The Tri-City Americans hold on fourth place in the Western Conference was so brief that it barely registered in the hockey world.
They had won three consecutive games to move up in the standings and overtake rival Spokane, but costly losses to Victoria, Spokane, and most recently an embarrassing home loss to the Calgary Hitmen, and the Americans (31-22-2-0, 65 points) find themselves in sixth place, three points behind the Royals and Chiefs who each have 68 points.
We are deep into this thing (season) and the players have proven that winnings matters to them, Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. They want to compete and they want to win. There is a lot of pride.
After Tuesdays 6-2 loss to Calgary, the Americans will have to dig deep to pick up four points this weekend. They play at Portland (46-8-1-2, 95 points) tonight and host Spokane on Saturday. The Chiefs (33-22-2-0) are at Everett tonight.
We didnt have a players only meeting, but we had a talk after (Tuesdays) game, said overage forward Jesse Mychan, who also is an alternate captain. We know we have to bring more. This is a big weekend for us two good teams, two tough challenges. We will try to steal two points in Portland, and every game with Spokane is good. It would be nice to get four points this weekend. We will have to work for them.
Tuesdays loss was the third in a row for the Americans, who have been battling injuries all season. They lost forward Phil Tot (in October) and starting goalie Eric Comrie for the season, and Beau McCue (ankle) and Ryan Chynoweth (shoulder) are still out of commission.
The team has brought in affiliate players to fill in the gaps, but there is no help coming this weekend.
We have lost guys who could help us win games, said veteran defenseman Mitch Topping, also an alternate captain. We have to move past that. Its time for guys to step up. The young guys have stepped up and played more minutes than they should. The older guys, like me, have to step up and lead the way. We need 20 guys every night, not 18 or 16.
Leaders are supposed to lead by example, Mychan said. You have that letter on your chest and it means something. The young guys see you have a bad game and not bounce back, and they think why should I try.
The players also have heard the disparaging remarks from the fans, who are not happy with the teams 13-12-0-2 record and lack of effort some nights.
We have to play a full 60 minutes, Mychan said. When you win, they love you. When you lose they should still love you. They should know we feel the same (when we lose), plus more. Some nights theres only so much you can do.
The Americans worked on fine tuning areas of their game the last couple of days, but with a short bench, Hiller knows he has to make sure his players have the energy to match up with the likes of Portland and Spokane.
We got after it today, Hiller said of Thursdays practice. We have to be hungry. But there also has to be a balance of being fresh and playing well. You have to have energy to go.
Portland, which leads the WHL with 95 points, already has clinched a playoff spot, along with Kelowna, Kamloops and Edmonton.
The Winterhawks, led by league-leading scorer Brendan Leipsic and Nic Petan, have won three in a row and nine of their last 10 games. Leipsic has 101 points, while Petan has 100. They both have scored 40 goals.
Tonights game in Portland will be played at Memorial Coliseum. The game can be seen at 7 p.m. on ROOT Sports. ... Kamloops defenseman Sam Grist was suspended one game by the WHL on Thursday for an accumulation of checking-from-behind penalties. ... Former Tri-City American Jon Mirasty was released by the Barys Astana (Kazakhstan, KHL) with one game left in the regular season. He had one assist in 10 games.