MENU Ams take down T-birds

By Rene Ferran |

Another day, another strong performance for the Tri-City Americans.

The defense stymied Sunday’s opponent, the Seattle Thunderbirds, for much of the game, and Jordan Messier scored a pair of third-period goals to put away a 4-1 victory at Toyota Center.

The T-birds were a pesky foe for the Americans a year ago, and they showed Sunday that they’ll be a thorn in Tri-City’s side again this season. Despite outshooting Seattle 36-16 and having eight power plays, the Americans couldn’t put Seattle away until Messier poked in a rebound of a Zachary Yuen shot just inside the left post at 8:22 of the third period.

“They’re a very good team, a tough team,” said Ams captain Kruise Reddick, who opened the scoring at 12:45 of the first period with a power-play blast from the top of the slot. “They’re the closest team in the league that can skate with us.

“It was a nice win last night (6-3 over Spokane), and it was nice to come out tonight, control play and come out with a win.”

The T-birds, playing their third game in three nights, had two shots clang off iron, while Messier’s second goal with 2:58 to play was a wrist shot that clanked off the right post and into the back of the net.

“Those guys work hard on that team, and Cal keeps them in games,” said Messier, praising goalie Calvin Pickard, the Colorado Avalanche second-round pick who made 32 saves.

The Ams had their NHL goalie prospect in net in Alex Pechurskiy (Penguins), who didn’t have to do much as the Tri-City defense stymied the Thunderbirds much of the night.

“One thing we talked about before the season was getting into shot lanes, taking care of our own end,” Messier said. “Our offense didn’t come right away tonight, but if we’re solid defensively, good things will happen for us. Alex made a great save on a breakaway, and then Yuen made a good shot, and I was lucky enough to be there to tap that in.”

One of the keys to Tri-City’s defensive performance Sunday was the improved play of the rookie D-man pairing of Sam Grist and Spencer Humphries.

Grist took four penalties in Saturday’s season opener, including two in the same sequence that led to a four-minute Chiefs power play.

But in Sunday’s game, the 17-year-old delivered several hard hits while not taking any penalties, while the 18-year-old Humphries delivered another in a string of solid performances starting with rookie camp.

“Humps has only had a handful of games in the league, but we’re playing him like he’s a veteran,” said coach Jim Hiller. “And Sam is just two games into his WHL career. With each game, they’ll feel more confident and more comfortable. They have huge upside potential that they’ll continue to grow into.”

Another rookie who shined Sunday was 18-year-old forward Tanner Olstad, in the lineup because Mike Brown had to sit as the odd overage player out.

“We have a lot of depth, and it’s hard for the young guys to get into the lineup,” Hiller said. “When they do, they have to do what Tanner did tonight and make an impact. He drew two penalties and worked hard.”

Reddick added, “I’ve been very impressed. They don’t play like young guys. They’ve stepped in and showed they can play in this league, that we can rely on them, which is big for us.”

Another newcomer making an impact is 19-year-old forward David Conrad, whom the Americans plucked from Spokane’s discard pile and listed in August.

He moved off the fourth line and into Brown’s spot alongside Justin Feser and Patrick Holland on Sunday, and he set up Messier’s second goal on a delayed penalty, carrying the puck down the left boards before finding an open Messier between the circles.

“Conrad’s an older player who’s carved out a role with us,” Hiller said. “He can move up and down the lineup. He’s been an effective penalty killer and an aggressive, assertive player.”

Notes: The Americans next play Wednesday in Kelowna. … The team released 18-year-old defenseman Cody Castro early Monday

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