A Tri-Cities tradition: Americans to host 32nd annual New Year’s Eve bash

KENNEWICK — Holiday traditions can be fun, and one of the longest running ones in the Western Hockey League is the New Year’s Eve bash between the Tri-City Americans and the Spokane Chiefs.

Saturday marks the 32nd annual game between the teams at Toyota Center, but it doesn’t matter if it’s the first, 15th or 30th, the excitement is there.

“The game has become a Tri-City tradition,” Americans general manager Bob Tory said. “Players look forward to it, as the building is electric. It also is a rivalry game, which makes it a great atmosphere.”

Tri-City coach Stu Barnes, who played for the Americans when they first arrived in Kennewick, has never played in a Tri-City-Spokane New Year’s Eve game. In 1989, the Americans played Portland. When the 1990 game rolled around, Barnes had moved on.

Barnes coached last year’s game, a 7-3 loss to the Chiefs.

“Over the years, it has been fun,” Barnes said. “You hear about the excitement around the game. It’s Spokane, those games are always exciting and fun. They are dangerous and they can score.”

The New Year’s series began in 1990 — a 6-5 Spokane victory. The Americans have won four of the past five games. Tri-City leads the series 19-10-0-1 with 1 tie.

While the wins and losses have piled up over the years, the game hasn’t been without a little drama and nostalgia.

In 2011, the famed “Hole in the Ice” game saw the festivities come to a halt at 2:35 of the second period because of a hole in the ice the size of a footprint in front of the Americans’ bench. The playing surface was deemed unsafe.

The Toyota Center staff worked on the problem for more than 30 minutes before the game was called. The game was rescheduled for Feb. 21 — a 5-1 Spokane win.

In 2015, the Americans wore the original (but newly made) black, yellow and white jerseys of the team’s first year in the league (1988) in honor of the Western Hockey League’s 50th season. They lost the game 5-2, but fans appreciated the nod to the past.

Americans come into Saturday’s game with a 15-15-1-1 record through Dec. 29. They have won six of their past 10 games, and their past seven on home ice.

Tri-City is 11-4 at Toyota Center this season, while Spokane (6-24-0-2) is 3-10-0-2 on the road.

“We are playing better,” Barnes said. “Even the Victoria games, we put up six goals each night, we just had some defensive breakdowns. We are building as the season goes along. I am proud of the boys, they are working hard and they are learning how hard it is to win at this level. There are a lot of good players at this level.”

Adding to the general excitement of any Tri-City game, is watching to see if Tri-City defenseman Lukas Dragicevic will extend his scoring streak. Through Dec. 29, he is on a 26-game point streak dating to Oct. 14.

“Lukas has played really well,” Barnes said. “He has really improved and taken it to a new level. It’s quite an accomplishment, no doubt.”

The Americans will be without goaltender Tomas Suchanek and forward Adam Mechura, who are playing with Team Czechia at the World Junior Championship.

Suchanek is 2-1 for Team Czechia with wins over Canada (5-2) and Austria (9-0), and an overtime loss to Sweden. In three games, he has three assists, breaking the tournament record of two. Mechura has three assists for the tournament.

“They have played very well,” Barnes said. “I’m happy for their success. It’s a great tournament. Hopefully they are enjoying themselves. I played in 1989-90 in Helsinki, Finland (won gold with Canada). It’s a pretty cool experience.”

New Year’s Eve Games
2021 | lost to Spokane 7-3 (4,075 attendance)
2020 | No game due to COVID-19 pandemic
2019 | beat Spokane 5-4 (OT) (5,909)
2018 | beat Spokane 6-1 (6,051)
2017 | beat Spokane 4-3 (6,011)
2016 | beat Spokane 3-1 (5,869)
2015 | lost to Spokane 5-2 (5,808)
2014 | lost to Spokane 10-2 (6,025)
2013 | lost to Spokane 4-2 (6,019)
2012 | beat Spokane 6-3 (6,098, record)
2011 | beat Spokane 4-1 (6,034)
2010 | lost to Spokane 5-1 (5,691, rescheduled for Feb. 21)
2009 | beat Spokane 5-2 (5,963)
2008 | beat Spokane 6-1 (6042)
2007 | beat Spokane 4-1 (5,963)
2006 | lost to Spokane 4-3, SO (5,917)
2005 | beat Spokane 6-3 (5,737)
2004 | lost to Spokane 3-1 (5,768)
2003 | 4-4 tie (5,757)
2002 | beat Spokane 8-1 (4,972)
2001 | lost to Spokane 6-2 (5,190)
2000 | lost to Spokane 6-4 (5,462)
1999 | beat Spokane 6-5 (OT) (5,058)
1998 | beat Spokane 5-3 (6,000)
1997 | lost to Spokane 5-3 (5,943)
1996 | beat Spokane 3-2 (5,842)
1995 | beat Spokane 5-1 (5,960)
1994 | beat Spokane 3-2 (OT) (5,917)
1993 | beat Spokane 6-2 (5,560)
1992 | beat Spokane 8-2 (5,502)
1991 | beat Spokane 9-6 (6,010)
1990 | lost to Spokane 6-5 (6,010)
1989 | won 8-4 in Portland



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