The Tri-City Americans’ holiday celebration featured Connor Rankin as Santa Claus and the Prince George Cougars as the Grinch.
Rankin scored 1:31 into the second period Friday night to bring down a festive array of 2,511 stuffed animals, but PG goalie Ty Edmonds finished with 31 saves as the Cougars topped the Americans 5-1 before a generous Teddy Bear Toss crowd of 4,958 at Toyota Center.
“It’s just not enough,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. “If that’s the best we have, it’s not near enough. I know the players have more. They have to find more. They can’t be satisfied with that. They need to push past it.”
The Americans played without overage forwards Jessey Astles and Phil Tot, who were nursing minor injuries. Without them, the Americans put a young lineup on the ice.
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“They were banged up,” Hiller said. “We wouldn’t have sat them for any other reason.”
The Americans (17-15-1-2, 37 points), who have lost three in a row, are off tonight before finishing the first half of the season Tuesday at Seattle.
“We need to win a hockey game before we take a break,” Hiller said. “That’s three in a row. It’s been too long since we’ve won a game.”
The Cougars (13-17-2-3, 31 points) play at Spokane today in yet another Teddy Bear Toss game. PG is 2-0 this year when stuffed animals are involved and would like to make that 3-0.
“Especially going back to Spoke,” said PG forward Todd Fiddler, who played 11⁄2 seasons with the Chiefs. “I want to steal one win out of there at least. It would be real exciting for me. It’s a big game for us.”
Trailing 2-0 after the first period, Rankin banged in a loose puck at the left post to put the Americans on the board and cut the deficit in half.
“At the time, it’s pretty awesome when the bears come down after scoring that goal,” Rankin said. “It’s bragging rights, but right now it doesn’t feel too good. I thought we played hard, it just wasn’t enough.”
The rest of the period would belong to PG. Fiddler scored his second of the night on a 5-on-3 power play at 4:44, and Jansen Harkins scored at 7:30 for a 4-1 game.
Klarc Wilson had an opportunity to give the Cougars a 5-1 lead 91⁄2 minutes into the second with a wide open net, but he fanned on the puck and the Americans turned the play the other way.
The Americans’ best opportunity to score in the third came at 11:31 as Marcus Messier broke free on a short-handed breakaway. PG’s Jordan Tkatch was trailing the play and slashed Messier, giving the Americans forward a penalty shot.
Messier was denied was Edmonds, who earlier in the day was selected to play in the 2014 Top Prospects Game.
Aaron Macklin finished off the scoring for the Cougars with a power-play goal at 17:56.
“We needed this win,” Fiddler said. “We had four lines going. It was a great team effort.”
The Cougars, who battled snow and bus troubles, arrived in Kennewick at 6 a.m. Friday, but that didn’t slow them down at the start of the game as they took a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Fiddler opened the scoring at 4:48 as he fired a rocket from the high slot past Tri-City goalie Eric Comrie.
Wilson added a power-play goal at 16:05, connecting from the right circle just 11 seconds into the man advantage.
The Americans outshot the Cougars 15-10 in the first, including a short-handed breakaway by Lucas Nickles at 18:08, but Edmonds kept all the teddy bears in their seats.
Note: Thirteen WHL players were selected to play in the 2014 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 15 in Calgary, Alberta.
Team Cherry, coached by former Calgary Flames captain Jim Peplinski, will feature WHL players Edmonds, defensemen Haydn Fleury (Red Deer), Aaron Irving (Edmonton) and Nelson Nogier (Saskatoon), and forwards Conner Bleackley (Red Deer), Chase De Leo (Portland), Sam Reinhart (Kootenay) and Nikita Scherbak (Saskatoon).
Team Orr, coached by Hall of Famer Lanny McDonald, will have defensemen Julius Honka and Brycen Martin of Swift Current and Ben Thomas (Calgary), and forwards Leon Draisaitl (Prince Albert) and Jake Virtanen (Calgary).