Been going through hockey withdrawl? Your wait is over.
After playing two-thirds of their games on the road to start the season, the Tri-City Americans are home for nine consecutive games, starting Wednesday against the Calgary Hitmen.
The parade of games continues Friday with Kamloops and Saturday against Edmonton.
“They have done a good job of playing well on the road and getting points,” Americans coach Mike Williamson said of his team. “Now, we get to take advantage of playing at home. Once we are done here, we go back out on the road for a stretch before Christmas.”
While the Americans (13-7-1-0) are 7-6-1-0 on the road, they are 6-1-0-0 at home, with the lone loss to Prince George (5-2) on Oct. 15.
The Americans have won four of their past five games and will get a test against Central Division teams Calgary (7-6-2-0) and Edmonton (8-9-2-0), while Kamloops (11-10-1-0) is one of the top teams in the B.C. Division.
“All three games are important,” Williamson said. “We don’t want to look past the first one. Calgary is traditionally strong. They will be hungry to come in and get points. We need to start the homestand right, get two points and look toward the weekend.”
Tri-City’s success has come from a balance between scoring, goaltending and special teams.
Michael Rasmussen leads the WHL with 17 goals, while he and Morgan Geekie each have 26 points. Tri-City also gets good production from defensemen Parker Wotherspoon (4 goals, 14 assists) and Juuso Välimäki (3 goals, 16 assists). Tri-City has nine players who have 12 or more points.
“I think we are at our best when we are a balanced team,” Williamson said. “Getting help from our defensemen helps a lot. Our forwards, every line is balanced and can provide offense for us. It’s competitive from within, and they push each other. If one line struggles, another can pick up the slack.”
Goaltending has been another bright spot. Despite starting the season with a patchwork team in net, the Americans win a blue ribbon for their efforts.
Rookie Beck Warm (3-3-0-0, 3.32 goals against average, .901 save percentage) and Nick Sanders (2-1-0-0, 2.66, .892) worked the first eight games until Tri-City traded for veteran Rylan Parenteau (6-3-1-0, 3.64, .897). Evan Sarthou (2-0-0-0, 2.50, .923) has won both starts since returning from a lower-body injury, while Sanders has been reassigned.
“Our goaltending has been a huge part of our success,” Williamson said. “All of the guys who have gone in have done well. Since Rylan has come in, he has solidified that group. We can rely on any of the three to do a good job for us.”
Tri-City’s power play ranks third in WHL at 30.8 percent, and the penalty kill has improved tremendously as of late: The Americans ranked 14th a month ago; now they’re fourth at 82.8 percent.
“Both have been huge and both have done a good job helping us win games,” said Williamson, whose team has scored 29 of its 78 goals on the man advantage. “We need to do a better job
5-on-5. They have done a good job paying attention on the power play and penalty kill. They have been doing a better job this past month on blocking shots and faceoffs, which leads to success on the penalty kill.”
ONE MORE TO 100: Americans captain Tyler Sandhu needs just one assist for 100 for his career. He has 21 this season, which ranks second in the WHL.
VÄLIMÄKI TO BE HONORED IN FINLAND: Välimäki will be honored at the Independence Day Celebration in Helsinki, Finland, on
As the captain of Finland’s U-18 team that captured the gold medal in Grand Forks, N.D., at the World Under-18 Championship, Välimäki will represent the team at the celebration.
The reception, hosted by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, is to honor Finnish citizens and teams that have achieved recognition worldwide.
“I’m really honored and proud to represent my team at this prestigious event,” Välimäki said in a news release.