Americans open WHL playoffs; Fire open play in new indoor football league

As the Western Hockey League playoffs opened Friday night, the question on many Tri-City Americans fans’ minds has to be, “Can we do it again?” 

Last year, the Ams opened the WHL playoffs with 4-0 sweeps over Kelowna and Victoria. Pretty impressive for a wildcard team. 

Then the Americans met Everett, which outlasted Tri-City 4-2 in the Western Conference final

Now these two teams meet each other in the first round of this year’s playoffs. 

The Silvertips boast a 47-16-2-3 record and won the U.S. Division title. 

Tri-City is the top wildcard team again, and has a 34-28-5-1 record. 

Everett holds a 5-3 season advantage over Tri-City, with the Silvertips winning the last three games. 

But this has all the makings of a tight best-of-7 series. 

Everett is just slightly better in power plays and penalty kills. The Americans have shown all season they can score. 

Coach Kelly Buchberger will need to have his front line find the holes in a tough Silvertips’ defense, and at the same time the Ams defense will need to help standout goalie Beck Warm as much as possible by making as few mistakes as possible. 

The first two games of the series are in Everett on Friday and Saturday. 

Games 3 and 4 will be at the Toyota Center on Wednesday, March 27, and Thursday, March 28. Puck drops at 7:05 p.m., both nights. 

Notes: Parker AuCoin and Warm were named second-team WHL Western Conference all-stars this week. … If you can’t make the games, Craig West will be doing play-by-play on KFLD AM 870. West will also have some great bonus help, as former Americans coach Don Nachbaur has been hired to do color commentary for all radio broadcasts during the playoffs. 

Nachbaur was most recently an assistant coach for the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. 

Tri-Cities Fire opens season at Reno 

Kinshasa Martin hasn’t had much time to take a few deep breaths these past few weeks. 

The owner of the Tri-Cities Fire has not only been trying to get his team ready for its American West Football Conference home opener March 30 in the Toyota Center, but he’s also helping the rest of the league with the minute details. 

That’s what happens when you’re a fledgling, first-year indoor football league – with just four teams – trying to get things off the ground. Everyone has to help each other. 

The Toyota Center in Kennewick is the official home of the Tri-Cities Fire arena football team. Tri-City Herald file

So it didn’t help that Martin had a tire blow out on his drive from his Everett home to the Tri-Cities on Friday afternoon. 

He was hoping to see his team in person before it bused off to Reno early Friday evening for its season opener, on the road against the Reno Express, set for 6 p.m. Saturday. 

These things happen in minor league football. 

There are a lot of unknowns: how these teams will stack up against each other – plus the other two teams, the Idaho Horsemen and the Wenatchee Valley Skyhawks; and how practicing outside will transfer for this new group of players to indoor football, which is a faster, quicker brand of football because the field is smaller than outdoors. 

Martin and the other owners in the AWFC felt to cut back on costs, teams will do their best to sign local players when they can. The Fire did that. 

It starts with former Tri-Cities Fever running back Keithon Flemming, who played for the now-defunct team in 2013 and 2014 before deciding to make his year-round home here in the Tri-Cities. He’s currently a security specialist at Pasco High and an assistant football coach there. 

Oh, and something else: Flemming will be the Fire’s quarterback. 

“He played quarterback in high school in Texas,” said Martin. “He can throw.” And if anyone has seen him play with the Fever, they know he can run too. 

There are a few other familiar names on the Fire roster. Richland High grads BK Robinson and Hunter Grade are on the team, as are former Hanford standout Dallon Grinder and River View grad Kris Welch. Prosser product Michael Kernan and Kamiakin grad Tyler Merkel are also on the team. 

Quick notes

Hermiston girls basketball standout Jordan Thomas signed this week to play for Eastern Arizona Junior College next season. Thomas was a first-team all-Mid-Columbia Conference all-star this season. Fans can see Thomas, 6-4, play in the SWX Classic at 4 p.m.  at Yakima Valley College on Sunday. The SWX Classic will be shown live on SWX television, with the boys game following at 6 p.m. It will be some of the top high school basketball players from the Tri-Cities region against the top players from the Yakima area. … Richland junior Maelyn George tossed the hammer 142 feet, 4 inches, at a meet last week in Lacey. That broke a 15-year-old Richland High record. … Kamiakin’s Brayden Freitag cleared 14 feet, 10 inches in the boys pole vault in a non-league meet Thursday featuring all three Kennewick schools. It’s early, of course, but Freitag’s mark is currently the tops in the state. … Waitsburg defensive end Brayden Miller has signed to play football next fall at Whitworth University.