There were smiles all around Wednesday as the Tri-City Americans wrapped up practice.
From coach Jim Hiller to veteran forwards Adam Hughesman and Brendan Shinnimin, it was hard to tell who was most happy that Shinnimin will return to action Saturday night on the road against the Spokane Chiefs.
Shinnimin is coming off the bench after serving a WHL-imposed 12-game suspension for a checking-from-behind penalty Oct. 6 when he sent Saskatoon's Josh Nicholls into the boards.
"I'm pretty exited to get back in the lineup -- it's been a long three weeks," Shinnimin said. "This week I've been practicing with my line again (Hughes-man and Kruise Reddick) and getting back to business. Spokane will be a fun game and a good test for us."
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Tonight, the Americans (11-5-1-1, 24 points) will play at Everett (6-7-1-3, 16 points). The Silvertips have lost three in a row and have won just two of their last 13 games.
"We watched them (Everett) outshoot and outchance Red Deer," Hiller said of the Silvertips' 2-0 loss to the Rebels on Tuesday. "They are in a rut, but we always have close games with them. It will be another wild one at Comcast Arena for us."
Having Shinnimin back on the ice gives the Americans a full lineup, with the exception of Neal Prokop, who still is trying to get his game on track after breaking his left femur in the playoffs last year.
"We are getting closer to having 16 forwards and have them all practicing at the same time," Hiller said. "We've had a few good days of practice. Even though Shinny can't play (today), we wanted to make him feel part of the team and get him back with Hughey, and putting Kruise with them was a good fit. They played together a bit in the preseason -- they have the makings of a good line."
Shinnimin had three goals and 10 assists in seven games before his suspension. He has practiced with the team every day during his suspension, but when it came time to work on game situations, he had to take a back seat.
"It's been pretty tough," Shinnimin said. "When they are winning, I see how much fun they are having. When they are losing, I'm in the stands, and I can't help them out. It's good to have everyone back together."
Hughesman is happy to have his linemate back.
"He's a great player," said Hughes-man, who leads the Americans with 22 points. "It's been awhile since we played together. He's a hard worker. He gets to the puck first. He gets me going before the game and makes sure we are both ready to go. He will help us a lot, and Kruise adds leadership. The combination of the three of us will be exciting."
Shinnimin's suspension was the longest handed down by the league in the last four years. Though he doesn't want to sit out again, he said he will not change how he plays the game.
"I play with a lot of passion, but I will think twice about going into a corner when a guy has his back to me," Shinnimin said. Every hockey player knows what the risks are. Guys play their best and their hardest, and sometimes these things happen."