Drew Owsley looked right at home in the crease during practice Thursday.
The Tri-City Americans starting goalie, who missed nine games with a knee injury, used his cat-quick reflexes to pluck pucks out of the air with his glove and showed good lateral movement from post to post as he denied his teammates access to the net.
"I was so excited for this practice," Owsley said. "I felt really good today -- there was no pain. I've been skating for a week, it's just a matter of getting in a couple of practices in and getting my confidence back. I feel ready to go."
Owsley didn't know if he would be in goal tonight against Everett, or if that duty would fall to rookie Chris Driedger once again.
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"Ultimately, it's up to the coaches if they feel I'm ready to go," Owsley said. "It's always hard to sit in the stands; you feel useless. It's hard when the guys are asking when you are coming back."
Hiller was mum on the subject, just as he was in regards to Jordan Messier, who has missed time with a shoulder injury, and Max Moline (knee), who went down against Vancouver last Sunday. Both practiced Thursday.
"There's a chance, I'm just not going to speculate," Hiller said of the three playing tonight. "We don't want to put a timeline on anybody. Our biggest focus is our team -- the guys who are in playing well and the guys who are out getting healthy."
The Americans (37-21-2-2,
78 points), who clinched a playoff spot Wednesday with Kamloops' loss to Kelowna, have lost three in a row and seven of their last 10 with Owsley and five forwards on the injured list.
"We would have liked to have won another U.S. Division title, but we faced adversity with injuries," Tri-City general manager Bob Tory said. "We are on pace for another 40-win season. We don't have to justify our program."
Also on the injured list are leading scorer Adam Hughesman (knee), Mason Wilgosh (knee) and Neal Prokop (leg). Tri-City skated with just three lines in a 6-5 loss Tuesday against Western Conference-leading Portland.
Affiliate player Dylan Fluter skated a regular shift with the third line. In six games, he has chipped in two assists.
"I came in expecting to play a couple of shifts a period," Fluter said. "I got a couple of shift on the power play the other night. Skating every third shift was tiring. I've learned a lot since I've been here. You don't have as much time with the puck, and the whole pace of the game is quicker."
Lucas Nickles also stepped in and played three games before returning home to Salmon Arm, British Columbia, to register for school. He's set to rejoin the team Sunday in Vancouver.
"Dylan is getting better every game," Tory said. "It's a big jump from midget to junior hockey. The game is much faster and more physical. Each game he's getting more confident and more assertive in the offensive zone."
Everett (27-27-5-4, 63 points), sixth in the Western Conference, has a one-point lead over Prince George and Kamloops, who sit seventh and eighth, with Chilliwack just three points back.
Note: Everett center Landon Ferraro, who has been out of action since Jan. 16 when it was discovered he had a hernia, is slated to make his return tonight against the Americans. ... Today's game between Portland and Seattle can be seen live at 7 p.m. on FSN. ... Regina coach Curtis Hunt was fined $500 for his remarks about the officiating in Tuesday's game against Moose Jaw.