The Tri-City Americans are nine games into a 72-game season, and so far, things are looking good.
Players are back from NHL camps, and the team has addressed the need for a veteran goaltender while Evan Sarthou is on the mend from a summer injury.
Over the next two weeks, the Americans (5-4-0-0, 10 points) will be put to the test with a six-game road trip that includes a stop in Portland (8-3-0-0, 16 points) on Tuesday, and a three-in-three weekend in the B.C. Division starting at Kelowna on Friday and continuing with stops in Kamloops and Vancouver.
Tri-City then will make another stop in Portland on Oct. 25 before finishing the trek at Everett with a rare Thursday game Oct. 27.
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“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Americans coach Mike Williamson said. “We are going into some tough buildings. We have to give ourselves an opportunity to get some points on this trip. We really need a lot of guys to step up.”
Second-year forward Michael Rasmussen (10 goals, 3 assists) leads the Western Hockey League with 10 goals and six power-play goals, while defenseman Parker Wotherspoon is second in team scoring with two goals and 10 assists. Vladislav Lukin has chipped in five goals, and Max James four.
The Americans also lead the WHL in power-play efficiency at 38.2 percent. Penalty killing is another story, where Tri-City is in the middle of the pack.
“I really like our hockey team,” Williamson said. “We play with a lot of energy, at a high pace. We’ve made some mistakes, but for the most part, we’ve been working hard. I didn’t like us (Saturday, a 5-2 loss to Prince George). We can use that as motivation to rebound. We go into a tough building, a place we didn’t fare very well last time in Portland. We just have to get back at it and make sure we are ready to play.”
The Americans added veteran goalie Rylan Parenteau to the lineup last Thursday in a trade with Prince George. He’ll have plenty of chances to grow accustomed to his new teammates over the next couple of weeks.
“They will spend some time together on the bus and in the hotel getting to know each other,” Williamson said. “You have to be close as a team and ready to work together to have success on the road. It’s a good time to build that and see where we are.”
MILESTONES: Williamson is two wins shy of 500 for his career, which includes stops with Portland and Calgary before he arrived in Tri-City. He would be the seventh member of the WHL’s 500 club, along with Ken Hodge, Lorene Molleken, Don Hay, Ernie McLean, Pat Ginnell and Don Nachbaur. Hay and Nachbaur also have coached the Americans.