Dan Mulhausen

VICTORIA, B.C. – Heading into the Thanksgiving Weekend, Connor Rankin had fallen into a bit of a slump, collecting just 2 points in 10 games. However, in the 8 games since, he has made his presence felt in the Tri-City line-up.

Rankin extended his point streak to three games, notching two goals including the game winner midway through the third period, to help guide the visiting Tri-City Americans (23-7-0-0, 46 pts) to a 5-3 road win over the Victoria Royals (12-18-1-1, 26 pts), and a doubleheader sweep of their conference rivals, in front of 4,629 fans at Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena. With the win, Tri-City won their 4th straight game overall, including their last 3 on the road. Meanwhile, the Royals dropped their third consecutive game and stretched their home winless streak to 5 games. Tri-City also took a 2-1 lead in the 4-game season series which wraps up in early February.

Unlike the night before, it was Victoria that got out of the gate quickly on Wednesday, scoring 5:05 into the contest. While on the power play, Logan Nelson cut into the slot and got Eric Comrie going across the crease before netting his 13th goal of the season.

Tri-City, though, found an answer just four minutes later. Following a drop pass from Brendan Shinnimin, Adam Hughesman beat Jared Rathjen low on the glove side, recording his team-leading 21st goal of the season and knotting the game at 1.

With just under 8 minutes left in the first, and from the slot, Kevin Sundher notched his team-high 19th marker of the year, putting the Royals back on top by 1. Again, the Americans had an answer, this time in the form of Rankin. With less than two minutes remaining in the period, and only 14 seconds into a power play, Rankin cleaned up a Hughesman rebound off the right pad of Rathjen, and tied the game at 2.

The back-and-forth continued into the second period, as Victoria again took a one-goal lead. With 4:02 left in the second, Jesse Pauls let a blast go from the left point that Comrie kicked aside. However, the puck stayed in the slot, where Zane Jones pounced on the loose puck and quickly buried it past the sprawling Tri-City netminder. For Jones, it was this third goal in his last three games.

But, the back-breaker for Victoria seemed to come inside the final minute of the second. Just 6 seconds after their power play expired, Tri-City’s Zachary Yuen pinched up from the point and broke in on Rathjen. Yuen faked a stuff at the near post, then wrapped around the net and beat Rathjen to the far post, tying the game for a third time, this time at 3-apiece.

Tri-City seemed re-energized to start the third period, while Victoria could not put anything together offensively. The Royals did not manage a shot on goal until the final 6:30 of the period, while the Americans tacked on two more to take their first lead.

Eight minutes into the third period, Mason Wilgosh drew double coverage behind the net, but still managed to poke the puck free to a hustling Rankin. Then, from the corner, Rankin turned and fired a shot that appeared destined to go through the crease. However, the puck changed direction and slipped past Rathjen, giving Tri-City a 4-3 lead.

Then, 90 seconds later, a great individual effort by Malte Strömwall behind the Victoria net, bought enough time for Marcus Messier, who was racing into the zone on a line change. Strömwall put a pass right onto the stick of Messier, who lifted a shot over the Rathjen’s blocker for his 3rd goal of the season and some breathing room for the Americans.

It proved to be enough, as Comrie and the Tri-City defense shutout the Royals the remainder of the game to preserve the win. Comrie, with 15 saves, won his fourth consecutive start while improving to 10-3 on the year. Meanwhile, Rathjen, who was making just his second start of his young career, stopped 25 of the 30 shots he faced in the loss. The Americans finished the night 1-for-5 on the power play, while Victoria went 1-of-2 on the man-advantage.

After a travel day Thursday, the Americans will have a rare Friday off before they head to Comcast Arena on Saturday, December 10 for another meeting with the Everett Silvertips (5-19-0-5). Game time is 7:05 p.m. It will be the third match-up of the season between the division rivals, who met a week ago Saturday in Kennewick. The 8-game season series is currently tied at 1-game apiece after Tri-City rallied for a 4-3 shootout win last week. Everett, which hosts Spokane on Friday, has currently lost 9 of their last 10 games, including 7 in a row. Meanwhile, Tri-City will be looking to match their season-high 5-game winning streak. Fans can catch all the action live, via WHL Live, at Kimo’s, the Americans’ home away from home, starting at 7:05 p.m. The game will also be broadcast live on NewsTalk 870 AM, starting with the Sterling Savings Bank Warm-up Show at 6:45 p.m.

Applebee’s 3 Stars:

1, Connor Rankin, Tri-City

2, Mason Wilgosh, Tri-City

3, Jared Rathjen, Victoria