Luke Lee-Knight always has a mega-watt smile on his face, but after Jesse Mychan notched his first Western Hockey League hat trick Wednesday night, the Tri-City Americans goalies pearly whites had some competition.
I think my smile was bigger, said Mychan, who also had an assist for his first four-point night. Im on a strong line with (Justin) Feser and (Malte) Strömwall, and that helps my confidence.
The Americans (26-16-1-2, 55 points), who trail the fourth-place Spokane Chiefs by two points in the Western Conference standings, host Kamloops (29-13-2-3, 63 points) tonight and visit Spokane on Saturday. They will need all hands on deck this weekend.
Mych has had a string of five of his most consistent and best games of the year, Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. We are seeing different players rise to the occasion on different nights. Thats important.
Mychan, who moved to Fesers line when Beau McCue was injured Sunday against Seattle, had a goal Tuesday against Everett before his outpouring of points Wednesday night.
Before Tuesday, Mychan hadnt scored a goal since Nov. 24 against Spokane. He now has five goals and nine assists in 33 games. Not bad for a guy whose Achilles tendon was severed in the playoffs last year. He didnt know if he would play again.
That was a lot of perseverance for him, Hiller said. It took months for him to get those skating legs back and get that foot working like it did last year, back to the type of player he was before he went out last year.
As for playing with Feser and Strömwall, Hiller said that is opportunity knocking.
It is important to be who he is a big, physical and intimidating player, Hiller said. Hitting instead of fighting, that creates opportunities for him and his linemates. Those (hits) impact the game.
Tri-City has won its last three games, outscoring its opponents 20-9. During this streak, the Americans young players have emerged.
Parker Bowles scored three goals with one assist, while Justin Gutierrez had two goals and Brian Williams two goals and an assist.
As we know, there were games where we couldnt buy a goal, Hiller said. We have to play to our strength, which is a good defensive game. If we continue to play good defense, we will find ways to win. Our penalty kill has been good. I have to give Zach (Yuen) a lot of credit. He is the lone man back there, exiting the puck himself or finding guys to get it out to.
Toss in the play of veteran defensemen Drydn Dow (one goal, five assists) and Mitch Topping (two goals, three assists), and Lee-Knight, who has won his last three starts in place of injured starter Eric Comrie, and the Americans have plenty of swagger entering the weekend.
It helps our confidence, Mychan said of everyone pitching in. We have two big games this weekend, and we arent taking it lightly.
Lee-Knight, who was sent down after training camp, returned to the team in November after Brenden Fiebelkorn left the team.
Im just having a lot of fun out there, said Lee-Knight, who is 5-2-0-0 this season. Im just taking it in every day, especially the winning. That has been a lot of fun. It has been a great experience for me. Im glad I came back.
So is Hiller.
I think two things have happened here, Hiller said. He realized that he can play a starting goalie role in this league. Playing four in a row and winning three, I think the team has realized the same thing. If he has to carry the load, he is capable.
Mychan and the rest of the Americans want to make sure Lee-Knight feels comfortable on the ice.
You have to pay attention a little bit more in the defensive zone and help him out, Mychan said. But if you saw some of the saves he made the last couple of nights hes pulled off some crazy stuff hes doing OK.
Lee-Knight, who played for Prince Albert and Spokane last year, looks forward to Saturdays game against the Chiefs.
Its really exciting, especially playing for Tri-City and having the rivalry we have, said Lee-Knight, who was 2-0-1-1 for the Chiefs last year in nine appearances. I really cant wait.
w Annie Fowler: 582-1574; email@example.com