KENNEWICK -- Work ethic. Team work. Accountability on and off the ice.
Mason Wilgosh and Adam Hughesman learned from Day One as a Tri-City American that those qualities will help you be a better person, a better hockey player and help your team succeed.
"Give (Don Nachbaur) credit for that," Wilgosh said of his former coach. "It all starts with work ethic. The team has to have it, and Donnie instilled that in us. I learned that at 16. It sticks with you. You don't forget it -- you don't want to forget it."
Wilgosh and Hughesman, both forwards, are the last two players on the Tri-City roster that helped the franchise win its first banners in 2008 -- the U.S. Division title and the Scotty Munroe for the best record in the Western Hockey League.
"We won a couple of banners in bantams, but nothing can compare to winning one here -- the ante is up," said Wilgosh, who has played hockey with Hughesman growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, since they were 5 years old. "To bring one to a city that has never won anything, it was awesome. The fans had always been there for us, and it was time to give something back."
Wilgosh, who played just 44 games as a rookie, wasn't on the ice when the Americans beat Spokane to edge them by one point for the U.S. Division title, but he said the excitement still coursed through his veins.
"I was upstairs doing the video," Wilgosh said. "I couldn't watch the game. Even though I didn't play much toward the end of the season, you still get the same feeling as the guys on the ice."
Hughesman, who played 61 games his rookie season, said he still remembers that day -- a 2-1 victory.
"It's one of those things that happens once in a lifetime," Hughesman said. "I was glad to be a part of it. I remember the fans and the city and how much it meant to them. It was a special feeling."
Wilgosh and Hughesman will open their final WHL season tonight as the Americans host rival Spokane. Both have spent their entire careers with the Americans, and their efforts have not gone unnoticed through the years.
"They are great kids," said Tri-City general manager Bob Tory, who drafted Hughesman in 2006 and brought Wilgosh in as a list player the same year. "Mason has tremendous character and leadership, and he earned his spot on the team at 16. He has created a job for himself as a key penalty killer, and he's one of the hardest-working players in the league. It's hard not to be inspired by him.
"Adam has always been gifted," Tory continued. "He is a complete player and one of the elite 20s in the WHL. It's not just what he does on the ice, but what he does in the community. He's a genuinely kind and considerate human being. He never disappoints and always surprises."
Since their rookie season, Wilgosh and Hughesman helped the Americans win two more U.S. Division titles -- 2009 and 2010 -- as well as their first Western Conference title in 2010, when they went to the WHL Finals.
"Every time you win one, it's just as exciting," Wilgosh said. "It's something you work for. The WHL Finals was a great experience. It's hard to describe when we lost (in five games to the Calgary Hitmen) and how badly that sucked. We didn't win anything last year, but we still had a good season. Hopefully we can carry that into this year."
As their final season begins, Wilgosh and Hughesman are the veterans, being looked upon to pass on their knowledge.
"It doesn't come easy," Wilgosh said. "You have to work for everything you get. You get what you earn. I bring my work ethic and energy every shift to try and shut down the other guy. I will score the odd goal. It's all part of my job."
One Hughesman can appreciate.
"Fans see it every night -- big hits, his leadership and a guy opposing teams hate to play against," Hughesman said. "He's very versatile. First line, third line, he can play on any of them. That's why he's so valuable."
While Wilgosh brings the grit, Hughesman brings the glamour. He was on pace to score 50 goals and 100 points last season before a knee injury derailed the latter part of his season. He still finished with 39 goals and 81 points.
"He brings a knack around the net," Wilgosh said. "He keeps his head up and makes plays. Just the way he can control the game with a puck and a stick -- and an occasional big hit -- you have to appreciate that."
It may have been Nachbaur who instilled the values that both players still embrace, but Hughesman said Americans coach Jim Hiller has helped him improve his game.
"I've been fortunate with the coaches I've had," Hughesman said. "Don is one of the best in the game, and I learned a lot from him. Jim has helped me in the tough times. We communicate well with each other, and that has really helped my game. I wouldn't have had the year I had last year without him."
Though both players have meant a lot to the team over the years, they are in a pool of five overage players -- including Brendan Shinnimin, Matt MacKenzie and Brock Sutherland -- and their jobs still are not safe. The overage deadline is Oct. 13.
"We talked about it this summer," Hughesman said, adding in fellow Winnipegger Shinnimin. "We know we may not all be here until the end, and we are OK with that. We will respect Bob's decision.
"It has been a great ride, and I've enjoyed my time here," Hughesman continued. "We have always been successful. I don't think my junior career could have been in a better place."
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; email@example.com