Kennewick, Wa. With just over a week left in the regular season, the Tri-City Americans (33-24-8-1, 75 pts.) hosted the Vancouver Giants (34-24-6-3, 77 pts.) for the first time this season. Both the Americans and Giants have struggled a bit lately. Both teams have just four wins in their past 10 games. Tri-City, however, had lost four straight coming into Friday night’s contest and desperately needed a win, and a point in the standings, to head towards the playoffs on a positive note. The Americans offense came alive for six goals, and the team played a full sixty-minute contest for the first time in awhile to earn the 6-2 victory and their fourteenth playoff appearance in the last fifteen seasons.
The game didn’t start out favorably for Tri-City. Another night at home, another slow start for the Americans, or so it seemed. Vancouver did get on the board first in this one registering the games first five shots on net. Just 2:12 in, Vancouver forward Ty Ronning picked up his 57th of the season on the power play. Ronning scored just 25 goals last season, so to say this has been an incredible breakout year for him would be an understatement. Despite the early deficit, the Americans continued to apply pressure on Vancouver and their goalie, David Tendeck. The Americans started their offensive barrage at the 16:05 mark. On their second power play, forward Morgan Geekie got the deflection in front of the net off of a Jordan Topping pass for his 27th if the season. It was the first home power play goal Tri-City has scored since February 21st. Just over a minute later, Topping would give the Americans the lead on a laser shot through traffic. It was Topping’s 37th of the year. Just 26 seconds later, rookie forward Sasha Mutala would give the Americans the two goal lead. Mutala skated hard to the net and got the tip-in off of a Geekie pass for his 10th of the year. Mutala’s play lately earned him a starting role in tonight’s game. The Americans outshot Vancouver 13-9 and held all the momentum.
The middle frame saw a much more up-tempo back-and-forth game, with very few stoppages. Both teams traded some really good quality chances, not the least of them being later in the period when a Vancouver shot trickled past Tri-City goalie Patrick Dea and sat right on the goal line. Dea eventually got turned around and covered the puck to stop the tense moment. A few minutes later, with both teams skating 4-on-4, Tri-City extended their lead to three. Americans’ defenseman Dylan Coghlan fired a shot from the top of the right circle and found forward Nolan Yaremko in front of the Vancouver net. Yaremko had skated through the Giants’ defense and got the tip-in to the right of Tendeck. It was Yaremko’s 20th of the season, the first time he has reached that mark in the WHL. Vancouver won the shot battle 9-7 in the middle frame, but Tri-City continued to hold the momentum.
The Americans had put together a solid forty minutes heading into the third. The big question was whether they would be able to keep their foot on the gas and put Vancouver away. Just under seven minutes into the third, Mutala struck again for his second of the night, and first ever multi-goal WHL game. A great setup from forward Parker AuCoin, who sent a cross ice pass right to Mutala’s stick, gave the rookie the opportunity to show off his shooting ability with a great snipe to the far corner. The 5-1 lead looked to about put it away. The Giants refused to go down easy, though, and at the 11:48 mark would cut the lead back to three. Vancouver would get their second power play goal of the night, on a great shot to the short side by defenseman Dylan Plouffe. It was Plouffe’s ninth of the season. Despite that goal, things continued to go Tri-City’s way as they continued to bring the pressure. With just over two minutes left to play, defenseman Juuso Välimäki netted his 12th of the season. Välimäki collected a pass from Geekie to Tendeck’s right and fired a shot top shelf to give the Americans the four goal lead back. That was how the contest would end. Tri-City outshot Vancouver 20-11 in the third and 40-29 on the night. The Americans power play was 1-for-5, while Vancouver went 2-for-3. Tri-City goalie Patrick Dea picked up his 18th win of the season, one win shy of his career high of 19 last season in Edmonton. Tendeck picked up the loss for Vancouver.
This was a huge win for Tri-City as the regular season winds down and heads to the playoffs. The Americans power play has been much better the last two games, converting 25% of their chances. Coach Mike Williamson mixed things up a bit tonight, moving center Michael Rasmussen to left wing and putting Mutala on the top line with Rasmussen and Geekie. The move seemed to pay off as those players combined for eight points on the night. Another interesting note will be if we see 15-year-old goalie Talyn Boyko make his season debut for the Americans this weekend. Boyko was drafted in the third round last year by Tri-City at fourteen years old and was called up earlier this week when Beck Warm went down with an injury. Boyko started the season listed at 6’5” and 155 pounds, but is now measuring 6-foot-6 and close to 175 pounds. In a statement earlier this week, Boyko says he doesn’t think he is done growing yet. With the Americans playing three games in three nights, and the playoffs now locked, chances are we may see Boyko play to keep the risk of injury and fatigue to Dea low. Tri-City will play in Portland Saturday night before returning home on Sunday to host Vancouver again.