Kennewick, Wa. Let’s face it, the Tri-City Americans (22-15-5-0, 49pts.) are hurting big time right now. In addition to all of the players currently injured heading into tonight’s contest with the Prince George Cougars (17-20-4-3, 41pts.), forward Nolan Yaremko was added to the scratch list after warmups. The Americans are looking to their young guys to step up and hold down the fort while waiting for the veterans to return. Easier said than done when you have eight rookies in the lineup, which is exactly what the Americans were dealing with tonight. Stats wise, the Cougars are on the outside looking in for the playoff race, so it should have been a good litmus test for the young guys. The Cougars, who match up really well against the Americans, had different plans for the evening.
The first period started fairly slow for the home team. The Americans mustered up just one shot on net in the first ten minutes of the game. The Cougars weren’t getting many more chances, but they made them count. On just their second shot, Cougars defenseman Joel Lakusta netted his fifth of the season on an early Prince George power play. The Americans, once again, worked hard and didn’t back down, but weren’t able to capitalize on their chances. An open net chance that missed and lots of shots that sailed wide were the story for Tri-City. Goaltender Patrick Dea played solid for the Americans for the remainder of the period, stopping some quality Prince George chances. The Cougars outshot the Americans 10-5 in the opening frame and more importantly had the 1-0 lead.
The middle frame was an all out offensive battle as compared to the first. There was a total of 29 shots on net and four goals scored. Prince George extended their lead to two when center Ilijah Colina, playing in only his second game with the Cougars after being acquired from Portland, netted his fourth of the season. A scrum in front of the net ended with the puck trickling past Dea. The Americans were able to cut the lead to two and make a game of it on the power play a short time later. Defenseman Jake Bean got his sixth of the season and first as an American when he took a pass from Jordan Topping at the right circle and fired it into a wide open net. Prince George would get the 2-goal lead back at the 13:40 mark on forward Jackson Leppards 10th of the season. With just over thirty seconds left in the middle frame, the Cougars extended the lead to three. Forward Vladislav Mikhalchuk Buried his 10th of the season to finish off a Prince George odd-man rush on some great passing by Josh Curtis and Aaron Boyd. The Americans inexperience was glaring to end the frame. Tri-City outshot the Cougars 16-13 in the second but headed to the locker room down by three. With so many new and young faces on the ice, you could see the lack of chemistry. It’s a tough situation they are in right now, and the third period would show a lot about the teams resolve.
Halfway through the third period, Americans forward Parker Aucoin would cut the Prince George lead in half with his twelfth goal of the year. Aucoin has been one of the bright spots for the Americans lately, scoring points in five of his last seven games (5-4-9). Tri-City continued to battle, but that was the closest they would get. Jared Bethune would cap off his 3-point night for the Cougars with an empty-net goal at the 19:03 mark. Prince George left Kennewick with the 5-2 victory. Final shots on goal were 28 for both teams. Tri-City was 1-for-4 on the power play while Prince George was 1-for-3.
The loss was the Americans second straight at home and third straight overall. The team is reeling right now from all of the lost man games they are dealing with. A few bright spots have been the play of some key players lately, though. Isaac Johnson and Connor Bouchard, both rookies, have been two of the hardest working players on the ice. Though neither has lit up the score sheet recently, the effort and intensity they bring on every shift should excite Tri-City fans. The future is bright for both young players. The big picture in the near future looks pretty tough for the Americans, however. The team will travel to Everett on Monday before coming home to host Swift Current and Brandon. All three of those games will be good opportunities for the Americans young players to step up and take advantage of their opportunities. Healthy bodies should be coming back for Tri-City over the next couple of weeks, but the team will have plenty of opportunities to show themselves what they are really made of as they face a lot of upcoming adversity.