There were smiles all around Toyota Center on Wednesday.
The Tri-City Americans have plenty to smile about as they head out for games Friday and Saturday at Victoria.
The Americans are 12-6-1-0 (25 points) through their first 19 games. In comparison, Tri-City had only 14 wins (out of 34 games) heading into the holiday break last season.
“It’s fun when you are winning,” said team captain Tyler Sandhu, who ranks fifth in the Western Hockey League with 17 assists. “I think the key thing is we are coming together as a group. A lot of our wins have been character wins. Even though things are going well right now, we still have work to do.”
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The Americans are 6-1-0-0 on home ice and 6-5-1-0 on the road. But they won at Spokane and Portland last weekend to pick up valuable points against U.S. Division foes.
“Our guys have had an extra step lately,” Americans coach Mike Williamson said. “We have used home ice to our advantage, and we’ve played well on the road. We have kept ourselves in games. This will be a test. Victoria (10-7-2-0) is playing really good as of late. We had a tight game with them here last week. I think it will be a good test for us, and hopefully our guys respond.”
The 5-4 overtime win over the Royals on Oct. 28 was the beginning of a four-game winning streak by the Americans. They also beat Portland in a home-and-home series and defeated Spokane on the road.
“The guys have been working extremely hard, and have been starting to create an identity of a team that finds a way to stay in games, get points and win,” Williamson said. “There have been nights where we haven’t been our best. We have let leads slip away, we have had to chase, but at the end of the night, the guys have found a way to give ourselves a chance to win. They have shown a ton of character, staying in games, winning games on the road, winning big games against divisional teams.
“I think they feel good right now. We just have to continue to work hard and continue to give ourselves those opportunities.”
While Sandhu is one of the top assist men in the WHL, second-year man Michael Rasmussen leads the league with 16 goals. He’s also No. 1 in the WHL with nine power-play goals.
Morgan Geekie leads the Americans with 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists), one point ahead of Rasmussen. Sandhu, Kyle Olson and Juuso Välimäki all have 18 points, and Parker AuCoin has 17.
“Going into the season, we looked at things on paper, and scoring by committee was something we had to do,” Williamson said. “That’s exactly what the guys have done. We’ve got balance. A lot of guys, young and old, have stepped up, and it’s nice it’s spread out. It makes us tougher to defend against, and we are creating more offense.
“A lot of it is confidence and belief. I think we need to continue to get better without the puck, defensively, and do a better job holding the lead when we have it. On the other side, our guys are confident we are never out of a game.”