Coaches spend untold hours trying to get their defensemen to lift the puck off the ice when they shoot.
Parker Wotherspoon has been paying attention.
The Tri-City rookie defenseman’s shot from the top of the circles sailed over Vancouver goalie Payton Lee’s shoulder for his first WHL goal, helping the Americans to a 4-0 victory Sunday over the Giants before an announced crowd of 3,203 at Toyota Center.
It was the fifth consecutive home win for the Americans, who also got 43 saves from Eric Comrie, who posted his second shutout of the season.
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“We had to talk about the losing streak for a while, so there’s nothing wrong with taking about that,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said of team’s home record of 16-8-1-0. “The guys played hard tonight and earned it. We blocked a lot of shots, closed a lot of passing lanes around the net and scored some timely goals. They are a tough team. It was a big win, the second one in a row. We are going to take it.”
The Americans (22-21-2-2, 48 points), eighth in the Western Conference, now have a seven-point lead over ninth-place Prince George with a game in hand. Tri-City hosts Moose Jaw on Wednesday.
The Giants (23-16-5-3, 54 points), who had won three of their last four games, were shut out for the third time this season.
Vancouver had its chances during the game, outshooting the Americans 43-23, but they went 0-for-5 on the power play, and rang two pucks off the post and two off the crossbar.
“It was a lot of fun,” Comrie said of the game. “Our team did an excellent job blocking shots. All of our defensemen were outstanding and I have to thank the posts, they helped me out about three times. Thank you for that.”Comrie always is humble about his performance, but Hiller appreciates every save.
“We so often take Eric for granted,” Hiller said. “He’s always really good, but I thought tonight he was exceptional.”
Wotherspoon, who had 12 assists going into Sunday’s game, corralled a clearing pass from Vancouver’s Ty Ronning and returned it toward the net, giving the Americans a 3-0 lead at 15:39.
“It’s nice to get the weight off my shoulders,” Wotherspoon said. “I’ve been waiting a long time. I’m still in shock that I finally got that goal.”
“That was just great for Spoons,” Hiller said. “He has worked on his shot and he wants to score. That was top shelf. They don’t often get good looks, he made it count.”
Beau McCue opened the scoring in the first with a short-handed goal, but it was Lucas Nickles who started the play.
Nickles knocked the puck away from Vancouver’s Jackson Houck in the neutral zone and used his speed to stay a couple of steps ahead of the Giants in pursuit.
Nickles slid the puck to McCue, who beat Lee at 7:28 for his 12th goal of the season.
The Americans increased their lead to 2-0 at 12:01 as Justin Gutierrez won a face-off, sending the puck up top to Riley Hillis.
Hillis’ shot from the high slot was blocked by Lee, but Brian Williams picked up the rebound and zipped the puck in the net for his 28th goal.
The Giants outshot the Americans 17-13 in the first — and also hit the crossbar (Rob Trzonkowski) and a post (Thomas Foster) — but Comrie denied them all.
A scoreless second period saw the Giants on the receiving end of three power plays — all came up empty.
Three of the Americans’ five shots in the period came shorthanded.
Jessey Astles finished off the scoring, taking a pass up ice from Michal Plutnar and going in alone for his sixth goal of the season at 11:47 third.
The goal gave Astles eight points this season — a career high for the overage forward who also spent time with Kelowna and Saskatoon over his WHL career.
Note: Sunday was the fourth time brothers Josh and Dalton Thrower have faced each other in the WHL. Dalton, the Giants’ captain, won the first three meetings.