KENNEWICK -- The Tri-City Americans got on the bus to go to Portland this morning with a little swagger in their step.
The Americans have won four games in a row, including wins over the top-ranked Winterhawks, the Kootenay Ice and the Medicine Hat Tigers.
"We feel good, and we should," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. "We've worked hard and we've put a stamp on who we are this season. We know how good the teams are in the league and we don't take anyone for granted."
Tri-City (16-9-1-1, 34 points) is second in the U.S. Division behind the Winterhawks (21-6-0-3, 45 points), who have the best record in the WHL and are ranked third in this week's CHL poll.
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"They have lost four, two were in a shootout, which ultimately is a tie," Hiller said of the Winterhawks. "They want to get back to winning and we are a team they'd like to beat. They are a good team and they are always good games."
The Americans were 8-2 against the Winterhawks last year -- with both wins coming in Portland.
"They have given us challenges over the last year," said Portland coach Mike Johnston. "Hopefully the nine games this year will be better. They are a good team and that is my main concern. They are well prepared, well coached and you have to be aware of what they are doing in certain situations. They are good on the power play and that's a danger if you give them that."
Portland, which had a 10-game win streak from Oct. 16 to Nov. 10, is 5-3-0-2 in its last 10 games. Half of which were on the road.
"Usually when you see a team not playing well, you try and nip it in the bud," Johnston said. "We did a little and continued to play well. You always have concerns and you try to sharpen them up. We haven't had a lot of practice time lately -- nothing consistent in the last couple of weeks."
Adam Hughesman leads the Americans with 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists), while Jordan Messier leads the team with 16 goals. Goalie Drew Owsley has allowed just seven goals in the last four games.
Tri-City is having to rotate its four 20-year-old players after Neal Prokop came back from a broken leg last week. WHL teams are allowed to have just three overage players on their roster, but since Prokop was on the injured list, they now have a two-week window to make a decision.
The Americans have until Wednesday to decide which three players to keep -- Prokop, Kruise Reddick, Tyler Schmidt or Zak Stebner. Hiller said he hadn't yet decided who would sit tonight.
"We had a plan of everybody sitting out a game and letting us get a good look at Neal," Hiller said. That was the best way to approach this. They have all been in for big wins. We can't worry about next week. Right now, we are just making sure we are playing with passion and believing in ourselves."
Notes: Four of Portland's players have been invited to participate in their countries' World Junior Championship camps. Ryan Johansen and Brad Ross will attend Team Canada's camp, while Sven Bartschi and Nino Niederreiter will attend the Swiss camp.