Thunderbirds’ McNelly suspended for hit on Tips’ Fasko-Rudas

Michael Rasmussen not coming back to Tri-City; Spokane extends GM Scott Carter

The Western Hockey League announced on Monday that Seattle defenseman Cade McNelly will serve a four-game suspension for a check-to-the-head major penalty against Everett on Friday.

The Silvertips’ Martin Fasko-Rudas was on the receiving end of the neutral ice hit and missed some of Friday’s game and all of Saturday’s game against Prince George as a result.

This the third time McNelly, 17, has been suspended this season. He received a three-game suspension for a cross check major against Portland on Dec. 31 and three games for a one-man fight against Portland on Sept. 29. After sitting the Thunderbirds’ game against Portland on Saturday, McNelly has three games remaining on his ban.

The Westlock, Alberta native boasts two points in 55 games over his career.

No Rasmussen in Tri-City after all

Although there was some chatter that Detroit Red Wings forward Michael Rasmussen may be sent back to his junior team, the Tri-City Americans, to be eligible for the American Hockey League playoffs, the Red Wings confirmed Friday that he’ll stay in the NHL for the rest of the season.

An agreement between the Canadian Hockey League and the NHL requires players to be sent to the major junior level before the trade deadline, which passed at 3 p.m. EST on Monday, in order to be eligible to play in the AHL playoffs. Nineteen-year-olds cannot play in the AHL during the regular season.

The Americans hold Rasmussen’s rights and would have reaped the benefits at a perfect time — Tri-City is deadlocked with Spokane for the third position in the U.S. Division standings with 69 points.

Rasmussen racked up 157 points over his 161-game WHL career and collected 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) during the Americans’ playoff run to the Western Conference Finals in 2018. The Silvertips knocked out the Americans in six games.

Spokane extends general manager

The Spokane Chiefs announced Monday that they signed general manager Scott Carter to a two-year extension. With a year remaining on his contract following this season, Carter is now extended through the 2021-2022 season.

Carter is in his third season as the Chiefs’ general manager and is 99-77-25 in his two-plus seasons at the helm. Spokane is on pace to qualify for the WHL playoffs for the second consecutive season after missing out in his first season with the Chiefs.

Giants clinch division

The Vancouver Giants clinched the B.C. Division regular season title with a 5-4 shootout loss to Victoria on Saturday, joining Prince Albert as the only other team in the WHL to wrap up their division thus far. The Giants are 20 points up on the second-place Royals with just nine games remaining, but are two points down on Everett for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Giants, with 86 points, have a game in hand on the Silvertips.

Wild card races heat up

—In the west: The room for error in the Western Conference wild-card races is razor thin. Spokane and Tri-City are jockeying for the third spot in the U.S. Division, whoever falls short will most likely fall into the first wild card spot.

The second is a close race between Seattle and Kamloops, with the Thunderbirds five points up on the Blazers, who possess two games in hand. Seattle received a boost over the weekend after claiming three-of-four possible points — including an overtime win over Everett — and Kamloops only collected one-of-four.

—In the east: The Brandon Wheat Kings have surpassed Red Deer for the final wild-card spot after Red Deer dropped its past five games. The Wheat Kings, who are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games, are two points ahead of the Rebels, who possess a game in hand.

Quick hits

—The Saskatoon Blades clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2013 after a 4-3 shootout win over Kootenay over the weekend. Saskatoon is red hot of late, with an 8-1-1 record in its last 10 games — the Blades were riding a 13-game point streak entering Friday, but fell, 6-2, to Brandon. The Blades are coached by former Silvertips defenseman and assistant coach Mitch Love.

—The Central Division remains up for grabs, but the race appears to be narrowing between Edmonton and Lethbridge. The Oil Kings are in the lead at 76 points, but the Hurricanes are just two points back with a game in hand.

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