by Ben Tole
February 8, 2014, Kennewick, WA (ISN) – After falling behind 3-1, a Beau McCue goal late in the second period got the Tri-City Americans (26-24-2-3, 57 pts.) within a goal. But, the Spokane Chiefs (31-18-3-2, 67 pts.) would pull away with a four-goal third period, defeating the Americans 7-3 at the Toyota Center on Saturday night.
It was the Americans’ second consecutive home loss after entering the weekend with a seven-game home winning streak. And, combined with the Prince George Cougars’ (24-26-2-5, 55 pts.) victory tonight, the Americans hold just a two point lead for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Just 1:28 into the contest, Tri-City jumped ahead when Braden Purtill picked up the rebound on Rodney Southam’s original shot and back handed it past Eric Williams. The Americans continued to build momentum, recording the first seven shots of the game, while holding the Chiefs without a shot until the 6:30 mark.
But, on just its second shot of the night, Spokane would draw even with a Colton Bobyk slap shot at 10:02, beating Eric Comrie glove side. Tri-City out shot Spokane 15-5 in the opening period, but the score remained tied at one after 20 minutes.
In the second period, it was the Chiefs who looked to be the sharper of the teams, testing Comrie with several chances, until Mike Aviani finally beat the Tri-City net minder for the go-ahead score at 8:57. Former Tri-City forward Marcus Messier gave his new club a two-goal lead at 14:09, deflecting Reid Gow’s point shot past Comrie to make it 3-1.
After a Riley Whittingham slashing penalty at 15:47 of the middle frame, the Americans found some life late in the second period. Beau McCue deflected Mitch Topping’s point shot past Williams to get his team back within one after 40 minutes of play.
The assist was the first of two on the night for Topping, who was playing in his 300th career WHL game. The 20-year-old has now registered 30 goals and 76 assists in five WHL seasons.
Tri-City’s best chance to tie the game came early in the third period, when McCue drove hard to the Spokane net, forcing a dangerous loose puck in the crease. But, Williams managed to get his pad across before Taylor Vickerman could get to it.
The Chiefs began to pull away at 6:14 of the third period, when Dominic Zwerger took the pass from Connor Chartier, sliding it through Comrie’s legs. Carter Proft would restore the Chiefs’ two-goal lead just 1:34 later, scoring his eighth of the season.
Spokane put the game away with goals by Adam Helewka and Keanu Yamamoto in quick succession, putting the Chiefs ahead 7-2 later in third period. Brian Williams would get one back for the Americans with a late power play goal, but that was as close as it would get.
The Americans now depart on a five-game Western Conference road trip, beginning with a Monday matinee against the Kamloops Blazers (11-40-2-3, 27 pts.). Game time is a special 2:00 p.m. faceoff at Interior Savings Centre. Fans can catch the action live, via WHL Live, at the Americans’ official home away from home, Kimo’s in Richland.
Jack In Box Three Stars
1) Jason Fram, Spokane
2) Dominic Zwerger, Spokane
3) Marcus Messier, Spokane