans seven power play opportunities. On their third power play of the contest early in the second period, the Americans once again were able to make something happen. The second power play unit converted for Tri-City on the strength of overage forward Maxwell James’ fifth of the season at the 5:31 mark. The Americans took the 2-1 lead and were now 2-of-3 on the night with the man-advantage. Unfortunately for Tri-City, the success of their power play was equally matched by the failure of their penalty kill in this game. Everett forward Bryce Kindopp scored on the power play at 8:18 of the second and defenseman Wyatt Wylie scored on the power play at 14:57 to give Everett the 3-2 lead. The Silvertips would finish the night going 2-for-5 on the man-advantage. Everett outshot the Americans 9-8 in the middle frame, and more importantly they entered the third period with the lead.
Rasmussen would show early in the third why he is so important to the success of the Americans. Rasmussen, once again using his 6-foot-6 frame to set up right in front of the Everett net and would get his second of the contest and 14th of the season, once again on the power play. The Americans were staying right in it with the Silvertips. That tie score would hold late into the period and the game seemed undoubtedly headed to overtime. That was until a key turnover. A Tri-City turnover with under 20 seconds left in regulation found it’s way onto the stick of Everett defenseman Ian Walker who was able to feed Kindopp for his second of the game with just eighteen seconds left to play. That was it. Tri-City fell 4-3 to Everett for their fourth straight loss at home. Tri-City outshot the Silvertips 11-9 in the period and 32-22 in the game. The Americans converted 3-of-7 power play opportunities.
A nice long road trip may be just what the team needs to get back on track. The camaraderie of the bus, and the lack of the pressure of needing to please the home crowd can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered for a struggling team. The Americans will get that opportunity as they head out on part one of their bi-annual Central Division road trip starting on Wednesday. They will play their next three games in Medicine Hat, Edmonton, and Red Deer before hitting the Christmas break. Another bit of good news for the team is that despite their recent struggles, they have games-in-hand on every team in the U.S. Division including five game on Everett who have played 33 games to Tri-City’s 28 games. They have plenty of opportunities forthcoming to get back on the right track. One wrench in the plan, however, could be the upcoming absence of defenseman Juuso Välimäki. The Calgary Flames first round pick just recently returned from injury, but will only play in one more game with the Americans before joining team Finland for the World Juniors. Välimäki is the captain once again for Finland.