Ams head into final weekend of regular season

March 13, 2014 

Tri-City's Brian Williams (26) and Mitch Topping (25) will lead the Americans into their final regular-season games before starting the playoffs next weekend against Kelowna.

ROB WALLATOR | RED DEER REBELS

The Tri-City Americans have a date with the Kelowna Rockets in the first round of the WHL playoffs.

With Kelowna’s win over Kamloops on Wednesday, the Rockets wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and the Scotty Munro Trophy for the best record during the regular season.

The Americans clinched a spot Tuesday with an overtime loss to Portland.

“It was huge,” said Americans captain Mitch Topping. “I don’t know if anyone was watching the game, but there was huge sigh of relief when we went into OT. We didn’t get the result we wanted. It was bittersweet getting on the bus knowing we had a guaranteed playoff berth.”

The series will begin March 22 with back-to-back games in Kelowna. The Saturday-Sunday format is because the English rock band Yes is playing at Prospera Place on March 21.

The series will shift to Toyota Center on March 25-26. The remainder of the schedule will depend on games as needed.

It is the 11th consecutive year the Americans have advanced to the playoffs.

“It’s something we take pride in,” Topping said of the playoff streak. “At the beginning of the year that was our focus. This team makes the playoffs every year. They have had competitive teams. I wear the jersey proudly for that reason. Being captain, I put a little bit more pressure on myself. I couldn’t be happier we are in the playoffs. Kelowna may have a darkhorse coming their way.”

Before the playoff frenzy begins, the Americans have a three-game weekend to play, starting tonight at Spokane. The Chiefs visit Toyota Center on Saturday, and Tri-City hosts the Seattle Thunderbirds on Sunday in the regular-season finale for both teams.

While the Americans are settled into eighth place in the Western Conference, Spokane is fifth, one point head of Everett and two points behind fourth-place Seattle.

Tri-City can throw a monkey wrench in Spokane and Seattle’s plans.

“We wouldn’t mind doing that,” Topping said. “They will be coming hard. They are still playing for spots and we have to be ready for that. The pressure is off us, but we’ll feel better about ourselves if we come out, play hard and get on a bit of a roll going into the playoffs.”

The Chiefs have won seven of the previous 10 meetings this season against the Americans, but Tri-City won the last game 3-0 on March 1 to end an eight-game losing streak.

Saturday night will mark the Americans’ sixth annual Go Green for MDA Night. There will be T-shirt sales, MDA paper shamrocks, silent auctions and more. The money raised will benefit the local MDA chapter. In five years, the event has raised $45,963.

The Americans are 1-4 on MDA night, with all games against Spokane. Tri-City’s only win was March 19, 2011.

Saturday also will be the last night to help out Topping’s Making Awareness a Top Priority to Fes Out Muscular Dystrophy campaign. Last year, the charity raised $14,656.

Topping, former Americans captain Justin Feser and former teammate Connor Rankin (now with the Calgary Hitmen), are donating $10 from their own pockets for each Americans home win, and the team will match their donation.

This season, minus the players and team contributions, the charity has raised $2,828. The goal is $10,000.

“We are a little behind last year, but we encourage fans to stop by the booth on the concourse,” Topping said. “Every dollar counts. In the big picture, I think we will be pretty close to last year.”

Notes: Tonight’s game will be broadcast on ROOT at 7 p.m. ... The Americans will hand out team awards after Sunday’s game with Seattle. ... Before today, the only other playoff matchup settled is Portland vs. Vancouver. ... The Eastern Conference still has three teams vying for seventh and eighth, and Kootenay and Swift Current are battling for fifth and sixth. And, Edmonton and Calgary still are in a fight for first. All have two games remaining.

w Annie Fowler: 582-1574; afowler@tricityherald.com; Twitter: tchicequeen

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