Ams bolster blueline at WHL trade deadline

By Annie Fowler, Herald staff writerJanuary 11, 2011 

KENNEWICK -- The Tri-City Americans addressed their need for a veteran defenseman Monday, acquiring Matt MacKenzie from the Calgary Hitmen on the final day of trading in the Western Hockey League.

In return, the Americans sent center Brooks Macek, defenseman Spencer Humphries and a conditional third-round 2012 WHL bantam draft pick to the Hitmen.

"We think we got the best defenseman available," said Americans general manager Bob Tory. "He's been in the league since he was 16, he's played in the Memorial Cup, and he was their captain. We think we made our team better."

To make the deal, Tory had to give up Macek, 18, who has spent his entire career with the Americans, and Humphries, 18, who has played 34 games this season.

"We were really deep at forward and felt we could give one up," Tory said. "With the elevated play of Mason Wilgosh, it made it easier. We felt we had to give up a defenseman to make it fair. They are both quality kids. It's a stressful day for everyone. I really do care about these kids, and anytime you make a trade it's difficult, but it's a business."

There were several moves Monday, but none bigger than the one for Brayden Schenn, who was traded from Brandon to Saskatoon.

The Blades, who have the best record in the league at 31-9-0-1, leveraged the future for the here and now, giving up two first-round bantam picks (2011 and 2012), a second round pick (2011), a first-round import pick (2012) and two 15-year-old prospects -- Tim McGauley and Ayrton Nikkel.

"Over the last number of years, we've been building toward this," Blades GM Lorne Molleken said in a statement. "Ultimately, we want to win a championship, and we feel we have the team for it this year.

"Acquiring a Saskatoon native, who was the top forward and MVP of the world juniors, gives us a chance to achieve our goal."

The 6-foot-2, 194-pound MacKenzie was a third-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2010. He has two goals and 21 assists in 40 games this season. In the playoffs last year, he had six goals and 10 assists in 23 games.

MacKenzie, 19, will fill a definite need as the Americans make a push for a fourth straight U.S. Division title, and he's excited to get to work. He will arrive in the Tri-Cities today, pull on his No. 5 sweater and face the Seattle Thunderbirds with his new teammates.

"I'm excited to be going to a team that has a chance to go back to the finals," MacKenzie said. "We were pretty young this year in Calgary, and we've had some growing pains. It's definitely tough leaving -- I have so many memories with the Hitmen. They drafted me, and we won the league last year."

Whereas Carter Ashton, who will arrive in Kennewick on Wednesday, is taking a break after playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship, MacKenzie said it's better to dive right in.

"Honestly, you just want to get to the new city," he said. "It will be nice to jump into a game and bond with them. I'm pretty excited to play with them. We will have a superior set of forwards."

There was no bonding last year when the Hitmen beat the Americans in five games to win the WHL title and advance to the Memorial Cup.

"It is a little weird. We had a good rivalry in that series," MacKenzie said. "They were a good team, and we were lucky to beat them. It was pretty special here last year, and I look forward to doing that with Tri-City this year. They are having a good year, and it will be nice to join them. It's nice to go to a team with a winning mindset."

MacKenzie's experience will be key as the Americans finish out the second half of the season with eight games against rival Spokane and five against U.S. Division-leading Portland.

The Winterhawks have a seven-point lead on the Americans, while the Chiefs, second in the division, are three points up on Tri-City. The Americans have four games in hand on Portland and one on Spokane.

"Trying to shut down Portland's and Spokane's attack will be fun," MacKenzie said. "When we went down there this year and played the U.S. Division, it was tough. I expect nothing less when I pull on an Americans jersey and we go after first. Each game is crucial."

Macek was a second-round bantam draft pick of the Americans in 2007. In 170 WHL games, he has 37 goals, 84 assists and 76 penalty minutes. He was a sixth-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2010.

Humphries, listed by the Americans in 2007, has played 38 career games with two goals and three assists. He was invited to the San Jose Sharks camp last fall as a non-drafted player.

Trade roundup: Medicine Hat got F Kellan Tochkin, 19, and D Alex Theriau, 18, from Everett in exchange for F Ryan Harrison, 18, and a second-round bantam draft pick. ... Moose Jaw acquired F Sebastian Svendsen, 19, from Prince Albert for F Michal Hlinka, 17, as well as third- and sixth-round picks. ... Lethbridge traded Ryley Bennefield to Portland for Branden Scheidl. ... Seattle acquired D Mitch Spooner, 18, from Regina for a conditional fifth-round pick, and got overage D Ryan Button from P.A. for F Charles Wells, 19, and a first-round pick in the import draft.

* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; afowler@tricityherald.com

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