The Tri-City Americans will close out the first half of the 2010-11 season this weekend, playing host to Vancouver today and going to Everett on Saturday.
The Americans (18-10-1-1, 38 points) have won seven of their last nine games and sit 15 points behind U.S. Division leader Portland (25-8-0-3, 53 points) and three points behind second-place Spokane. Tri-City has six games in hand on the Winter-hawks and two on the Chiefs.
The B.C. Division-leading Giants (16-12-1-4, 37 points) have won just four of their last 10, but are coming off a 3-0 victory over Everett on Wednesday.
Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said the recent string of victories has resulted from a combination of a lot of little things, but noted the ones that have really stood out.
"Part of it has been getting Shinny (Brendan Shinnimin) and Kruise (Reddick) back in a regular rotation," said Hiller of Shinnimin serving a
12-game suspension and Reddick missing several games because of a concussion. "Ows (goalie Drew Owsley) had been playing well, and we've won a couple of big games, and that has given us confidence."
The Americans have gone through a few growing pains and trades this season, which didn't help in trying to develop team chemistry and regular line combinations.
In October, the Americans dropped overage Russian goalie Alex Pechurskiy and overage forward Mike Brown. In return, they picked up overage defenseman Zak Stebner.
Last week, with the return of overage forward Neal Prokop from a broken leg, Tri-City general manager Bob Tory traded with Everett for 19-year-old defenseman Paul Sohor and sent Stebner to Kelowna.
Two days later, Tory shipped a couple of young players and a 2011 first-round bantam draft pick to Regina for star forward Carter Ashton, who will play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship and join the Americans after the new year.
The Americans won't know how Ashton will fit in until he arrives, but Sohor has made an impression in just a couple of games.
"When the overage thing unfolded, the bigger picture was to acquire a defenseman," Tory said. "It was a good fit. He knows a number of guys, and we felt it wouldn't affect the chemistry of the team.
"Zak was bigger and more experienced, but Paul has a little sandpaper to his game, which we can use a bit more of. If we wouldn't have been able to get Paul, we would have had to keep Zak."
Good thing Sohor was available.
The native of East St. Paul, Manitoba, had left the Silvertips and asked for a trade. Three days later, Everett GM Doug Soetaert called to tell him he had been dealt to the Americans.
"Everett developed me real well," Sohor said, "but I think a change in scenery was in order. Coming here was a real bonus. It's nice to get a reunion with the guys I've known my whole life and get to know the new faces. We have good chemistry out there.
"I was super relieved and happy to come to a winning organization and a team that wants to win. I like playing with these guys more than I liked playing against them."
Sohor has been paired with Brock Sutherland on the blue line during the two games he has played, and feels comfortable with his new linemate.
"We have good chemistry," Sohor said. "We played against each other in bantam, and we have the same style of play. I'm a guy who will put up a couple of points a year, but I love killing penalties and blocking shots. I'm a shutdown guy, and I use my size (6-foot-1, 190 pounds). Playing with these guys feels like I'm home again."
Which has made Hiller's job a bit easier.
"He has been really solid," Hiller said. "He plays it safe and makes minimal mistakes. He's a veteran defenseman, and it's an easier fit -- most systems are similar, and they get it pretty quick."