Last year, Justin Gutierrez was one of the last players cut by the Tri-City Americans.
After chipping in three assists Thursday night in a 6-3 win over the Kootenay Ice in the opening game of the Red Lion Hotels Preseason Tournament at the Toyota Center, Gutierrez is making a solid case to stick around this season.
“It’s good to see the progress from him since last year,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. “He’s bigger and stronger than last year, and with that comes confidence.”
Gutierrez, from Anchorage, Alaska, took a hit late in the game and was unavailable for comment, but Hiller had no problem continuing his praise of the young forward who will turn 17 in December.
“He was disappointed when he had to leave last year,” Hiller said. “I can see the determination that he doesn’t want to let that happen a second time.”
Connor Rankin added two goals, and Brian Williams had a three-point night with a goal and two assists as the Americans improved to 2-1 in the preseason.
“It’s pretty cool playing at home again after being away a few months,” Rankin said. “We played well together, which was good. During the summer I worked hard to get back to where I was before Christmas break (he broke his thumb the game before the holiday break).”
The tournament continues today, with Spokane and Everett playing at 11 a.m. followed by Portland vs. Kootenay at 3 p.m. Tri-City will play the Seattle Thunderbirds at 7:05 p.m.
After a scoreless first period, Tri-City went to work in the second, scoring three goals in a span of 1 minute, 42 seconds.
Williams started the barrage of goals at 4:03, getting a nice assist from Jordan Messier, who brought the puck in the zone and displayed some fancy stick work around Kootenay’s Tanner Muth before he hit Williams on the left wing.
Just 50 seconds later, Rankin took a pass off the back wall from Gutierrez and had an easy goal from the top of the crease.
“Gutierrez had a fantastic game,” Rankin said. “He’s good to play with.”
Parker Wotherspoon, a 15-year-old defenseman, finished off the string of goals at 5:45, picking up a juicy rebound off a shot by Lucas Nickles and beating Mackenzie Skapski at the right post.
The Ice, which was a woeful 0-for-5 on the power play over the first two periods, scored its first goal shorthanded as Luke Philip was on the tail end of a give-and-go with Dylen McKinlay at 11:22.
Marcus Messier put the Americans out front 4-1 at 13:14, connecting on the power play off a nifty cross-ice pass from Drydn Dow.
Rankin added his second goal of the night just 24 seconds into the third period to give the Americans a 5-1 lead.
Kootenay, which struggled 5-on-5 against the Americans, cut into Tri-City’s lead at 4:40 with another goal by Philip as the teams were playing 4-on-4.
Kyle O’Connor pulled the Ice to within 5-3 at 16:49, but Malte Strömwall had the last word for the Americans, scoring with 30 seconds left in the game.
“A lot of guys played a lot of minutes,” Hiller said. “Malte just flew in (Wednesday). It was good to get his legs under him.”
Eric Comrie got the start for Tri-City and stopped all 13 shots he faced the first 30 minutes. Brenden Fiebelkorn finished the game, allowing three goals on 14 shots.