The Tri-City Americans took a team outing to the top of Badger Mountain last weekend. Veteran defenseman Justin Hamonic led the charge and assistant coach Dan Price brought up the rear.
It was just one of the team activities the Americans have had in the past week as the veterans and the younger players got to know one another during training camp.
Those have been great, Price said. It integrates the younger guys with the older guys and creates a one-team dynamic as opposed to the two or three or four teams that sometimes run simultaneously through training camp. This brings everyone together and people get to know each other.
Price said being the last one up the hill was somewhat by design.
They were cruising pretty good, Price said of the players. Every time I looked up he (Hamonic) was leading the charge. A couple of times he stopped to wait for the rest of us to catch up. Im definitely not in their type of physical condition. I wanted to observe and see everyone. See who was talking to whom and hang back and let them feel comfortable on their own as a team without feeling there was a coach circling around.
The pace up the mountain has continued at the rink.
We have been pleased with the pace, pleased with everyones focus and everyone came in really good shape too, Price said. Clearly they worked really hard in the summer to get fit and get their bodies and their minds ready for the season, which is especially good with all the young guys around. They came prepared and the young guys have followed that lead.
The Americans will see how they work as a team at 11:30 a.m. today when they take on the Seattle Thunderbirds in the opening game of the Everett Preseason Classic.
I think every team has the same amount of optimism right now, said Americans coach Jim Hiller. We have some young players coming in who could be on our team this year and next. They have been good. We have a lot of challenges to make this years team. It puts pressure on the guys who were on the team last year. It pushes everyone.
Including this years captain, defenseman Mitch Topping, who is one of five overage players.
I was talking to Dolly (Tyson Dallman) about how this is my sixth training camp, Topping said. When you are younger you look up to the older guys. The older guys have to set an example. The young guys have been pushing us pretty good. Nothing is set in stone yet. Everyone is trying to earn their spot.
The Americans will play three games this weekend, giving everyone plenty of ice time to prove themselves. After today, they will play Portland on Saturday and Victoria on Sunday. Both games are at 11:30 a.m.
Guys are going really hard, but you dont want to hit anyone on your own squad, Topping said. Its real now. You want to get out there and set the tone, even though its preseason.
This weekend also will give Hiller and his staff a chance to evaluate the goaltending. Eric Comrie is back and playing at 100 percent, but the No. 2 job is up in the air.
I think its pretty clear who we have a No. 1, Hiller said. Now, its a matter of who will be behind him.
Troy Trombley, 19, who joined the team in January when Comrie was shelved for the season with a hip injury, is battling Evan Sarthou, 16.
The returning players have to compete extremely hard if they want to stay where they want to be, Hiller said.
That includes the overage players. Topping, Dallman, Zach Yuen, Phil Tot and newcomer Jessey Astles, who was acquired during the offseason.
Topping, Dallman and Yuen skated regular shifts last season, while Tot got in 15 games before sustaining a concussion and missing the rest of the season. Astles, who played for Saskatoon last year, brings size 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and grit to the lineup.
I think Jessey has done a terrific job, Hiller said. He really caught my eye. We know he is big, strong and physical, but hes a pretty good hockey player in there as well.
Notes: The Americans inked a trio of prospects Thursday as Dylan Coghlan, 15, Jordan Topping, 16, and Michael Sauer, 16, signed standard WHL players contracts.
Coghlan, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound defenseman from Nanaimo, British Columbia, played for the Nanaimo Clippers Bantam AAA last season. In 34 games, he had 18 goals, 22 assists and 72 penalty minutes.
Topping, who is not related to Mitch Topping, is a 5-11, 170-pound forward from Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. He played for the North Island Silvertips of the British Columbia Major Midget League last year, scoring eight goals with nine assists and 26 penalty minutes in 40 games.
Sauer, a 5-11, 165-pound forward from Bemidji, Minn., played last season at Bemidji High School, scoring nine goals with 21 assists in 25 games.
Sauer is the fourth player from Minnesota to join the Americans, and the first since forward Jake Riddle (2002-04).