The Tri-City Americans are making their first trek to British Columbia today to take on the Kelowna Rockets.
The two meet just four times per year, but the Americans (3-1-0-0) appear to have had the upper hand on their B.C. Division opponent over the last five years, going 12-4, including a 7-1 record at the Toyota Center.
With the season just getting under way, Tri-City coach Jim Hiller is more concerned with how his team is playing than what the Rockets might have in store for the Americans tonight at Prospera Place.
"It's early, and we are still feeling our way a bit," said Hiller, whose team will host the Rockets on Friday. "We've played four tough games. We have a lot of new faces and young guys who are gaining valuable experience. It's been a long time since there was this much turnover with the team."
The Americans have an arsenal of weapons up front with Adam Hughesman (2 goals, 6 assists), Connor Rankin (4 goals, 2 assists), Justin Feser (2 goals, 4 assists) and last year's leading scorer, Brendan Shinni-min, who returned last week from the AHL, where he spent time with the Portland Pirates.
"It doesn't matter your age; everyone has to contribute," Hiller said. "It doesn't have to be a goal, just contributions. At least we don't have any passengers."
The scoring is plentiful, the goaltending is coming along, and 5-on-5, the defense is solid. Where the Americans fall short is on the penalty kill, which sits at 68 percent before tonight's game.
"It has been an emphasis from Day One," Hiller said. "I guess we haven't gotten the result we wanted yet. We will keeping working on it. It will get better. It will be a strength of ours before the season is over."
Hiller said no one area of the game is to blame for the poor penalty kill.
"We never look at one player or set of players," Hiller said. "A lot of things happen when a puck goes in the net. It usually happens from 200 feet away. We had too many penalties (Saturday against Spokane). The pieces are in place to learn and get better."
The Americans return forward Jordan Messier, who sat out two games for an illegal hit against Portland on Sept. 25. Tri-City will be playing without forward Mackenzie Royer, who suffered a concussion last Friday against the Winterhawks, taking a hit from Brendan Leipsic, who received a five-game suspension from the Western Hockey League. Royer is listed week-to-week.
The Americans also trimmed their roster earlier this week, sending forward Olli Dickson to the Spruce Grove Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Tri-City forward Marcus Messier was suspended four games by the league for a double minor for checking from behind Saturday at Spokane.
The WHL is cracking down on hits to the head and blind side hits. Charles Inglis of Prince George is the poster boy of what not to do, receiving a 10-game suspension Tuesday for a match penalty for checking to the head against Victoria on Saturday. Also suspended Tuesday were Seattle's Cason Machacek -- two games for a one-man fight and repeat offender against Portland, and Edmonton's Klarc Wilson, one game for a checking-from-behind major and a game misconduct vs. Medicine Hat on Saturday.
Needing to shore up their goaltending position, the reeling Vancouver Giants acquired Adam Morrison from the Saskatoon Blades in a multi-player swap. The Giants sent RW Michael Burns, 20, defenseman Zach Hodder, 18, and a 2013 fourth-round bantam pick to the Blades for Morrison, 20, and right winger Levi Bews, 17. The Giants have given up 24 goals in five games.