After suffering an 8-1 loss to Portland three weeks ago, the Tri-City Americans were 5-8-0-1, last in the U.S. Division and hovering around the bottom of the Western Conference.
The powerful and high-scoring hockey machine wasnt firing on all cylinders. Other teams in the division went whipping past, leaving the Americans stranded alongside the road like a broken down jalopy.
Fast forward to today. The Americans (11-8-0-2) are coming off a 3-2 road win over Portland, are tied for fifth in the Western Conference and have points in seven consecutive games going into a home-and-home weekend against the Everett Silvertips (12-3-2-0).
Obviously, our average start was weighing on a lot of our minds and we knew something had to change, said Americans captain Mitch Topping. Its tough to pinpoint what exactly happened, but everyone is buying in and working hard from the young guys on up, and that is huge. Our last seven games show that guys are working hard. We are happy to keep it rolling.
The Americans play at Everetts Comcast Arena tonight and host the Silvertips on Saturday. The teams have played once this season a 2-0 Everett home win Oct. 4.
It was a good game a month ago, Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. We are certainly playing better since then. We arent going to do too much different. We have a balanced attack and the guys are committed to playing without the puck.
The Americans are averaging four goals a game while giving up 1.7 during their seven-game point streak.
We take a lot of pride in our defense, even from our forwards being a tough team to play against in the D zone, Topping said. Starting with (goalies) Eric (Comrie) and Evan (Sarthou), they have been unbelievable for us. Our D corps has been doing a really good job, especially the last seven games keeping the pucks away from them. That is another huge reason for our success recently.
The play from both goalies has been outstanding throughout minus a hiccup or two. The Americans have played 21 games more than any team in the WHL and have allowed the seventh fewest goals (54).
We have points in our last seven games and havent allowed more than two goals in our last seven, Comrie said. Our team defense has been outstanding. We are looking to go into Everett, and when we play here Saturday, to play our game that we have been playing. It doesnt matter who is starting in net, and it doesnt matter what is going on with their team, we just have to play our game.
The Silvertips are without starting goaltender Austin Lotz, who suffered an ankle injury Oct. 26 at Kamloops and is expected to miss 3-6 weeks. Daniel Cotton has been in goal since, posting a 2-1 record. Nik Amundrud, 16, was brought in as the backup.
Cotton is 1-4 all-time against Tri-City, playing for Everett and Seattle.
They are still an excellent team, Comrie said. They have good forwards. Daniel Cotton has been in the league for two years. He learned from Calvin Pickard. You know he will be a tough challenge.
While the Silvertips are experiencing goaltender issues, the Americans scoring has started to come around with the addition of Devon McAndrews and the return of Parker Bowles (shoulder injury).
In the four games since Bowles return, the top line of Bowles, Connor Rankin and Brian Williams has combined for seven goals and 12 assists. Williams leads Tri-City with 14 goals and 22 points.
That is our big line, no doubt about it, Hiller said. As much as we have a balanced attack, we need those guys to score big goals. Ranks got us back in it down 2-0 (against Portland), Brian ties it up with one second left (in the second period), and then Parker scores the big one at the end. You look at all three of those, and they are pivotal moments in the game. You need your big guys to take control and they did.