KENNEWICK -- Scoring the first goal during the Tri-City Americans' Teddy Bear Toss night is somewhat like being Santa Claus.
"It's a big goal. I think everyone would like to score that one," said Brooks Macek, who scored the Americans' first goal last year in a 5-2 win over Portland. "It's a lot of fun to be part of."
The Americans (16-10-101, 34 points), who have a home-and-home weekend with the Seattle Thunderbirds (13-8-3-4, 33 points), will play at home tonight, with visions of 1,000s of stuffed animals flying to the ice with the scoring of Tri-City's first goal.
The stuffed animals are donated to Mid-Columbia charities.
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Teddy Bear Toss night has been a successful event for the Americans for years. Not only have the fans donated nearly 20,000 cute and furry creatures, but Tri-City is 8-0-0-0 with one tie (2004 with Kelowna) when they mix hockey with this holiday charity.
"That's a big number," Macek said of the of the donations. "That's cool. I hope this year is better than last year."
Tri-City, which has won four of its last five games, hasn't played since dropping a 5-1 game to Portland last Friday. Since then, the rest of the U.S. Division has made their move.
Spokane and Tri-City are tied for second with 34 points and both have played 28 games. Seattle is one point back of the Americans and Chiefs, while Everett is one point behind Seattle.
Portland, which has played 33 games, leads the division with 47 points, but will head into the weekend on the heels of a 9-3 loss to Spokane on Wednesday.
"It's pretty crazy," Macek said of the standings. "Every game is a four-point swing. We just have to take it game-by-game and not worry about where the other teams are at. We'll see at the end of the season what needs to be done."
The Americans are 8-2-0-1 at home this season and are 3-0-0-0 against the Thunderbirds, who are enjoying their best start to the season in five years.
Seattle goalie Calvin Pickard (13-8-2-4), the younger brother of former Americans goalie Chet Pickard, has played a big part in keeping the T-birds in the thick of things.
Pickard has faced more shots (1,025) than anyone in the league, ranks second in minutes played (1,632) and is second in save percentage at .927. He has played in 27 of Seattle's 28 games.
"Winning is the best part," Pickard said. "Last year was a tough year (Seattle had just 50 points). We are playing good hockey and winning some games, but I think we can do better."
Pickard has impressive numbers, but no matter how good he's been, he's never won a game at Toyota Center in his eight starts.
Pickard, who will head to Team Canada's World Junior camp Saturday, has won in every Western Conference building except Toyota Center and Prospera Place in Kelowna.
"I've had some close games there, but we haven't had much luck," Pickard said of Toyota Center. "I have a few more games to play there in my career and I'd like to think I could win a few. Hopefully I can get my first (today)."
NOTES: If you didn't have time to shop for a stuffed animal, the Americans have adorable teddy bears available to purchase for $3. The bears were donated by Fred Meyer and the proceeds will benefit the players' education fund. ... The Americans are one of seven teams holding a Teddy Bear Toss this weekend. The Calgary Hitmen hold the WHL record for the Teddy Bear Toss event, collecting 26,919 stuffed animals in 2007. ... In the QMJHL, the Saint John Sea Dogs had to cancel their annual Teddy Bear Toss event Saturday because of concerns regarding an infestation of bedbugs that has struck southwestern New Brunswick in recent months. Charitable organizations across Canada and abroad have refused to take stuffed toys from southwestern New Brunswick, said Sea Dogs president Wayne Long.