by Ben Tole
December 31, 2013, Kennewick, WA. (ISN) – After falling behind 3-1 in the third period, a Brian Williams goal with 5:42 remaining pulled the Tri-City Americans (17-18-2-2, 38 pts.) within a goal of the Spokane Chiefs (23-12-0-2, 48 pts.). But, that was as close as the Americans would get, as the Chiefs defeated Tri-City 4-2 in front of a standing-room only crowd of 6,019 at the Toyota Center.
The loss was the seventh in a row for the Americans, who have fallen below the .500 mark for the first time since an Eastern Conference road trip in early November.
Eric Comrie looked strong in the losing effort, making 36 saves on the night, while his Spokane counterpart Eric Williams held the Americans to two goals on 34 shots.
Tri-City came out flying in the first period, supplying early pressure on the Chiefs goaltender with the game’s first eight shots. The Americans were outshooting the Chiefs by as many as 10-1 in the first 10 minutes, before it found itself in penalty trouble midway through the period.
Mitch Holmberg opened the scoring at 12:02 of the first period, one timing a feed from Mike Aviani for the power play goal, Then, after a Brendan O’Reilly delay of game penalty put the Americans a man down just seconds after play resumed, Riley Whittingham wristed the puck through a crowd and past Comrie, extending the Chiefs’ lead to 2-0.
The game was in danger of getting away from the Americans at the 13:57, when a sloppy change put the Americans shorthanded for the third time in less than three minutes. But, after winning the defensive zone faceoff, Marcus Messier sent Lucas Nickles in on a fast break, where the speedster snapped the puck past Williams for the shorthanded goal.
Just 35 seconds after Nickles had cut the Chiefs lead in half, a Brandon Carlo slashing penalty put Tri-City two-men down. The Chiefs had several scoring chances, but solid net minding by Comrie kept the Americans down by just one after 20 minutes of play.
After a scoreless second period, the Americans came out in the third period looking for its first third period come back of the season. Early in the period, Phil Tot broke free on the breakaway, but Williams denied the 20-year-old forward to keep his team’s one-goal lead intact.
Just minutes later, a turnover at the blue line gave the Chiefs and odd man opportunity, and Holmberg made the Americans pay with his second goal of the night. The goal was Holmberg’s WHL-leading 39th goal in his 38th game of the 2013-14 campaign.
Brian Williams gave the Americans life at 14:18 of the third period, cutting the deficit in half for the second time. But the California native’s second goal in as many nights would be the last goal the Americans could manage. A late Colton Bobyk empty net goal would seal the 4-2 victory for the Chiefs.
The Americans return to action this Friday when it hosts the Portland Winterhawks (25-8-2-2, 54 pts.) for the second time in as many weeks. Puck drops from the Toyota Center at 7:05 p.m. Tickets are available through all Ticketmaster outlets, including the Toyota Center box office, all Fred Meyer locations, or online at ticketmaster.com.
Jack In Box Three Stars
1) Mitch Holmberg, Spokane
2) Eric Williams, Spokane
3) Lucas Nickles, Tri-City