Things are starting to fall into place for the Tri-City Americans.
Defenseman Parker Wotherspoon returned from the New York Islanders camp a couple of days ago, and Max James has finished serving his six-game suspension from last season. Both are expected to be in the lineup Saturday when the Americans play at Spokane.
“It will be great to have Spooner in the lineup,” Americans coach Mike Williamson said. “He is one of our top players and one of the top defensemen in the league. He’s going to play a huge role for us this year. It will be good to have him in there, and getting Jamesy back in the lineup is big for us up front. We wish that Sarts (Evan Sarthou) and Topper (Jordan Topping) were suiting up as well, but injuries unfortunately are part of the game.”
James was suspended three times by the Western Hockey League last season, with the final infraction coming March 11 against the Spokane Chiefs for a check to the head and a game misconduct. He was labeled a repeat offender and given six games.
James said he hopes to stay out of the doghouse this season.
“I have to watch what I do, but I’m still going to protect my teammates, work hard and have fun out there,” James said. “I just have to watch myself. I need to make sure I’m hitting properly, keep my arms down and my stick on the ice. I do that, and I will be fine.”
Though the league will keep an eye on James, Williamson doesn’t want the 6-foot-4, 230-pound forward to alter his game.
“He’s a good hockey player that plays a heavy game,” Williamson said. “He’s going to make sure liberties aren’t taken against his teammates. We expect him to continue to play the same rugged style, finish checks and make it tough on opposition’s D-men. We really want Max to have a breakout year and provide some offense for us.”
Being away at the Islanders camp with Wotherspoon helped James whittle away at his suspension and experience life at the NHL level.
“It was awesome,” James said. “It was a good opportunity. I learned a lot from watching all the other guys there that I got to take home and help the guys here.”
The Americans opened their season last weekend with mixed results, beating Spokane 8-3 on opening night, then suffering a 7-3 setback to Portland the following night.
“We had a great game on Saturday,” Williamson said. “I liked our start Sunday in Portland. I thought we were really sharp out of the gate. The first five minutes, we were good. We made some key mistakes, and they capitalized on their chances. We didn’t capitalize on ours. When you are down and chasing the game, especially on the road, it makes it tough.”
Americans name their captain
Tri-City named overage forward Tyler Sandhu team captain Friday, along with a strong group of alternate captains that includes Wotherspoon, James, Topping, Dalton Yorke, Jeff Rayman, Michael Rasmussen and Juuso Välimäki.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Sandhu said. “It’s a special feeling. We have a great group of guys. We stick together. With this leadership group, anyone could have stepped into this role.”
Sandhu, who came to the Americans via a trade with Red Deer during the 2014-15 season, also played two-plus seasons with the Everett Silvertips.
“I’ve played in some great places,” Sandhu said. “I played in Everett, and my time in Red Deer was awesome. The way Tri-City welcomed me, I’m thankful. They shaped me for who I am today. It’s an honor to follow in the footsteps of all the great leaders here in Tri-City before me. I played with Hamo (Justin Hamonic) and Beau (McCue), and I learned a lot from them.”
While teams can only have three alternates per game, Americans general manager Bob Tory said the responsibilities will be spread out over the season between home and road games, and the rotation of the team’s four jerseys.
“They are all important pieces to the leadership group,” Tory said. “Some will wear it more than others. We wanted to integrate a couple of the younger players (Rasmussen and Välimäki) into the group.”