KENNEWICK, Wash. — After a successful six-game trek through the East Division, the Tri-City Americans are back to work this weekend with three games in three nights against U.S. Division opponents.
The work starts tonight at Seattle, where the Americans and Thunderbirds face off for the first time this season. Saturday, the Americans host rival Spokane and on Sunday, Tri-City gets back on the bus for a game at Portland.
"This will be another great test to see where we're at in our division," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team was 5-0-1-0 against the East Division. "We feel like we've made some pretty good strides in the last while. Now, tough division tests will be a good measuring stick. We know we have improved as a team, but we play a couple of the top teams in the division, we will see how we stack up against them."
The Americans go into tonight's game atop the U.S. Division with a 9-3-1-1 record (20 points). They have points in 10 consecutive games, which is the team's second-best record all-time. Last season, they had a streak of points in 13 games (Dec. 2-Jan. 3).
Tri-City has a two-point lead over Spokane (9-4-0-0), which split its game at Prince George on Tuesday and Wednesday. Portland (8-3-1-0, 17 points) is close behind, while the Thunderbirds (5-5-0-0, 10 points), who have lost two in a row, are last in the division.
"This is a huge weekend," said Americans forward Connor Rankin, who has five goals in his last six games. "Three division teams. Obviously we have a lot of momentum going into it after a good road trip. We are looking forward to it, hopefully we continue doing what we're doing."
Even if that means getting back on the bus for two games.
"We have been doing very well on the road right now -- and it's a really nice bus, too, so that helps -- but it's tough being on the road. To be able to get as many wins as we have on the road is special."
Tri-City is 7-1-1-0 on the road this season. The Americans go into Seattle having won nine in a row against the Thunderbirds, including a four-game win streak in Kent dating to last season.
"We've had greater success on the road thus far, but we know we've got such a home-ice advantage that at some point that will bare itself out there."
The Americans are 0-2-0-0 against the Chiefs this year, with a loss in their home opener and the following week at Spokane Arena.
Tri-City also is 0-1-0-0 against Portland. The Ams have shown marked improvement since, but Hiller said by no means do they have all the kinks worked out.
"There' a number of things we have to improve on, but this week for us is more about recovery week more than anything," Hiller said. "We have a great test this weekend and we have make sure we are ready and have energy for Friday night. We aren't going to overload anyone this week. We have a great month in November to hit some more of the details."
Saturday is the first home game for the Americans since Oct. 6, but fans will get their fill of hockey in November with eight home games.
"It's nice to be home in your own bed and play in your own rink," said Tri-City forward Lucas Nickles, who had three goals and three assists against the East Division. "This weekend is a big 3-in-3. It would be great to beat Seattle, Spokane and Portland and stay on top of the division. We know it will be hard. We just have to play as hard as we can and hope it comes out good. It has lately."
Lending a helping hand: Americans captain Justin Feser and alternate captain Mitch Topping have announced their 'Making Awareness a Top Priority to Fes out Muscular Dystrophy' campaign. The two Red Deer, Alberta, natives each will donate $10 out of their own pockets for every home win to MDA. The Americans will match the players' donations. The players are hoping to get the fans involved, as well. Volunteers will be at the exits after every home win accepting donations.