The Tri-City Americans are in uncharted waters — and they are just two games into the season.
Saturday, they lost their first home opener in 12 years, and with Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Portland Winterhawks at Toyota Center, they’ve lost back-to-back games to open the season for the first time since the start of the 2005-06 season.
“Somewhat similar to last night,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team fell to 0-2-0-0. “The urgency started too late. In the third we played with passion, but we have to play 60 minutes to win hockey games. It’s a matter of contributing. Wherever you are slotted in, you have to make a positive contribution.”
Nic Petan and Chase De Leo each had two goals, and Troy Rutkowski had three assists for Portland (2-1-0-0), playing its third game in as many days.
“We had good jump,” said Portland coach Mike Johnston. “I was impressed. We moved the puck well. Nic is a smart player and Troy has been around awhile. He’s a key guy for us on the penalty kill and the power play. He always has good numbers.”
Holding a 2-1 lead after the first, the Winterhawks, went to work in the second, building their lead to 4-1.
Petan scored his second of the night on the power play at 9:24 as his shot from the left circle zipped across the front of Tri-City goalie Eric Comrie and found the far side of the net.
Petan, who has a league-leading four goals and eight points, has at least one goal in each of his first three games.
“I feel more confident and comfortable out there,” said Petan, who is in his second season in the WHL. “Confidence is the biggest thing for me. When you have that, your game is more comfortable and consistent. Everyone played well tonight.”
De Leo, with his second goal of the night, gave Portland a 4-1 lead at 11:06.
Tri-City came back with a power-play goal by Mitch Topping at 15:27, as his shot from the right circle beat Brendan Burke.
In a free-flowing first period, the Winterhawks were the first to find the net as Petan picked up a rebound and tucked the puck in at the post at 13:34.
Portland would add to its lead at 16:21 as De Leo connected on the power play. Troy Rutkowski took the initial shot, but the puck ricocheted off Tri-City defenseman Sam Grist’s skate in the slot and out to the left wing, where De Leo had an open corner of the net.
The Americans would cut the Winterhawks lead in half at 17:06 as Lucas Nickles took the puck away from De Leo in front of Burke and put it in the net for his first goal of the season.
The Americans are off until Thursday when they host the Everett Silvertips. Before then, there is work to do.
“Hockey in large part is a game of mistakes and we had too many turnovers,” Hiller said. “It needs to be simple, simple, simple. That’s the message. The players who have been a part of the winning and the tradition, and who know how it feels to win, have to take charge.”
The Winterhawks played without F Ty Rattie, who was assessed a major for cross-checking and a game misconduct Saturday against Seattle. His suspension by the WHL is forthcoming.