The Tri-City Americans will open play at the Red Lion Hotels Preseason Tournament today a little shorthanded as six players departed for NHL camps Thursday.
But, the Americans' plight is no different than any other team this week as 144 WHL players were invited to various camps.
"I think this is the most we have ever had invited to camps," said Tri-City general manager Bob Tory. "We are proud of what our players have accomplished, but you can't succeed without your teammates."
Tri-City will play Lethbridge at 7:05 p.m. tonight, the Spokane Chiefs at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday, and will take on the Kootenay Ice at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
"Our focus in the preseason isn't on wins and losses, but performance," Tory said. "I think people can get too focused on that when you are trying to find answers to the puzzle and develop players. We are happy with the team we have and we know we have things to work on."
Everett and Seattle opened the tournament Thursday afternoon, with the Thunderbirds overcoming a two-goal deficit for a 6-3 victory. Lethbridge and Spokane finished off the first day of competition, with the Chiefs winning 7-2.
The NHL camps will affect all the tournament teams this weekend. Lethbridge will being missing three players, Spokane seven and Kootenay eight.
Portland, which will play Everett today and Kootenay on Saturday, has a league high 13 players attending camps.
"We are all in the same boat," Tory said. "All of the teams will be playing their younger players and just like us, will have decisions to make. The only way to make those decisions is to see them play."
The Americans will be without the services of forwards Justin Feser (Columbus), Patrick Holland (Calgary), Brooks Macek (Detroit), Jordan Messier (Columbus) and Brendan Shinnimin (New York Rangers), and defenseman Spencer Humphries (San Jose) this weekend. Goaltender Alex Pechurskiy is scheduled to leave Sept. 15 for the Pittsburgh Penguins camp.
The Americans also will play without veteran forward Mason Wilgosh, 19, for up to six weeks with a broken jaw. He was hit in the face with a puck last week during practice.
"We have 10 forwards ad 10 defensemen," Tory said. "Some of the defensemen are going to have to help out at forward. This is a chance for younger players to get ice time and make a final push for a spot on the team. We expect to play everyone two games."
While the Americans will be short on forwards, the defense will be intact with Tyler Schmidt and Zach Yuen anchoring the blue line. Belarusian defenseman Nikita Kardashev, who was a first-round pick in the June CHL import draft, took part in his second practice Thursday and Tory said he will see plenty of ice time this weekend.
"It's too early to tell what kind of player he is," Tory said. "We need to get him used to the smaller rink and to North America. It takes time to figure it out."
Goaltender Drew Owsley, who was named Western Conference MVP last year, will be tending net with Pechurskiy and rookie Chris Driedger. Pechurskiy was due to arrive Thursday night from Russia.
"I expect them all to play one game this weekend," Tory said.