KENNEWICK — New Year's Eve games between the Tri-City Americans and Spokane Chiefs have been a tradition for more than 20 years, but poor ice conditions Friday at Toyota Center put a damper on the festivities as the game was called 2:35 into the second period with the score 1-1.
A soft spot in the ice in front of the Americans' bench had a hole the size of a footprint that went down to the concrete floor beneath the ice.
Toyota Center staff worked on the problem for more than 30 minutes, going through three canisters of CO2, before officials called the game.
"It's unfortunate, but the main concern is the safety of the players," Tri-City general manager Bob Tory said. "When Tim (Speltz, the Chiefs' GM) and I looked at it, we thought it might be OK, but when the ref put his skate on it, it went through to the concrete."
Toyota Center associate director Ben Bolander said there is not an issue with the cooling unit under the ice. He said the problem occurred when Tri-City's Sam Grist checked a Spokane player and one of the players' skates either popped a chunk out of the ice surface or created a large enough crack that manifested into a bigger problem.
"We patched it, and they played the rest of the first period without a problem," Bolander said. "I think if we could have given it a little longer, we could had gotten it fixed."
Bolander said the rink's ice tech would be in today to carve out the damaged area, repair it, repaint the area and have it ready to go for Tuesday's game against Seattle.
Tory said Friday's game would be rescheduled, but the date and time might not be known for a couple of days.
"It's a huge night for us and the fans," Tory said. "It's disappointing. We will pick a date that works for both of us, but it won't be as good as New Year's Eve. We apologize to the fans. We had an excellent game going on between two of the hottest teams in the league at this point."
Speltz said it was disappointing to see the game called after the action had been so good.
"Both teams came out with a lot of enthusiasm, and it was a great game," Speltz said. "But we are doing the right thing. This game hasn't gone well for us on this day since I've been here. Maybe we'll have better luck on a different day."
The Americans (21-11-1-1, 44 points) lead the New Year's Eve series 13-5-0-1 with one tie over the last 20 years. Tri-City has won the last three.
"This was a special night," Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. "Two top teams at the top of their game. It would have been nice to see who would have won."
The Americans wasted no time in making it rain confetti as Kruise Reddick scored 46 seconds into the game.
Spokane's Brenden Kichton tried to clear the puck off the boards, but it popped up in the air. Reddick gloved the puck down and shot from the top of the right circle, beating James Reid over his left shoulder.
Spokane (21-10-3-2, 47 points) repaid the favor seven minutes later when Brady Brassart picked off a pass by Brendan Shinnimin to the left of Drew Owsley and walked in uncontested for his fourth goal of the season.
"This was unfortunate," Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. "It was a good game. Too bad for the fans they had to leave."