The Medicine Hat Tigers should count their lucky stripes that they are playing the Tri-City Americans tonight instead of Saturday.
The Americans will play Portland on Saturday in their fourth annual Nuclear Night game. Tri-City is 3-0 while glowing up and down the ice.
Games at home are always exciting, said Americans captain Justin Feser, who is tied for fourth in league scoring with 63 points. I love the atmosphere in our rink, and Im sure the rest of the team does as well. Nuclear Night is always a big hit here.
The Americans (28-17-1-2, 59 points) are playing back-to-back home games for the first time since hosting Kelowna for a pair Nov. 16-17. Tri-City has won seven of its last 10 games and is coming off a week where they played five games in seven days.
When you play five in seven, you just want to rest, Americans coach Jim Hiller said. This time of year, you have to save your legs for games. Our practices have been short and not real structured. Maybe thats why weve been winning.
The Tigers (23-23-2-1, 49 points) are eighth in the Eastern Conference, holding onto a playoff spot by their tail. The Kootenay Ice, which has won nine of its last 10 games, is just four points back.
For us, we want home ice in the playoffs, and we will do what we can to get to that point, Feser said. Medicine Hat is battling for a playoff spot, and this game is huge for them. Like any team, they want to get a point any way they can.
The arrival of the Tigers brings defenseman Derek Ryckman back to the Toyota Center, where he helped the Americans win a U.S. Division title last season.
Me and Tops (Mitch Topping) hung out with him at Christmas a bit, said Feser of his two Red Deer, Alberta, friends. (Ryckman) is doing well in Medicine Hat, which is good to see. Playing against guys you played with and grew up with, its a friendly rivalry to see who can beat who.
While Ryckman is a solid defenseman, the Tigers have other weapons and always give the Americans a good battle.
They are a desperate team, Hiller said. We have great games with them. We have a very similar philosophy when it comes to our players, they are close games and fast hockey.
Hunter Shinkaruk, 18, who was invited to Team Canadas World Junior Championship camp in December, but not make the final cut, has 27 goals and 30 assists for the Tigers.
We saw Shinkaruk last year and came away impressed, Hiller said of a 4-3 shootout win at Medicine Hat. Hes one of those high level guys who will make you come out of your seat.
Portland (37-7-1-2), which leads the Western Conference with 77 points, has dropped four consecutive games going into tonights tilt at Spokane.
Portland is always a tough team to play, Feser said. With them losing four in a row, they will want to get back into the win column.
Notes: Malte Strömwall and Marcus Messier, who missed Tuesdays game with Seattle because of illness, are healthy and are scheduled to be in the lineup tonight. ... Ryan Chynoweth, who suffered an arm injury against Seattle, will not play. ... Troy Trombley will join the Americans for the rest of the season as the backup goalie to starter Luke Lee-Knight. ...The Americans are bringing in newly signed forward Matthew Gelinas, 17, for the two games this weekend and next Wednesday against Prince George. Gelinas, from Calgary, Alberta, will wear No. 38. ... The Nuclear Night jersey will be auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting the players education fund. ... There still are tickets available for Saturdays game, but they are going fast, according to Mary Coates, the Americans director of ticket sales.