WHL: Americans on the road in Central Division

January 28, 2014 

The dressing rooms and parts of the lower bowl of the Calgary Saddledome were destroyed in the June 21 flood that devastated parts of Southern Alberta. Nothing could be salvaged from the eighth row of seating down to ice level.

Tuesday, Tri-City Americans coach Jim Hiller and overage defenseman Mitch Topping said you wouldn’t know anything happened there unless you looked at the photos on the wall that showed the damage. The building reopened in September.

“With the flooding, it was amazing to see how fast they got everything together,” Topping said after Tuesday’s practice.

The Americans took in the Calgary Flames-Chicago Blackhawks NHL game Tuesday night, and will play the Calgary Hitmen tonight at the Saddledome as they start the second half of their Central Division swing in Alberta.

“For the young guys who haven’t played in an NHL rink, it will be special,” Topping said.

The Americans (24-21-2-3, 53 points) went 2-0-0-1 during their first trip to the Central Division in November, beating Kootenay and Lethbridge, while losing to Medicine Hat in a shootout.

Tri-City dropped a 2-1 game to Spokane in a shootout on Saturday, ending a four-game win streak and running its road losing streak to seven games. The last time the Americans won on the road was Dec. 6 at Prince George.

Saturday also was the first game back for Topping, who missed 21 games with a broken arm.

“It was awesome — that’s the only word for it,” he said. “I thought we played really well and I was happy with my game. I feel with a full, healthy roster we can play with anybody in the league. These are three big games for us.”

After tonight’s game, the Americans will play at Edmonton on Friday and in Topping’s hometown of Red Deer on Saturday.

“Red Deer is an hour from Edmonton and an hour from Calgary. My parents will be at all three games,” Topping said. “This is my last time — my farewell tour through Alberta. I just blinked and it’s my last year.”

The Hitmen (31-12-3-3), who have lost their last two games, have a familiar face on their roster — Connor Rankin, who was traded to Calgary on Jan. 8 for Josh Thrower.

“It will be nice to see all the guys again and catch up,” said Rankin, who played 3 1/2 years with the Americans. “I have missed them quite a bit.”

Rankin has one goal and two assists in six games with Calgary. He’s been playing on the top two lines and on the power play.

“The management, the atmosphere at the rink and the city are awesome,” Rankin said. “But it’s really different. I’m still getting used to things after being in the Tri-Cities for so long. It’s a lot colder here.”

Playing in the Eastern Conference, this will be the only chance Rankin has to play against his former team this season.

“I’ve talked to few reporters up here about that,” he said. “I’m afraid of walking into the Tri-City bench. I haven’t played against that sweater my whole career. It will be weird, but it’s business.”

Rankin will go up against Tri-City goalie Eric Comrie, who he played with for nearly three years. Through 42 games, Comrie has a goals against average of 2.31, with a .931 save percentage.

“I’m a little scared for that,” Rankin said of facing Comrie. “But I know him well at the same time.”

Tri-City’s game against Edmonton will be broadcast on ROOT at 7 p.m. The Oil Kings (35-13-0-1, 71 points) lead the Central Division and the Eastern Conference.

Red Deer (26-21-0-2, 54 points) has won four games win a row and are tied with the Kootenay Ice for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Rebels have won three of the last four games against the Americans.

Notes: Americans defenseman Riley Hillis was suspended two games by the WHL for a kneeing major and a game misconduct last Friday against Seattle. He will tonight’s game, but will be available for Friday’s game at Edmonton. ... Western Hockey League teams collected more than 94,000 stuffed animals and winter wear (hats and mittens) during their Teddy Bear or Toque and Mitten Toss Nights this season. The Hitmen collected a league-high 25,921 stuffed animals during their Dec. 1 game.

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