The margin between winning and losing in the WHL is a small one. That was the case in all three games for the Tri-City Americans (11-8-2-1) this past weekend. They had a tough three-in-three schedule with the Winnipeg ICE and Kelowna Rockets coming into the Toyota Center and then a quick trip to Everett to battle the Silvertips.
The Americans dropped all three games by one goal each, despite having a lead in all three. Two of the losses came in 3-on-3 overtime sequences where a big save by the opponent’s goalie led to the game winner at the other end.
An argument could be made that the Americans deserved a far better fate than the two points over the three games, but alas that is all they were able to bank.
The two points dropped them out of the three seed in the U.S. Division and into the top wild card spot. They sit one point behind the Spokane Chiefs for that third spot.
Another tough loss over the weekend was team captain and leading scorer Kyle Olson. He was there at the end in Kennewick trying to tie the game on Saturday but was a noticeable scratch on Sunday in Everett.
He was listed as out day-to-day with a lower body injury in this week’s weekly report.
“Injuries are part of the WHL. We do not discuss them or dwell on them. Every team goes through stretches where guys are banged up or cannot play. It is part of the WHL make up,” Tri-City governor and general manager Bob Tory stated.
Tri-City also listed forward Nick Bowman as out day-to-day with an illness and defenseman Tom Cadieux out day-to-day with an upper body ailment.
Bowman played Friday but not on Saturday or Sunday, and Cadieux did not play all weekend.
Let’s take a look at the games:
Friday, 11/22/19: Winnipeg ICE 3 @Tri-City 2 OT
Former Americans forward Isaac Johnson capped off an exciting sequence to win the game in OT for the ICE. Darnell Duff had the recap for us here.
Johnson was traded to Winnipeg over the summer for a fourth-round Bantam Draft pick, after leaving the Americans for personal reasons.
He is second on the ICE in scoring with 21 points in 24 games.
Blake Stevenson put the Americans on top with back-to-back goals in the first 28:50. The goals gave him three markers over a two game span.
Then the ICE responded.
Cole Muir and Jakin Smallwood both netted their fourth goals this season, and this game went to OT.
That set up a huge Jesse Makaj save and a Johnson breakaway the other way. Johnson, who had faced Beck Warm countless times in practice, found his lane and got the visiting ICE the extra point.
Warm stopped 38-of-41 in the OT loss. Samuel Stewart, Samuel Huo, and Mitchell Brown each had one assist.
Saturday, 11/23/19: Kelowna 2 @Tri-City 1
While this one did not go to overtime, it still had to hurt.
Again, the Americans took a lead. Krystof Hrabik finished off a short-handed breakaway for his third goal this season.
Nolan Foote found the net on the power play and — stop if you’ve heard this before — Leif Mattson went against the grain of play and beat Warm short-handed to put the Rockets up by one.
Despite being down 2-1 late, the Americans had all the momentum and possession and were pressing late with Warm pulled for an extra attacker.
Then, the Ams put one too many over the boards and were whistled for too many men.
The Rockets held on.
Warm turned away 27-of-29.
Sunday, 11/24/19: Everett Silvertips 4 vs Tri-City Americans 3 OT
This was another wild game between the two U.S. Division rivals.
Again, the Americans had a lead — this time 2-1 with 1:10 left in the first.
Edge Lambert netted his fifth this season, and Huo put in his sixth, and it was a one-goal Americans lead after 20.
Then, Wyatte Wylie put in two and the Silvertips were on top.
Hrabik put in his second in as many games to tie the game. Again, it was on special teams — this time on the power play.
Then, in overtime, after the Americans had a good look on Everett goalie Keegan Karki, Bryce Kindopp burst the other way off the save and beat Tri-City goalie Talyn Boyko to win the game in OT.
It was a repeat of Friday with Karki even getting the primary assist.
Sasha Mutala had two assists in the loss and stills leads the team with 24 points in 21 games.
Boyko stopped 48-of-52 in the loss and has faced 41 or more shots in each of his last three starts. He stills sports a nifty .940 save percentage this season and a 2.67 GAA.
Tory knows how close the margin between winning and losing is. “Team played well in all three games. A bounce here or there, we win three. However, we have had success the other way as well where we won games that we could have lost. U.S. Division once again is tight and that makes for good hockey. Improving is the key and having a good structured game. Then the wins will take care of themselves.”
Special teams was a huge key over the three games, especially Saturday where all three goals came with one team having one more skater on the ice than the other.
Tri-City’s power play was 3-for-11 with a short-handed goal against, and their PK went 13-for-15 with a SH goal for over the three games.
“Our special teams have been much better and have become a huge component for success in the WHL. Reducing the number of penalties a team takes on a nightly basis is crucial for team success moving forward,” Tory said.
Wednesday, 11/27 vs Saskatoon Blades
-The Blades are 0-4 on their five-game U.S. Division trip. They will be desperate to get out of the loss column on Wednesday.
Friday, 11/29 vs Victoria Royals
-Last time the two were in Kennewick, the Americans pulled out a 4-3 win.
Saturday, 11/30 vs Vancouver Giants
-Time for a little revenge if you’re Tri-City as they were doubled up at home last time 6-3.
“Thanksgiving weekend is always fun, as we generally play 2 or 3 games at home. Good variety for the fans as all games are against non-U.S. Division teams,” Tory stated.
The American Way…
-The roster still sits at 24 with 15 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies.
-If Bowman and Olson continue to be out this week, the Americans will be without two of their top six scorers.
–Marc Lajoie continues to get a lot of ice time. He is slotted next to Brown, and the two get a lot of tough matchups.