Michal Plutnars return to the Tri-City Americans lineup couldnt have come at a better time.
The veteran defenseman has been away from the team since early December to play for the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship in Sweden, and as the second half of the season gets under way, the team needs his presence on the blue line.
Any time you get guys back from injury and Michal from World Junior, and get closer to what we were when we were playing pretty well, I think that breeds a little confidence in everyone, Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. It was good after Christmas to see Wil (Tomchuk) and Mitch (Topping) back because they left early. Its starting to look a little more familiar around here with the faces, and thats good.
The Americans, who have 105 lost games because of injuries, brought in three replacement players while Plutnar was at the WJC, and Ty Comrie, Braden Purtill and Parker Wotherspoon were at the World Under-17 Challenge.
With Plutnar and Wotherspoon back, the Americans have six healthy defenseman for the first time since before Thanksgiving.
I was watching all the games when I was back in Europe, said Plutnar, who returned late Tuesday night. The boys I think they played good. They were tight games. Its hard to play with a lot of injuries. Im looking forward to the second half and we will play good again.
The Americans (19-19-2-2) will get to put that statement to the test this weekend with a two-game series with the Everett Silvertips (23-13-5-1). Tri-City is at Everett tonight, while the Silvertips are at the Toyota Center on Saturday.
The Silvertips, who have lost four in a row, lead the eight-game series 2-1, but the teams have not played each other since Nov. 9, a 4-3 overtime home win by the Americans.
We got a few looks at them early, we know who they are, Hiller said. They have had their troubles with injuries too, and Mirco Mueller (Switzerland) was at World Juniors. They are getting healthy and Mueller is back. The games we played against them, we had difficulty scoring, I dont think that will change. We know what type of game they play. It will be nice to get another crack at them.
The Czech Republic finished 2-3 at the WJC, dropping a 5-3 game in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Finland. Plutnar was an assistant captain for his team and scored two goals.
It was a lot of fun and a great experience, Plutnar said. We beat Team Canada, so that was a great, great feeling after the game. It was the first time in history that Team Czech beat Team Canada at the World Juniors. We lost in the quarterfinals against Finland, but I had a great time.
After the win over Canada, Plutnar was suspended a game for making contact with an official.
At the end of the second period, Plutnar went after Canadian forward Connor McDavid when McDavid shot the puck into the Czech goal after time expired. While trying to get to McDavid, Plutnar appeared to push linesman Eduard Metalnikov to the ice as the linesman attempted to intercede between the two players. Plutnar was assessed a roughing penalty at the time.
I heard a lot of people talking about that, Plutnar said. I was in trouble after the game. I knew something would happen. It was an accident. I didnt mean to, I was looking for the player. The referee fell over his feet. I pushed him a little bit, but it wasnt as bad as it looked on video.
After missing nine games, Plutnar is ready to get back on the ice with his teammates.
I was excited when I came back and saw all the boys again, he said. Im looking forward to the second half of the season.