The Tri-City Americans’ assault on the Western Hockey League record book continued Friday night.
Connor Rankin had three goals and two assists to lead the Americans to a 6-4 victory over the Kootenay Ice before a crowd of 5,686 at Toyota Center.
“That was a good hockey team we played,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. “Two good teams playing high-level hockey. Connor’s line was on all night. We said they had to carry because they were hot early, and they did that until the end.”
It was the Americans’ 40th win of the season, giving them 40 wins in seven consecutive seasons, tying a WHL record held by Kamloops (1989-90 to 1995-96) and Regina (1979-80 to 1985-86).
The record comes just one week after Justin Feser set the WHL Iron record.
“I’m pretty happy for the guy (general manager Bob Tory) who has done more work than anyone to make it happen,” Hiller said. “So many people have contributed to that. We had some great moments last year, but we are having some good ones this year, as well. This is a fun group to be part of.”
Tri-City (40-24-1-2, 83 points) is 5-1-0-0 against the Ice over the past six years. The Americans kept their one-point lead over the Spokane Chiefs in the Western Conference standings. The two will meet in the first round of the playoffs, but home-ice still is up in the air.“Home ice is important and we want to have that for our fans,” said Rankin, who had his first career five-point night. “It’s so much fun to play in front of our fans. We have the best fans in the league.”
Kootenay (33-32-2-0, 68 points), which has won 23 of it last 32 games, is clinging to eighth place in the Eastern Conference, six points ahead of Lethbridge.
Rankin’s line, which includes Brian Williams and Parker Bowles, accounted for five goals and six assists.
“We are called the white line,” Rankin said of the line’s practice jersey color. “It’s good when all of us do what we did. Tons of credit to Bowles and Williams. It was a good night to win our 40th.”
After Rankin’s line accounted for all the scoring the first two periods, Marcus Messier need just 17 seconds at the start of the third period to give the Americans a 4-3 lead, whipping the puck past Mackenzie Skapski in the slot. It was Messier’s first goal in nine games.
Rankin would add his second of the night at 14:56 for a 5-3 lead, only to see Kootenay pull Skapski for an extra attacker and get a goal by Jaedon Descheneau with 1:18 left in the game to pull within 5-4.
Rankin finished off his hat trick with an empty-net goal with 50 seconds remaining for his 30th goal of the season.
“We didn’t acknowledge him when he got 20 and 25,” Hiller said of Rankin’s goal count. “We have been waiting for him to get 30. He’s been terrific this second half. I’m really proud of him.”
Tied at 2 going into the second, Kootenay wasted no time in taking a 3-2 lead as Sam Reinhart beat Troy Trombley over his left shoulder just 47 seconds into the period.
It took the Americans almost 10 minutes to even things up once again, as Rankin took a pass off the back wall from Williams and beat Skapski at 10:13.
The Americans started the game with five quick shots on goal, but the Ice soon came to life, taking a 2-0 lead before Tri-City could get its game back on track.
Collin Shirley netted a power-play goal at 4:33, followed by Brock Montgomery at 12:46 for a 2-0 lead.
That lead lasted all of six seconds.
Rankin won the ensuing faceoff and got the puck to Bowles, whose pass went off the stick of Kootenay defenseman Jagger Dirk’s stick and into the net at 12:56.
Rankin again took the faceoff, knocking the puck up ice and taking it into Kootenay’s zone. He passed the puck off the wall to Williams, who beat Skapski at 13:02 to tie the score at 2.