AMERICANS: Tri-City tries to right ship against Calgary

Tri-City HeraldFebruary 11, 2013 

Tonight’s Tri-City-Calgary game brings a trio of former Americans players back to Toyota Center, but there is no time for a reunion.

The Americans (31-21-1-2, 65 points), who slipped to sixth place in the Western Conference last weekend with a pair of crucial losses to Victoria and Spokane, need to focus on righting the ship and picking up a couple of points.

“It’s not like we played poorly. We played pretty well, but not well enough to win,” said Americans coach Jim Hiller, whose team plays at Portland on Friday and hosts Spokane on Saturday. “The penalties we took on the weekend probably cost us both games. You don’t have to look further than 12 power plays and five goals. That, and we aren’t scoring that much.

“It will be a great challenge this week. There are a lot of points available. We are behind and we need to get back on top of that. We know we have beaten all the best teams we have faced so far. We have to finish strong.”

The Americans, who have been bitten by the injury bug all season, brought up 15-year-old forward Braden Purtill to help fill the void left by Beau McCue (ankle) and Ryan Chynoweth (shoulder). Tonight will be the last game he plays before returning to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“We heard from our scouts that he has had a tremendous year,” Hiller said. “To come in at 15 and play as much as he has is good for a young player. He is in great shape.”

Former Americans Brooks Macek, Spencer Humphries and Chris Driedger will be in the lineup tonight for the Hitmen in their lone meeting this season against Tri-City.

“They are really looking forward to it,” Calgary coach Mike Williamson said. “We are fortunate to have those three guys. They are elite players.”

Macek, 20, who played 2 1/2 season for the Americans before being traded to the Hitmen in January 2011, is second in team scoring with 26 goals and a team-high 36 assists.

This will be the first time Macek has played against the Americans since he was traded.

During the 2010-11 season, Calgary played at Toyota Center before Macek was traded, and last year Macek was injured and did not play when the Americans visited the Saddledome.

“He’s an elite player,” Williamson said. “He’s consistency has been better than in the past. He has really helped us. If he’s not on his game, we are not the same team.”

Humphries, 20, has four goals and 25 assists and is second among defensemen in scoring for the Hitmen. He was a packaged deal with Macek in exchange for veteran defenseman Matt MacKenzie.

“Spencer has been good for us,” Williamson said. “He plays a lot of minutes.”

Driedger, 18, was shipped off two seasons ago to make room for Eric Comrie. Driedger is the top netminder for Calgary at 27-12-1-2 with a 2.43 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. His GAA and save percentage rank in the top seven among the league leaders.

“They have all had great careers,” said Hiller, who coached all three. “They are a big part of (Calgary’s) success.”

The Hitmen (36-16-1-3, 76 points), third in the Eastern Conference, beat the Americans 4-1 in Calgary last year and hold a 12-9-0-0 (and one tie) record all-time against Tri-City.

Calgary has won three in a row, beating Portland, Everett and Seattle. The Hitmen will finish their U.S. Division swing Wednesday at Spokane.

“We kind of came out on this trip on our heels,” said Williamson, whose team was 3-6-0-0 before heading west. “We played well against Portland and Everett, but not so well against Seattle. We were able to tie it up and get the win in overtime.

“We’ve had a pretty good year up to this point. We’ve found ways to win hockey games, but we still have areas to work on.”

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