Justin Hamonic, whose career goals don’t equal the No. 6 on the back of his jersey, was the spark plug the Tri-City Americans needed Friday night.
The overage defenseman scored his first goal of the season — and just the third of his career — to help propel the Americans to a 3-1 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds before a crowd of 3,233 at Toyota Center.
“He’s a real leader and a team first kind of guy,” Americans coach Mike Williamson said of Hamonic, who also is the team captain. “We have to score by committee and he’s jumping up into the play. I expect him to give us offense at times.”
The Americans, who improved to 2-1-0 on the young season, are at Spokane (1-0-0) tonight for the Chiefs’ home opener.
Hamonic opened the scoring at 16:35 of the first period, picking up a loose puck off a rebound of a Jackson Playfair shot and firing the puck into an open net.
“I saw the play develop,” Hamonic said. “I saw an open lane and wanted to see what would happen. I got lucky.”
Lucas Nickles and Brian Williams each had quality opportunities in the first, but were turned away by Seattle goalie Taran Kozun.
The Americans turned their 1-0 lead into a 2-0 advantage early in the second as Beau McCue took a pass off the wall and his shot from the slot flew past Kozun at 5:49.
The Thunderbirds cut the Americans’ lead in half at 10:38, getting a little help from goalie Eric Comrie.
Comrie went behind the net to play the puck, but before he could sweep the puck out of harm’s way, Seattle’s Donovan Neuls swooped in for the steal. Neuls had a wraparound goal into an empty net for his first WHL goal.
“I take responsibility for that one,” Williamson said. “We want our goalies to help us move the puck out of our zone. That is something he needs to work on. Eric was apologizing after the game, but he made some nice saves to keep us in the game.”
Tri-City bounced back less than 3 minutes later to take a 3-1 lead as Maxwell James’s 100-foot stretch pass up ice connected with Rodney Southam, who got behind Thunderbird defenseman Jared Hauf and went in all alone on Kozun.
Kozun came out to challenge, but Southam swept the puck into the net.
“I made a call (for the puck), but I don’t think he heard me,” Southam said of James. “But he has good vision and saw me up ice. I got the pass and I worked my way behind the defensemen. I faked a shot, went to my backhand and put it in. It’s a big weight lifted off your shoulders to get that first one.”
The Thunderbirds had a 16-10 shot advantage over the Americans the last two periods, and had three power plays in the second period, but were held to just the one goal.
Seattle pulled Kozun with 2 minutes left in the game, but the Thunderbirds came up empty as Comrie stopped all eight shots on goal. Comrie, in his first game of the season, finished with 22 saves.
“We were on the ropes a few times,” Williamson said. “Our penalty kill came up big and we got some timely goals. We spent too much time in our own zone, but we didn’t break.”
Notes: Former Americans goalie Tyler Weiman and his wife Katrina welcomed daughter Hayley Rae on Sept. 24. She was 8 pounds, 2 ounces and 21 inches long.