Hockey has returned to Toyota Center after the WHL Christmas holiday.
Hope you all had a Merry Christmas, and best wishes in the new year. Speaking of the new year, I need someone to explain the First Night Tri-Cities to me. The event, held at Columbia Basin College, starts on New Years Eve (the last night of the year) and ends with fireworks after the stroke of midnight (the first morning of the new year). So, the first night of the new year would be Jan. 1, not Dec. 31. See my problem. Let me know if you have the answer to this perplexing issue.
On to tonight.
Portland, which leads the U.S. Division by a healthy margin, has won 6 in a row coming into the game. The Winterhawks have won 9 of their last 10, with the lone loss coming to the Americans and goalie Luke Lee-Knight on Dec. 7 in Portland.
The Winterhawks will be shorthanded as defenseman Seth Jones is playing for Team USA, and forward Ty Rattie and defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
Also, Winterhawks forwards Keegan Iverson and Dominic Turgeon are playing for Team USA in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Victoriaville and Drummondville, Quebec.
To top it off, Portland D-man Derrick Pouliot is injured and coach Travis Green said he would not play tonight. There will not be a tear shed at Toyota Center for the Hawks, who have a 16-point lead over the Americans in the division standings.
The Americans, who play at Portland on Saturday at 3 p.m., might be able to pick up 2 or 4 points this weekend off the Hawks. Hey, it doesnt matter how, when or where you get 2 points. They count all the same.
Americans coach Jim Hiller was hopeful Marcus Messier could to play tonight, but he is scratched. Phil Tot, he of the mysterious upper-body injury, also is scratched. Tot hasnt played since Oct. 26. Thats a span of 20 games. A quarter of the season. Im starting to think the Americans should get their draft picks back from Lethbridge. There was a second-rounder in that deal.
Also out tonight is Wil Tomchuk. Clint Filbrandt will get a rare start. This will be his ninth game this season. Nice to see him getting some ice time.
Been watching the World Junior on the NHL Network (all delayed because Ufa is 14 hours ahead of of Kennewick). Quite a few empty seats in Ufa, Russia (there are more than a million people who live there and the rink holds 8,200 people). The Canadians are 2-0, while Team USA is 1-1 after a loss to Russia earlier today. The U.S. and Canada are off Saturday, and play each other Sunday.