The Tri-City Americans have had their share of hardships in 2013, and the hopes of ringing in the new year on a winning note turned sour Tuesday night.
Mitch Holmberg scored two goals and Eric Williams made 32 saves to lead the Spokane Chiefs to a 4-2 victory over the Americans before a New Year’s Eve crowd of 6,019 at the Toyota Center.
“It’s really disappointing,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team has lost seven in a row. “They had an outstanding effort. I thought our veterans in the lineup dug in and led the way and the young players followed. What can you say, we get one of those at the end — and we had plenty of chances — then we are extremely happy. I’m not going to minimize the effort in any way shape or form.”
Spokane last won on New Year’s Eve in 2010 — the famed game with the hole in the ice that was rescheduled for Feb. 21, where the Chiefs won 5-1.
“This is definitely an exciting night for both teams,” Holmberg said. “The atmosphere in here was rockin’ and it was a fun game to play. It was a close one and kept the fans in it the whole way. We were lucky to get away with the two points.”
In the 24th annual NYE event between the teams, the Chiefs held a 3-1 lead late in the third before Brian Williams pulled the Americans within 3-2 with his 22nd goal of the season at 14:18.
The Americans pulled goalie Eric Comrie with 2 minutes to play, but couldn’t even the score. Instead, the Chiefs got an empty-net goal from Colton Bobyk with 5.9 seconds left in the game, but it wasn’t easy as Justin Hamonic blocked two shots before it finally went in.
“They were pressing hard,” Holmberg said. “The last two minutes they had a lot of zone time and shots on net. At that point, it was all desperation for both teams. That one went off the post, then they blocked one and another one. I thought they were going to come back and tie it up.”
“It’s a tough loss,” Brian Williams said. “We battled back and forth all night. I’ve dreamed about these games. They are so much fun. They never get old. I’d do this until I’m 30, but they have a 20-year-old rule.”
The Chiefs had a 2-1 lead after one, and Spokane was able to hold its lead through the second, but was unsuccessful in trying to pad its lead.
Holmberg and Mike Aviani were denied by Eric Comrie and the Americans negated Spokane’s one power play.
The Americans put eight shots on goal, but Eric Williams kept a tight lid on the goal.
“It was a high intensity game,” Hiller said. “A hard game. Our guys stepped right in there we created a lot of chances. Sooner or later they are going to go in. The players need to believe in themselves. When you play hard like that, good things will happen.”
The Americans came out swinging to start the game, taking a 10-1 shot advantage through 10 scoreless minutes, but penalties took their toll soon after as the Chiefs netted a pair of power-play goals for a 2-0 lead.
Holmberg, with a sweet pass from Aviani, found an open net at the right post for his 38th goal of the season at 12:02.
Just 57 seconds later, Riley Whittingham scored unassisted on the power play for a 2-0 lead.
Short-handed once again, the Americans turned the play in their favor as Marcus Messier won a faceoff with Aviani to the left of Comrie and the puck squirted up top to Lucas Nickles.
The speedy Nickles beat three Chiefs up ice and put the puck past Williams from the top of left face-off circle at 14:03 to cut Spokane’s lead in half.
The Americans weathered the storm on a 5-on-3 Spokane power play with 5 minutes left in the period as Comrie made three consecutive sensational saves.
“It’s just classic Eric,” Brian Williams said. “He does it night in and night out. He just brings it. He’s like a robot. We rely on him so much and he comes through.”
With 30 seconds left in the period, Nickles used his speed to get around Spokane’s Cole Wedman and headed to the net, but his shot rang off the far post as the Chiefs held onto their 2-1 lead.
NOTES: Americans defenseman Michal Plutnar and the Czech Republic advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden, with a 4-1 win over Slovakia on Tuesday. The Czechs will play Finland on Tuesday.
Plutnar, who has two goals in three games, did not record a point against Slovakia.
Tri-City forward Braden Purtill and Team West lost a 5-2 game to the Czech Republic on Tuesday at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge in Nova Scotia. Purtill had four penalty minutes, but did not have any points.
The Chiefs acquired forward Hudson Elynuik from the Kootenay Ice on Tuesday in exchange for defenseman Tyler King.