It would have been understandable if the Tri-City Americans suffered from a turkey hangover the day after Thanksgiving, but the day before, not so much.
The Americans had a slow start to their game Wednesday, but a natural hat trick by Juuso Välimäki in the third period helped Tri-City to a 5-1 victory over the Vancouver Giants before a crowd of 2,854 at Toyota Center.
“I thought in the first — I don’t know where our heads were,” Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. “We weren’t crisp. We relied on our goalie too much in the first, but our guys did a nice job coming back.”
It was the fourth consecutive home game for the Americans (15-8-2-0, 32 points), who continue their homestand Friday against Seattle, and Vancouver (10-15-0-0, 20 points) returns Saturday.
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For Välimäki, it was his first career hat trick, and gave him nine goals on the season.
“It’s great,” Välimäki said of his feat. “There were a couple of lucky goals there. The first period wasn’t good for us, and we looked better in the second. Good teams find a way to win games and get two points. I’m happy for that.”
Holding a 2-1 lead, the Americans quickly went up 3-1 as Välimäki scored his first goal. Kyle Olson had the original shot, and Vancouver goalie Ryan Kubic made the stop, but Välimäki was there for the rebound at 1:44. Olson finished with three assists.
Less than seven minutes later, Välimäki struck again.
Morgan Geekie tapped into his baseball skills, leaping at the blue line to catch the puck and keep it in the zone. He sent the puck toward the net where Välimäki finished the play. Kubic thought he had the puck in his glove, but the puck dropped and rolled across the goal line at 8:22.
“He just dropped it,” Välimäki said. “Sometimes you have good luck. (Geekie) made a nice play and I had the shot.”
Välimäki finished his hat trick at 11:21, sharing the crease with Kubic as he put the puck in the net.
“I almost scored before that and one of their guys ran me over,” Välimäki said. “I was down and I lifted my stick and put it in. It was luck.”
Luck or not, Williamson appreciated Välimäki’s efforts.
“I thought Juuso played well, and Spooner (Parker Wotherspoon) played well,” Williamson said. “They held the fort until the forwards got going. They played a ton of minutes. We need them both to be good, and they were tonight.”
Tri-City goalie Rylan Parenteau did his part in net, stopping 39 of 40 shots — including 17 in the third period — for his eighth win of the season.
“I think that is a season high,” Parenteau said of the 40 shots he faced. “I definitely like to do everything I can to keep the puck out of the net. The wins are the stats you want to have. I credit the team as a whole.”
In a sloppy first period, each team found the net once.
Vancouver got things going with a goal by Tyler Popowich at 3:11, and Brett Leason evened things up at 8:22 with his first WHL goal.
Tyler Sandhu gave Tri-City a 2-1 lead five minutes into the second period, a lead that would stand until Välimäki went on his tear in the third.
Americans 5, Giants 1
First — 1, Van, Popowich 2 (Benson, Hardy), 3:11. 2, TC, Leason 1 (Olson), 8:22. Penalties — Semchuk, Van (hooking), 17:24; Välimäki, TC (embellishment), 17:24.
Second — 3, TC, Sandhu 4 (Wotherspoon, Lukin), 5:00. Penalties — Sandhu, TC (interference), :19; Popowich, Van (interference), 2:57; Geekie, TC (high-sticking), 8:09; Wesley, Van (slashing), 9:46.
Third — 4, TC, Välimäki 7 (Olson, Yorke), 1:44. 5, TC, Välimäki 8 (Geekie), 8:22. 6, TC, Välimäki 9 (Olson), 11:21. Penalties — Skeoch, Van (roughing), 10:34; Krebs, TC (cross-checking), 10:34; Wotherspoon, TC (roughing), 14:55; Rutledge, TC (holding), 18:09.
Shots — Van 11-12-17 — 40. TC 7-13-10 — 30. Power plays — Van 0-4. TC 0-2. Goalies — Van, Kubic 2-4-0-0 (30 shots-25 saves). TC, Parenteau 8-5-1-0 (40-39). Referees — Ryan Benbow and Sean Raphael. A — 2,854.