Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Topping's hat-trick leads Americans over Winterhawks 6-4

Jordan Topping was a big thorn in Portland's side last year. He scored six goals in the season series and always seemed to be the one raising his stick when Portland had just given up a pivotal goal to Tri-City. This year, though Topping had been noticeably absent form the scoresheet in the first two match ups he had been healthy for. That changed Wednesday night in Kennewick. Topping scored three of his team's first four goals for his second hat-trick of the season and his WHL career. He also added an assist for a four point night. The Winterhawks again were victimized by taking too many penalties as they fell behind 3-0 in the first behind two power play goals. The Hawks' opponents are 6/22 on the man advantage over the last four games. Tri-City has the third best power play in the WHL and it showed in the first period. Juuso Valimaki and Kyle Olson also provided two points apiece for the Americans. Evan Weinger scored twice and Caleb Jones had two assists in the loss for Portland.

Two of Portland's more defensively responsible players took penalties within the first 10 minutes of the game. Caleb Jones and Colton Veloso are also both key members of the team's top penalty killing unit. Tri-City cashed in on both opportunities. First, Morgan Geekie drove wide behind the net and dished off to Jordan Topping in the slot. Topping beat Portland starting goalie Cole Kehler 5:38 into the game. Then on the Colton Veloso penalty, Geekie's attempt at feeding Topping between the face off dots was intercepted by Caleb Jones but he was unable to clear. Topping corralled the puck and beat Kehler from just inside the blue line. The only goal scored in the first that was not on a power play was netted by Tri-City's all-time leading scorer among defensemen. Parker Wotherspoon caught the puck on the rush and put a quick move on Portland forward Bronson Sharp, freezing him. He then beat Kehler through the five-hole, ending his night. Kehler made eight saves on 11 shots. Rookie Shane Farkas came on in relief.

Portland came out of the first intermission on a tear and cut the Tri-City lead to one with goals 1:23 apart. On a power play of their own, Caleb Jones had his shot from the point expertly tipped home by Keegan Iverson in front of the net. Then on a three-on-two rush, Evan Weinger blew past Dakota Krebs on the right wing and beat Tri-City goalie Evan Sarthou on the short-side. Portland's comeback was made harder though as Tri-City got two goals of their own in quick succession; just 56 seconds apart. Jordan Topping secured the hat-trick and got the first puck past Farkas on the night by firing a long wrist shot in on the rush. Then, Tyler Sandu won a puck battle behind the net and tried to center a pass in front. The puck instead deflected in off of Farkas and it was a three-goal deficit once again at 5-2. Weinger would get some life back in the legs of the Portland comeback attempt by using his speed to jump on a loose puck off a face off that Krebs took a bad angle at. Weinger blew past Krebs again and got in alone on Sarthou, beating him with a backhand shot. Weinger's second goal came with just five seconds left in the second period.

Ryan Hughes got Portland back within one 3:08 into the third period. He forced a turnover in the Tri-City zone and then received a very nice backhand flip pass from Joachim Blichfeld before beating Sarthou. The goal was Hughes's 25th of the year. Portland would have plenty of chances to tie but were undone by a late insurance goal from Austyn Playfair off a battle in front of Farkas. The goal was Playfair's very first of the year.

Farkas and Kehler both did not play their best. Farkas came on in relief to stop 15 of 18. Sarthou faced far more rubber and turned away 41 of 45 to get wins in back-to-back starts. He has faced 39 or more shots in each of his last three games played.

Game Notes:
-Cole Kehler has struggled vs. Tri-City this year. He has been pulled in the first period twice and has not had a save percentage over .900 in any of his seven starts against the Americans.
-Keegan Iverson has now scored a goal in four of his last five games. He has a point in 10 of his last 11 games dating back to December 17th.
-Caleb Jones now has 41 assists and is fifth in the league among d-men. Wotherspoon is first with 47 but has played seven more games.
-Joachim Blichfeld had an assist and now has 53 points in 52 games. He is fourth among all rookie scorers. It is doubtful that he will catch Swift Current's Aleksi Heponiemi who is first 70 points.
-Portland's road power play continues to click. The Hawks went 1/3 and is now 30.8 percent on the season. This is just 0.5 percent behind the Regina Pats for best in the league.
-Tri-City meanwhile has the second best home power play in the WHL at 30.4 percent.
-Portland has won just three of the nine meetings with Tri-City so far. They have just one game left vs. Tri-City and it's on March 14th in Portland.
-This was an opportunity for Portland to close within three points of Tri-City for the third seed in the U.S. Division bracket. Instead they slip to seven points back with one game in hand. The Hawks have 11 games left. It looks like they will be locked into one of the two wild card spots at this point unless Tri-City goes on a lengthy losing streak.
-They sit just one point back of Victoria for the first wild card spot and the Royals have one game in hand. The Royals play three straight games over three days against Vancouver this weekend.
-Portland has just one more game this week and it is on Friday in Everett. The Silvertips have won six of their last seven games.

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