New York has the famous ball that drops from the flagpole atop One Times Square to celebrate the new year.
In the Tri-Cities, we have the annual Tri-City Americans-Spokane Chiefs hockey game, now in its 23rd year. Not as flashy and not as many people, but a good time none-the-less.
There also is First Night Tri-Cities at Columbia Basin College, but until someone can explain the not-so-appropriate name of the event, I will stick with the hockey. I am told tonight’s game is sold out, which makes the atmosphere that much more fun.
The Americans lead the New Year’s Eve event 14-6-0-1 with one tie, including a 4-1 victory last year.
Tri-City comes into the game on the heels of a pair of 4-3 losses to the Portland Winterhawks, while the Spokane split a pair of games with the Kootenay Ice, losing the second game 7-3 at home.
Spokane has lost four of its last six games, including three at home. Goalie Eric Williams has started all six games, but was yanked in two (Seattle and the home loss to Kootenay).
The Chiefs are without coach Don Nachbaur, who is an assistant with Team Canada at the World Juniors. But, his wife Kim and son Daniel are here.
The Americans welcome back Marcus Messier tonight. His energy is contagious and he’s so valuable on the penalty kill. He missed nine games after being hurt in Kamloops on Nov. 30. Tri-City was 4-5 with him out of the lineup.
Tri-City defenseman Mitch Topping is scratched tonight. Not sure if he got banged up against Portland on Saturday or if he's a healthy scratch and is taking a seat. He's a great kid and a good leader on the team, but the turnovers lately have been detrimental to the team.
Americans team captain Justin Feser is one goal from moving into 5th place on the team's all-time goals list. He also is one assist from moving into 10th on the all-time assists list.
Tonight is the last home game for the Americans until Jan. 13 when Seattle comes to town. They will play at Victoria on Friday and Saturday. If you are going to shell out $1,000 to take your bus and players across the water, it’s in your best interest to play two games. Tri-City then plays at Kamloops Jan. 9 and at Kelowna on Jan. 11.
The Americans play 13 games in January. That’s almost every other night. In two weeks, they play the 13th, 15th, 16th, 18th and 19th. Five games in seven days. I get tired just thinking about it.
In the Western Conference standings, the Kelowna Rockets have been on the move. They are 9-1-0-0 in their last 10 games and have won three in a row. They are just two points behind B.C. Division-leading Kamloops (56 points), and have two games in hand on the Blazers, who are 5-4-1-0 in their last 10 games.
U.S. Division-leading Portland leads the Western Conference with 63 points, while Spokane is second with 49 and the Americans third with 43. The Victoria Royals, 6-2-0-2 in their last 10, have 40 points, making the four points this weekend very valuable to both the Americans and Royals.