Much has been made about the strength of the U.S. Division already this season. All of that attention has been focused on four teams: Portland, Spokane, Seattle and Everett. At one point those four were among the five best winning percentages in the league.
Meanwhile, the Tri-City Americans were sort of dismissed. Tri-City fell behind the pack early and was kind of counted out while the other four sprinted out of the gate. Don’t look now, but the Americans have crept back into the race. Tri-City has won six of its past seven, with that lone loss being a shootout defeat on the road against a strong Medicine Hat team. Wednesday night the Americans ended Portland’s 11-game winning streak.
Tri-City doesn’t have the type of high-flying offense it had in its heydays. However, the Americans have clamped down defensively. During the current seven-game stretch Tri-City hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a game, and in Eric Comrie the Americans may have the best goaltender in the WHL. Tri-City has also been lifted by the return of injured forward Parker Bowles, who is putting up Josh Winquist-type numbers (did I really just write that?).
Therefore, Everett’s home-and-home set with the Americans is suddenly very significant. Everett has the best winning percentage in the division, but the Tips haven’t really had to run the U.S. Division gauntlet yet. Tri-City, which is just two points behind Everett (though the Americans have played four more games), has already had to weather a steady stream of Portland, Seattle and Spokane. So this weekend could serve as a pointer to which team truly belongs in the discussion for divisional supremacy.