Rankin develops into Road King for Americans

October 23, 2012 

Before the Tri-City Americans hopped on the bus for their East Division road swing, veteran forward Connor Rankin had just one goal and one assist to his name.

He knew that wasn't good enough.

Rankin was King of the Road during the six-game trek through Manitoba and Saskatchewan, scoring five goals with one assist as the Americans went 5-0-1-0.

"It's always in the back of your mind when you aren't doing too well, and it hurts more when the team wasn't doing as well," Rankin said. "It puts pressure on you -- if you do well, the team will win. Lately, that has been the case. I feel a lot better now than I did before the trip. It's tough when you know you aren't doing your part."

On the road, Rankin found success with linemates Lucas Nickles and Jesse Mychan. Nickles had three goals and three assists, while Mychan had five assists.

"With my linemates, Mychan and Nickles, we've found a good chemistry there and that makes it easier on all of us," Rankin said. "I think we are all pretty happy with how the road trip went. Obviously Nickles and Mychan and I are fortunate to have found the chemistry that we have."

Nickles, who had just one goal and one assist in 44 games last year, has four goals and four assists in 14 games this season.

"It's nice to get more of an opportunity this year," Nickles said. "On the road trip, me, Rankin and Mychan played really well together. We have really good chemistry. We are a pretty fast line, Mychan is good in front of the net and Rankin is good at setting guys up."

The trio impressed coach Jim Hiller.

"They really complement each other well," Hiller said. "Speed, size and skill. You see it all right there. They all possess a little of each, and clearly those elements are working for them right now. Jesse is a big body, Nick creates with the puck and Ranks is the guy that makes plays. We could see some long term success with them.

"Chemistry is the most important part of any team," Hiller said. "I think this team has found its way in who they are and how they mix together. It's there, we just have to sustain it."

Rankin, Nickles and Mychan weren't the only ones putting up good numbers on the trip. Justin Feser (3 goals, 2 assists), Marcus Messier (2 goals), Phil Tot (2 goals, 2 assists) and Zach Yuen (3 assists) also made valuable contributions.

"We need that," Hiller said of the balanced scoring. "In the past, guys knew if they didn't have a good night, there's a good chance we could still win because somebody else would do it. This year's team, that's not the case. You have to have a good night or we will probably come up short. There is more responsibility one through 20 in our lineup to make sure you have a good night."

Goalie Eric Comrie also did his part, playing all six games of the trip, finishing with a 1.83 goals against average, a .935 save percentage and a net full of highlight reel saves.

"I was playing off adrenaline. The whole team was playing off adrenaline," Comrie said. "We were having so much fun. Every time we hit the ice, we were loving it. That's what keeps you going during the hard times in the game, the third period and overtime -- just the love of the game."

Among his five wins on the road, Comrie had a shutout in a 5-0 victory over Moose Jaw, and stopped 31 of 32 shots in a shootout win over Prince Albert. He had a couple of stops against Brandon that were difference in the game.

"We went out there and we were blocking shots, sacrificing our bodies, we were hitting people and putting the puck on net -- all the little things you need to do to win a hockey game," Comrie said. "The team was out there blocking shots, they were working hard, they were letting me see the puck. They made it really easy for me. I'm happy the team trusts me and the coaching staff trusts me to put me out there."

There is no doubt the team is behind him 100 percent.

"Eric needs credit, for sure," Nickles said. "He made some outstanding saves in Brandon -- highlight reel stick saves. In Saskatoon, he dove across an open net and got (the puck) with his shoulder. He made so many key saves out there. He needs to take credit for that."

But he doesn't. Which, Hiller said, can be a good thing.

"Eric is humble and he's focused," Hiller said. "He understands not to get caught up in the hype of great start or bad game. That's really dangerous. If you just understand the fundamentals of the game and commit to those, then all the numbers on the pad should tally up in your favor. I don't worry about that with Eric."

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