The Tri City Americans have the three best overage forwards in the Western Hockey League. Want proof? Examine Thursday night's 5-1 win over the visiting Kelowna Rockets. Twenty year-old Brendan Shinnimin scored three times and added an assist as the Americans won for the 9th straight time on home ice. Two of Shinnimin's three goals came on shorthanded breakaways to break open a 1-1 game. Both goals were set up by fellow overager Mason Wilgosh. While not his productive self, 20 year-old leading scorer Adam Hughesman chipped in with an assist as the Americans earned their 28th win of the season.
Despite what appears to be a lopsided score at games end, the Americans could have been pushed harder had the Rockets been able to capitalize on several great scoring chances. Two-first period power plays stand out along with Filip Vasko's breakaway miss when the Americans had a 3-1 lead. Had the Rockets rookie scored on that glorious second period chance, we would have been in for a great finish.
I will say this. The Rockets overall work ethic was far superior than what we witnessed two night's earlier in a 4-1 home ice loss to Spokane. Had the Rockets played as hard as they did Thursday night, they would have earned their 15th win of the season by now.
When you are a good team, like the Americans are, you capitalize on every mistake the opposition makes and you make your opponent earn everything they get. For starters, for Shinnimin to score twice, once by shooting the puck and the other by deking goaltender Adam Brown, is awfully impressive. A lesser player would have certainly been shut down by one of those attempts on a quality goaltender like Brown. Much like Patrick Holland's first period goal and Brian William's power play marker in the third period, both odd man rushes resulted in the puck being deposited in the back of the net. The elite teams do that. They close on ever opportunity they get. The Americans finish in spectacular fashion.
Colton Sissons scored the Rockets lone goal, a power play goal just 27 seconds into the second period to tie the game at one. It was Sissons 100th career WHL game and 21st goal of the season.
Brett Bulmer's 10 game point streak came to an end. Bulmer did get into a third period scrap after a questionable hit in front of the Rockets bench on Am's forward Brian Williams. Bulmer engaged in a fight with Jordan Messier, marking the 17th time in 20 games this season he has sat in the penalty box.
The crowd. Outstanding. Close to 5 thousand strong took in the game and made a truck load of noise. Oh, that horn that blows when the Americans score is worth it's weight in gold.
With 19 year-old Mitchell Chapman ill, 17 year-old Tanner Moar played the entire game on defense. I know the Rockets are trying to convert him to a forward, but that big body presence and easy outlet pass mentality looks good on him. To be honest, I like Moar better as a d-man than as a forward.
He picked on a European player to register his first career WHL scrap, but 15 year-old rookie Ryan Donaldson took off his cage late in the third period for a tussle with Malte Stromwell. I think I even saw Americans head coach Jim Hiller chuckle after the fight was through.
Speaking of Hiller, how much fun must it be for him to watch his team play? Ryan Huska often talks about the 2009 WHL championship team that had top end talent and were a joy to coach. Keeping them motivated was his greatest obstacle that season as things appeared to come easy in the offensive zone. Hiller finds himself in a similar situation where he has several players that can carry the mail.
You have to love Bob Tory. The Americans GM greeted me as I was exiting the broadcast booth following the game. Small gesture I suppose, but how can you not cheer for a guy who has again put another tremendous team on the ice? I told him flat out that he needs to acquire another key piece to make his team even better. Not like he needs my advice, but a team like his only comes around once in a blue moon, so when you have a chance to win, and win big, trading an asset for short term gain in my opinion is the logical move. You don't see Tory making too many ill advised moves when acquiring players, so my belief is he will make a trade only if he thinks it is appropriate.
If I have noticed one thing about the Americans organization, despite all of their successes, it has been their humble approach. I don't perceive Jim Hiller as being cocky or arrogant and clearly Bob Tory is as approachable as they come. From Media Relations guru Dan Mulhausen to radio voice Craig West, the Americans organization carry themselves in such a way that others should emulate. They win, but they don't carry that 'we are better than you' persona with them. And if they do, maybe they just hide it better than another team that isn't afraid to hide their confident swagger.
Adam Brown took the loss in goal, but in the process moved within striking distance of hitting the 10 thousand minutes played mark. Brown has played 9 thousand 994 minutes and will hit the milestone in his next start. Only Seattle's Calvin Pickard has played over 10 thousand minutes among active WHL goalies.
If absolutely none of what I have written in this blog entry makes sense, consider that it was posted at 4 am somewhere between the border and Penticton with little to no sleep.
Happy New Year everybody!