Americans hit the road for 2 games

Tri-City HeraldSeptember 26, 2013 

The Tri-City Americans’ 6-2 win Tuesday over the Portland Winterhawks may not seem that important in the course of a 72-game season, but when your team suffered back-to-back losses on opening weekend, winning a game can be the best medicine.

“That was an important win for us and we played really well,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. “That’s the biggest part. And we scored first. We had a lead, we hadn’t done that yet. We had good energy from the start, but after getting that first one (goal), you could feel the confidence surge on the bench and we went out and played a solid game.”

The Americans (1-2-0-0, 2 points) hope to take that new-found confidence on the road with them this weekend. They play at Seattle (2-0-0-0, 4 points) tonight and at rival Spokane (3-0-0-0, 6 points) on Saturday — the Chiefs’ home opener.

“Two road games for us — Seattle first and then Spokane — with the same mentality as Portland,” said Americans team captain Mitch Topping, who had two assists in the Portland game. “We have good confidence right now, we just have to keep it rolling best we can. The win over Portland was huge for us. We had 20 guys out there at their absolute best for 60 minutes. In my four, five years in the league, I’ve never seen that. It was pretty special to play on the back end and watch it unfold in front of me.”

Tri-City goalie Eric Comrie, who has a front row seat for 60 minutes, was impressed with the team’s defense and the penalty kill.

“Our team played excellent,” Comrie said. “Our defense was unbelievable and our forwards were clicking in that game. Our whole team was working so hard to get that win. We want to build on this and move forward.”

The Americans’ penalty kill was near the bottom of the league’s 22 teams after their first two games, but after negating all seven Portland power plays — including a key 5-on-3 — they are 10th in the standings.

“On the 5-on-3 penalty kill, they didn’t give up one shot in the whole two minutes,” Comrie said. “Hamo (Justin Hamonic), (Marcus) Messier and Tops (Topping) were out there almost the whole time. They were outstanding. Marcus has been outstanding all year blocking shots and winning faceoffs. He’s an unbelievable presence out there.”

For Topping, the penalty kill is a new responsibility this season, but he’s picking it up rather quickly.

“I’m following Hamo and Marcus’ lead, they have been helping me positionally, which is great,” Topping said. “That was the was the longest minute 45 of my life. It was pretty tiring, but it was awesome and kept us going.”

As the defense picked up its game, so did the offense.

After scoring just three goals over the first two games, the Americans exploded for six against Portland — including a hat trick by Brian Williams. Hiller experimented with a few line changes and the result was successful.

“We’d only scored a few goals, so we had to try some different things,” Hiller said. “I think Connor’s (Rankin) line had a really good game. We are still trying to find some combinations, but Connor and B-Dub (Williams) seem to be carrying over from last year and will spend a lot of time together.”

As they Americans try to create lines and defensive pairings, they trimmed their roster Wednesday, sending forward Ryan Chynoweth, 18, to the Kootenay Ice. The Americans are one of the younger teams in the league and will have to rely on their younger players to step up and mature more quickly.

“We have high expectations for all of our young players,” said Hiller, who has 10 rookies on his roster. “Even though we are only three games into their careers in some respects, unfortunately it takes time, but when you see those guys rise quickly, that’s an important part of it. They have to push underneath and support our veterans. The quicker they can establish themselves as bonafide Western Hockey Leaguers, the better for everyone.”

One player who has stepped to the forefront is defenseman Brandon Carlo, who was paired with Topping against Portland.

“That is a huge part of why we were so good the other night — our young guys stepped up and played like veterans, especially Carlo,” Topping said. “I was there (rookie) once, too. I know how he’s feeling. Playing D partner with him, he played like he’d been in the league for three years.”

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