Judy Simpson

Americans ground Rockets in defensive battle

Kennewick, Wa. The Tri-City Americans (6-4-0-0) returned home Tuesday night to face the Kelowna Rockets (4-4-1-1) after an early season five-game road trip. The Americans went 3-2 on that trip including come-from-behind victories in all three of their wins. However, recent history has not been kind when the Americans have faced Kelowna. Tri-City was looking to get that monkey off their back Tuesday night.

During the past several seasons, Tri-City has played on their heels against the Rockets. Tonight started off much differently. The Americans defense was able to clog lanes early and control play in the neutral zone for much of the opening period. The Americans forward line of Nolan Yaremko, Parker Aucoin, and Isaac Johnson was particularly good at bringing the attack to the Kelowna end. Just over halfway through the period, Aucoin won a hard fought battle through the neutral zone, found Yaremko streaking down the center, who was then able to snipe a shot past Kelowna netminder James Porter for his first goal of the season. 1-0 Americans after one. Kelowna outshot Tri-City 12-11 in the period.

The Americans opened the second frame on the power play after a carry=over penalty to Kelowna defenseman James Hilsendager for tripping. A blast from Americans’ defenseman Juuso Välimäki on that man advantage found the back of the net, but the goal would be waived off after a review showed Tri-City forward Michael Rasmussen redirected it with a high stick. Kelowna would go on to kill that penalty. Both teams traded a few power play opportunities, but the real story of the second period was Tri-City netminder Beck Warm. Warm made several key saves on the Rockets who badly outshot the Americans 10-3 that period.

The third period would be much more interesting for both teams. The strong defensive play and solid goaltending continued on both ends of the ice. The Americans would take advantage of their strong play through the neutral zone just over the halfway mark of the period. The Yaremko, Aucoin, Johnson line would again be rewarded for their strong play. Yaremko netted his second of the contest on a great backhand he was able to lift over Porter as he skated across the front of the net. Tri-City now had a two goal lead with about 7:30 left to play in this defensive contest.

Game over, right? It seemed that way until the 17:22 mark. Kelowna was given a golden opportunity as Jordan Topping was hit with a 5-minute boarding major and game misconduct. With Porter pulled for an extra attacker, the Rockets were able to capitalize on the two-man advantage. Center Dillon Dube scored at 18:25, spoiling Warm’s shutout bid but more importantly pulling the Rockets to within one. Continuing with a pulled goalie and an extended power play, the Rockets were able to sustain pressure in the Tri-City zone. Warm and the rest of the Americans defensive play prevailed, however. Try-City won the game 2-1 and continued their winning streak by extending it to three games. The Rockets outshot Tri-City 34-24 and went 1-for-5 on the power play. Tri-City went 0-for-3 on the man advantage.

Välimäki played in his first game after being scratched the last three with an undisclosed illness. Former Tri-City American and Washington Capital goaltender, Olaf Kolzig, was behind the bench serving as an assistant coach. He will continue that role for the next two Americans’ games. Tri-City will travel to Everett on Wednesday for a tilt with the Silvertips. Kelowna will return home for a pair of games this weekend against Portland.

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