Growing up in Kennewick, Taylor Vickerman watched numerous New Year’s Eve games at Toyota Center between the Tri-City Americans and the Spokane Chiefs as a fan.
Tonight, Vickerman will pull on his Tri-City sweater and experience the festivities first hand.
“It should be pretty fun,” Vickerman said. “I just remember fans going nuts and it was crazy loud. It was fun to watch, I can only imagine it’s more fun to play. It’s kind of special, I’m only the second guy from the Tri-Cities to play in the game. It will be a high-intense game.”
Tonight marks the 24th annual game between the teams to ring in the new year. The Americans lead the series 15-6-0-1 with one tie.
Tri-City did not play on New Years Even in 1988 and beat Portland 8-4 on the road in 1989.
“It’s exciting,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. “It’s hard to explain. The atmosphere is so awesome, you get caught up in a bit, even though you don’t want to. We can’t be standing around watching the crowd. We have to go out and get the crowd into the game and behind us.”
With a rash of injuries and players at tournament, the Americans have brought in three affiliate players to fill out the roster. Defensemen Jordan Davies and Brendan O’Reilly have played two games, while forward Maxwell James should be in the lineup tonight as Jessey Astles is out with an upper-body injury.
“We are going to have a lot of players this year — probably the most ever — playing in this game for the first time,” Hiller said. “I just hope they aren’t too nervous. With the new players, there might be 7 to 10 guys for who this will be their first Tri-City-Spokane New Year’s Eve game.”
Make that 14 — and that includes back-up goalie Evan Sarthou. The Americans will dress six players tonight who have played in the annual game.
Last year, Parker Bowles had two goals and an assist as the Americans rallied for a 6-3 victory before a NYE record crowd of 6,098. Tri-City is without Bowles (knee) tonight, and goals have been hard to come by. The Americans (17-17-2-2, 38 points) come into the game having lost their last six games and were outscored 25-9.
“I think against Portland we played pretty well without the puck,” said Hiller of the first two games after the Christmas break. “We had some great chances with it, we just didn’t find the back of the net. We created more scoring chances in those two games than we have in a long time. We need to find the back of the net.”
It’s been 10 years since the Americans have lost six games in a row. From Jan. 5-19 during the 2002-03 season, Tri-City dropped eight consecutive games. Since then, the most had been five.
Vickerman is confident the Americans can turn things around.
“We have been playing our hearts out the last couple of games but we aren’t getting the bounces we need,” Vickerman said. “We are going to turn it around tomorrow. We had a good practice today and everyone got their rest. We should be ready to go. We are getting the chances, we just need to finish.”
Spokane comes in at 22-13-0-2 and split its weekend games with the Kootenay Ice. The Chiefs’ Mitch Holmberg leads the WHL with 37 goals and 75 points, but has not scored a goal in his last three games.
Notes: The IIHF Disciplinary Panel handed down a one-game suspension to Czech Republic and Tri-City Americans defenseman Michal Plutnar.
The suspension followed an official review of an incident involving Plutnar and linesman Eduard Metalnikov during the Dec. 28 game against Canada. Plutnar, who has two goals in the WJC, missed the Czech Republic’s 3-0 loss to Germany on Monday.
At the end of the second period, Plutnar went after Canadian forward Connor McDavid when McDavid shot the puck into the Czech goal after time expired. While trying to get to McDavid, Plutnar appeared to push Metalnikov to the ice as the linesman attempted to intercede between the two players. Plutnar was assessed a roughing penalty at the time.
Note: Tri-City defenseman Parker Wotherspoon had an assist as Team Pacific beat Team West 6-3 on Monday at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge in Nova Scotia. Tri-City’s Ty Comrie also plays for Team Pacific, while Americans teammate Braden Purtill plays for Team West.