Remember 7 1/2 weeks ago?
Remember when the Tri-City Americans and the Spokane Chiefs were first supposed to play their hockey game, on New Year’s Eve?
When the Americans were riding high, in the midst of their 13-game home winning streak.
When Brendan Shinnimin was scoring points in bunches, on his way to a career-high 21-game streak.
When open-net opportunities were buried instead of sent wide of the target. When pucks fell to open Americans at the top of the crease, or found their sticks as they rushed the net.
That all seems so 2010 at the moment. Monday night, when the two teams finally made up the postponed game when the ice broke in front of the Tri-City bench, the Americans were firmly mired in a funk brought on by injuries and fatigue, and their Highway 395 rivals took full advantage, skating to a 5-1 victory at Toyota Center.
The Chiefs swept the two-game weekend set at Toyota Center by a combined score of 11-3 to take over first place in the U.S. Division and Western Conference.
“Tonight, we had plenty of chances through the first half of the game to get a handful of goals,” said Ams coach Jim Hiller, whose team hadn’t lost back-to-back home games in 3 1/2 months. “The puck just did not bounce for us. There are times during the season when it does, but right now, they’re not. Certainly not tonight.
“They’ll come back. The bounces don’t go away forever. Sometimes, they hide for a while, but they’ll be back.”
Hiller knows during a 72-game season, a team is going to experience highs and lows — especially when two of its top three goal scorers (Adam Hughesman and Jordan Messier) and its No. 1 goalie (Drew Owsley) are nursing injuries.
“We went through this in November, too,” Hiller said, referring to the team’s five-game losing streak to open that month. “We have to remain positive and understand we’re an outstanding team. We’ve played a solid season so far. The rough patches will come along. We’ve just got to get through to the other side.”
The Americans had 19 shots on goal during the first period, but only Connor Rankin found the back of the net in the opening frame on one of the rare times the puck did bounce their way.
Drydn Dow pinched in along the left wall and chipped the puck toward the net. Shinnimin redirected the puck into the slot, where Rankin settled it and put it five-hole past Spokane’s Mac Engel at 13:25.
Two minutes later, Darren Kramer slipped behind a trio of defenders, took a centering pass right in front of Tri-City goalie Chris Driedger, and slipped the puck past him to give Spokane the lead for good.
“This doesn’t taste good,” said Tri-City captain Kruise Reddick. “You get complacent, and you just think it’s going to come easy, but we’ve got to grit our teeth and work harder. We can’t expect things to come to us. We’ve got to work for them.”
Reddick and the Americans get a chance to rid the bad taste from their mouths quickly. Everett comes to town Tuesday to finish off their second four-games-in-five-nights set in a 12-day stretch.
“That’s the nice thing about hockey,” Reddick said. “You have to have a short memory. We can forget about this, come back and get those two points tomorrow night.”
Chiefs – Ams summary