KENNEWICK, WA – As the old adage goes, “the best defense is a good offense.” Cue Sam Grist and Zachary Yuen.
Down by two midway through the second period, Grist and Yuen scored less than six minutes apart to spark a 6-goal outburst, guiding the Tri-City Americans (37-12-1-1, 76 pts) past the visiting Victoria Royals (17-31-2-4, 40 pts) 6-3 in front of 4,778 fans at the Toyota Center. The win was the second straight for Tri-City and also secured a 3-1 series win vs. their conference rivals. The win also gave Head Coach Jim Hiller his 200th WHL win. Meanwhile, the Royals dropped their second straight game and have now lost 7 of their last 10.
Both teams played an excellent first period, combining for 28 shots in the session. But, the problem was that both Ty Rimmer and Keith Hamilton played equally as well, keeping the game scoreless after the first 20 minutes.
The dam finally cracked in the second, though, as the Royals jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Just 1:51 into the period, Steven Hodges found Jamie Crooks in the slot, who then tipped it past Rimmer for his 29th goal of the season. Then, midway through the second, Logan Nelson forced a turnover from Yuen before he fed Brandon Magee in the left circle. From there, Magee’s shot slipped under Rimmer to make it a two-goal Tri-City deficit.
But, 1:46 after Magee’s goal, Brendan Shinnimin fed Grist in the left circle, who found himself all alone. Grist stepped up and fired a blast under the glove of Hamilton, pulling Tri-City to within one. It was the start of six straight goals for the Americans, which blew the game wide open.
Still down by one late in the second, though, a pivotal sequence of penalties set the stage for Tri-City to take the lead. With 5:16 left in the period, Tri-City found themselves on a 5-on-3 penalty kill following Derek Ryckman’s automatic double minor penalty for butt-ending. But, shortly before Tri-City killed off the front half of the penalty, Victoria’s Kade Pilton took an interference penalty to make it 4-on-4.
And, in that time, the Americans scored twice to take a 3-2 lead. The first came off the stick of Yuen, who won a battle off the back wall, then tucked it in past Hamilton. Then, 23 seconds later, Shinnimin wrapped around the net and beat Hamilton to the near post for his 31st goal of the season.
Now with a 3-2 lead, Tri-City racked up another three goals in the first 5:42 of the third period to take a 6-2 lead. Just 43 seconds into the final period, Jesse Mychan capitalized on a Jesse Zgraggen turnover, and then made a move to beat Hamilton in close for his 8th goal of the season. Less than two minutes later, Adam Hughesman finished a 2-on-1 breakaway with his first of two goals on the night. Finally, just over three minutes later, and on the power play, Hughesman notched his 31st goal of the season to cap the scoring for Tri-City
Zgraggen tacked on a late goal for the Royals, but it was too little too late for Victoria. In the end, Rimmer finished with 32 saves to collect his 21st win of the season. Meanwhile, Hamilton allowed 6 goals on 36 shots in 45:42 of work to pick up the loss. Jared Rathjen wrapped up the final 14:18 by stopping all 7 shots he faced. The Americans finished the night 1-for-4 on the power play and was a perfect 6-of-6 on the penalty kill.
Following a day off Sunday, the Americans will prepare for a pivotal week of their February schedule. Before facing off against division rivals Portland and Spokane next weekend, Tri-City must first get tuned up for a first-place battle with the Kamloops Blazers (37-12-1-3) on Wednesday, February 8th. Game time is 7:00 p.m. at Interior Savings Centre. It is the fourth and final meeting between the two conference foes, with the Blazers holding a 2-1 edge in the series. All three games have been decided by just one goal, with two having been decided in either overtime or a shootout. Fans can catch all the action live, via WHL Live, at Kimo’s, the Americans’ home away from home, starting at 7:00 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, Brendan Shinnimin, Tri-City
2, Adam Hughesman, Tri-City
3, Sam Grist, Tri-City