AMERICANS: Tri-City clinches playoff spot, hosts Vancouver

Tri-City HeraldFebruary 18, 2013 

The Tri-City Americans earned a playoff spot Monday and they didn’t even have to lace up their skates.

With Prince George’s 6-0 loss Monday to the Edmonton Oil Kings, the Americans, Spokane Chiefs and Victoria Royals all moved into the postseason.

The Portland Winterhawks already have won the U.S. Division title, picking up the honor after Tri-City beat Spokane on Saturday.

Now that the Americans have a guaranteed spot in the playoffs, their mission now is to get healthy.

Tri-City (33-22-1-2, 69 points) is at home with Vancouver (15-43-2-0, 32 points) tonight, and with Beau McCue, Ryan Chynoweth and now Justin Gutierrez on the sidelines, the Americans brought in a reinforcement this week — forward Fraser Bulbuc from Sherwood Park, Alberta.

“For the most part, we have been able to give our list players experience,” Tri-City general manager Bob Tory said. “Not only to play, but experience the environment. The guys have persevered through the injuries and marched forward. They are committed to doing their best and they care. I’m proud of what they have done.”

For coach Jim Hiller, any help Tory can throw his way to help plug the leak in the injury dam is appreciated. The Americans have lost Brodie Clowes, Phil Tot and Eric Comrie with season-ending injuries, while suspensions and other injuries have shortened the bench, as well.

“Each year the team brings in players to give them a taste of the Western Hockey League, but this year they have had to play,” Hiller said.

Bulbuc, who plays for the Sherwood Park Crusaders is one of a long list of players who have come in to lend a hand. Bulbuc, 17, will stay for all three home games this week.

“I’m a little nervous, but more excited,” Bulbuc said. “As soon as I knew this (WHL) was what I wanted to do, I just wanted to check with my coach to make sure it was OK. The guys have been very welcoming.”

One of the many players who has come to the rescue is 6-foot-6 goalie Troy Trombley of Sherwood Park. He came in for a couple of games after Comrie was shelved for the season, then left. He returned the following week and has been with the team since.

“It was just supposed to be for the week while Eric was at the Top Prospects Game,” Trombley said. “When Eric said he was done for the year, they asked if I wanted to come back. There was no question I wanted to come back.”

Why not. With the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, Trombley was a backup goalie. He knew coming to the Americans he would be in the same position behind Luke Lee-Knight, but it was a job he was willing to take.

“Luke didn’t expect to be here — or me,” Trombley said. “There is no tension between us. We are very supportive of each other. It’s too bad that Comrie got hurt, but it’s an opportunity for me and Luke.”

Lee-Knight, who joined the team in November when Brenden Fiebelkorn left, picked up the lion’s share of the work when Comrie got hurt, but last weekend, Trombley got his first start in net, and he didn’t disappoint.

He had 41 saves in a 6-2 win over Portland on Friday, then shut out rival Spokane 6-0 on Saturday, stopping all 34 shots by the Chiefs.

“I was nervous, Trombley said of the Portland start. “It doesn’t really set in until I’m in the tunnel. I knew when they took the first shot on me and it went in my glove, it was something I had done a million times before. I was fine after that.”

And against Spokane?

“The team was playing awesome the night before and we carried it forward,” Trombley said. “Since I have been here, it has been rough with injuries and suspensions. The best thing, is we have come together. The crowd is a big factor. They give us a lot of support and really helped us out the other night.”

Hiller said he has no qualms about starting either goalie.

“The players have confidence in both guys,” Hiller said. “(Trombley) was great Friday night, but we played really well in front of him. The common theme through the whole thing is they both have played really well.”

Trombley was a third-round bantam draft pick of the Kamloops Blazers in 2009, but never stuck in their program.

“I think they had their eyes set on Taran Kozun, and the older I got, the less I stayed,” Trombley said. “I went from Kamloops to Prince Albert. One day Edmonton needed an emergency backup. P.A. dropped me and the Oil Kings picked me up.”

Trombley didn’t last long with the Oil Kings, either. He was with Everett during the preseason this year, which is where Tory saw him play.

“This is a great opportunity for Troy,” Tory said. “He has bounced around the league a little bit. He’s come in here and worked hard. God bless Luke, he has given us everything he has. In the end, it is a competitive situation that is best for the team. We needed those wins last weekend. We needed that boost of confidence.”

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