Maybe the Tri-City Americans should play on pink ice every night.
Juuso Välimäki scored three goals, and the Americans stayed in the playoff hunt with a 6-1 victory over the Prince George Cougars before a crowd of 5,406 at Toyota Center.
Tri-City was hosting it’s 13th annual Breast Cancer Awareness Game, which is a major fundraiser for the Tri-Cities Cancer Center. The pink ice seemed to have magical powers for the Americans, who scored five goals in the first period.
“That was nice,” Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. “We wanted to come out and take advantage of the home schedule we have. They have done a good job of identifying how close the playoffs are.”
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The Americans (32-21-7-1, 72 points), who host Portland on Tuesday, are in solid position for a playoff spot, moving seven points in front of No. 8 Seattle. They are three points back of Spokane and Victoria in the Western Conference standings.
The hat trick was the second for Välimäki in his three years with the Americans. The first came Nov. 23, 2016 in a 5-1 win over the Vancouver Giants.
“That doesn’t happen every night,” Välimäki said. “That was fun, not going to lie. It feels good to get a couple of goals. This is a big win for us. This game was for a good cause. It’s nice to play these special nights.”
Saturday, Välimäki scored twice in the first period, and scored Tri-City’s lone goal in the second for a 6-0 lead.
“We rely on our defensemen to add a lot of offense to our game,” Williamson said. “Juuso jumps into the play and finds holes. That is good to see.”
Jordan Topping opened the scoring for Tri-City just 4:11 into the game, going top shelf on Cougars goalie Isaiah DiLaura.
Goals by Välimäki and Paycen Bjorklund followed over the next 2:34 for a 3-0 lead just 6:45 into the game.
Välimäki would score again at 11:41, and Parker AuCoin finished off the period, scoring with 40 seconds left.
“It was a good start by our team,” Välimäki said. “The way we should start every game.”
After Välimäki gave Tri-City a 6-0 lead in the second, Ryan Schoettler potted a goal with 1:54 to play to end Beck Warm’s shutout bid.
Warm finished with 19 saves, while Anthony Bishop had three assists, and Nolan Yaremko and Isaac Johnson two each.
Note: The Breast Cancer Awareness jersey auction raised $15,000 on Saturday, with eight of the game-worn jerseys being sold for $800 apiece. The final tally of the night’s events will be available next week.
Americans 6, Cougars 1
First — 1, TC, Topping 35 (Rasmussen, Coghlan), 4:11. 2, TC, Välimäki 9, 4:51. 3, TC, Bjorklund 2 (Bishop, Clayton), 6:45. 4, TC Välimäki 10 (Yaremko, Bishop), 11:41. 5, AuCoin 17 (Johnson, Yaremko), 19:40. Penalties — Kryski, PG, major (fighting), 3:19; Bjorklund, TC, major (higjh-sticking), 3:19.
Second — 6, TC, Välimäki 11 (Johnson, Bishop), 10:18. 7, PG, Schoettler 6 (Lakusta, Mikhalchuk), 18:06. Penalties — O’Brien, PG (roughing), 10:18; Bethune, PG (slashing), 10:18; MacPhee (misconduct), 10:18; Yaremko, TC (slashing), 10:18, Johnson, TC (roughing), 10:18; Schoettler, PG (hooking), 11:05; Mutala, TC (high-sticking), 14:03; Bean, TC (hooking), 18:37.
Third — Xyzy. Penalties — Mikhalchuk, PG (tripping), 14:25; Clayton, TC (high-sticking), 18:58.
Shots — PG 5-10-5 — 20. TC 14-9-7 — 30. Power plays — PG 0-3. TC 0-3. Goalies — PG, DiLaura 2-2-0-2 (14 shots-9 saves), Grant (20:00, 2nd, 16-15). TC, Warm 15-9-1-1 (20-19). Referees — Mike Campbell and Kyle Kowalski. A — 5,406.