Spokane, Wa. The Tri-City Americans (23-16-7-0, 53 pts.) were coming off of a desperately needed win Friday night against the Brandon Wheat Kings. The win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Americans and provided a possible spring board for the team to get back on the right track. The Spokane Chiefs (24-19-1-2, 51 pts.) were also coming off of a win against the Wheat Kings in their last game. The highway 395 Eastern Washington rivalry usually provides some very exciting games. This one was no different as the Americans twice erased multi-goal deficits, but unfortunately fell to the Chiefs in overtime, 5-4
To be successful on the road, scoring first and early can really help take the crowd out of it. Being on the road also takes some pressure off as the road team. Pressure, is exactly what Spokane brought early and often in this match. The one thing that Spokane has used well in recently history against the Americans is their speed. Tonight was no different as they came right off the line with speed tonight. At 4:39 of the first, that speed got the best of Tri-City. Spokane forward Kailer Yamamoto made a great move in the neutral zone to gain possession and get the puck to Jaret Anderson-Dolan. Anderson-Dolan and Ethan McIndoe streaked in to the Americans zone man-on-man with the Tri-City defense. Anderson-Dolan fed the puck to McIndoe whose initial shot was blocked by Americans goalie Beck Warm, but the rebound bounced right back to McIndoe who put it just past Warm’s left skate and in. Later in the period, another Americans blown defensive coverage would end up in the back of the Tri-City net. With defenseman Jake Bean off for tripping, the Spokane power play went to work. After several shots in close late in the man-advantage, the puck slipped out to Warm’s right where a diving uncovered Jake McGrew got his stick to the puck and pushed it in behind Warm. The Chiefs held the 2-goal lead and all of the momentum. Late in the period, the Americans started to finally press harder into the Spokane zone. Tri-City defenseman Anthony Bishop had a great chance but slid the puck just through the Chiefs crease. It was no goal but the Americans were awarded their first power play when defenseman Filip Kral was whistled for delay of game. The Americans only had thirty-two seconds to work with before the end of the period. They were unable to convert but would start the second period with a lot of time left on the man-advantage. Spokane won the shots on goal battle 14-12.
Despite failing to convert that power play chance to start the second, the Americans were the better team through the first five minutes of the middle frame. They were leading the shots and chances and keeping the play in the Spokane zone. Despite all that, the Chiefs were the ones who extended their lead to three. Forward Riley Woods ended up with the puck behind the Americans net and fed a perfect pass out to Zach Fischer who beat Patrick Dea, who had replaced Warm at the start of the second period, with the one-timer through the five hole for his 20th of the season. The Chiefs were firmly in control. Good players understand the things that can shift momentum in a game. Americans forward Connor Bouchard decided to take matters into his own hands and drop the gloves with Chiefs forward Luke Toporowski. The rookies battled it out in the corner with both going down to the ice swinging. The spark seemed to work as the Americans came alive. Jake Bean finally got Tri-City on the board scoring his 8th of the season and 3rd since being traded to the Americans. Bean faked his initial shot from just outside the circle before firing a laser top corner. Just over a minute later, forward Isaac Johnson picked up a loose puck in the high slot and fired home his 13th of the season. Johnson continues to be rewarded for his hard work scoring six points (4g-2a) in his last six games. Both teams would trade an unsuccessful power play opportunity as the period drew to a close. Just like in the first period, though, Spokane would take a late penalty and give the Americans a power play to open the following period. Tri-City outshot Spokane 13-11 in the middle frame making shots even at 25 for both teams through two periods.
The momentum would once again shift just past the halfway point of the third period. Spokane would regain their two goal lead on the strength of Toporowski’s 3rd of the season. Chiefs forward Milos Fafrak carries to the right circle and then swept a pass behind him to Toporowski who was all alone in the slot and fired a wrist shot five-hole on Dea. With time starting to be a factor, the Americans found themselves in a hole that was starting to seem way too deep. Just under a minute later however, they started to chip away at the Chiefs lead. Bean threw a shot on net that was tipped off the stick of rookie forward Sasha Mutala to go top shelf over Chiefs’s goalie Bailey Brkin. It was Mutala’s 7th of the season. Three-and-a-half minutes later, an unlikely hero would tie the game for Tri-City. Rookie defenseman Mitchell Brown found himself uncovered at the right circle, when a pass from Mutala found its way to his stick. Brown skated in and fired a shot top corner over Brkin for just his 2nd goal of the year. The Americans had once again erased a multi-goal lead to get back in it. Both teams had their fair share of chances for the remainder of regulation ply, but this game was headed to overtime. It was third straight game Tri-City would find themselves in the extra frame. It would take less than a minute to solve this one. After a missed shot by Geekie, Chiefs’ forward Kailer Yamamoto picked up the loose rebound and skated coast-to-coast all alone and fired the game-winner past Dea at the :47 mark. Game over. The Chiefs outshot Tri-City 44-35 on the night. Tri-City was 0-for-3 on the power play while Spokane was 1-for-2. The Americans will have a week off before hosting Spokane next Saturday in Kennewick. Spokane will host Swift Current on Tuesday night.
This was the 16th overtime game the Americans have played in this season. The Americans have nine of those contests, five in overtime and four in the shootout, and have lost seven. Those extra points they dropped in those seven games may come back to haunt them come playoff time. The U.S. Division continues to be tightly contested and every point is at a premium. The Americans currently sit 4th in the division, one point behind Seattle, and two points ahead of Spokane. They are seven point behind division leading Everett with a game in hand.
One piece of good news this evening was that power forward and Detroit Red Wings’ first round pick Michael Rasmussen was on the ice for warmups. He was eventually scratched before the opening puck drop, but with Tri-City having a week off, it looks like the chances of him playing next Saturday are good.