KENNEWICK -- After spending most of last week on the road, the Tri-City Americans are home for three of their four games this week, starting tonight with the Prince Albert Raiders, making their biennial trek through the U.S. Division.
The Americans (5-2-0-0) will host Brandon on Friday and Vancouver on Saturday before traveling to Everett on Sunday.
"Four games in five nights is always a challenge," said Adam Hughes-man, the Americans' leading scorer. "We've had a really tough start to the schedule with Portland, Spokane and Kelowna -- three of the top teams in the league. We are looking forward to the measuring stick we have this weekend. Hopefully our young guys are ready to go."
The Raiders enter the Toyota Center with a 3-5-0-1 record after beating Everett 3-2 on Tuesday night. PA is 2-1 against the U.S. Division. It will finish its road trip Friday at Spokane.
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"We are very familiar with their coaching staff and how they play," Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said of the Raiders. "They beat us last year in PA, and they came in here a couple of years ago at the end of a long road trip, and we had to hold on to beat them. We know this will be a hard-working team, and they definitely have the ability to beat you on the scoreboard with some of their high-end talent."
That talent includes Justin Maylan (5 goals, 6 assists), Brandon Herrod (3, 7) and Mark McNeill (2, 8).
The Americans counter with Hughesman (7, 9), Connor Rankin (5, 5), Justin Feser (3, 7) and defenseman Zach Yuen, who has infused himself into the offense with three goals and three assists.
In net, Ty Rimmer and rookie Eric Comrie have had good results for Tri-City. Rimmer (3-1, 1.79 GAA, .946 save percentage) ranks in the top four in the league in GAA and save percentage. Comrie (2-1, 4.79, .854) was solid in his last start against Kelowna, a 5-2 victory.
"It's a long season for everybody," Hiller said. "It's important to keep our perspective. Whether you are 20 or 16, you have to get better as the season goes along. That is the challenge for everyone. They will continue to get better, as will the team in front of them."
The weekend brings two of the WHL's most respected programs to Toyota Center.
"There is never an easy night," Hiller said. "You talk about Brandon and Vancouver, there is one of the flagship franchises in our league. It's just going to be good. The league every year seems to have more and more parity, but those teams challenge you, and they have great traditions. You have to be at your best to beat them."
The Americans have won their last two against the Wheat Kings, and were 3-1 against the Giants during the regular season last year before sweeping them in the first round of the playoffs.
"We always seem to have exciting, emotional and passionate games with Vancouver, and I think those couple of years in the playoffs delve into that," Hiller said. "That is always the most emotional time. I think we are starting to build up kind of a rivalry with them the amount of times we play them."
Against Brandon, the Americans must be ready for the WHL's top power-play team at 41.7 percent.
Tri-City struggled on the power play its first four games, allowing eight goals on 25 chances (68 percent). In their last three games, the Americans gave up just one goal on 14 chances to improve to 76.9 percent.
"We had a good weekend on the penalty kill," Hiller said. "It's a huge emphasis for us. It does go up and down -- there is some randomness in that -- but it will be something we continue to work on from start to finish."
Notes: Medicine Hat's Emersom Etem was named WHL Player of the Week after scoring six goals with one assist in three games, as the Tigers went 2-1-0-0. ... Vancouver still is without defenseman Neil Manning (back), who is expected to miss another week. ... The WHL board of governors will vote today on the site of the 2013 Memorial Cup. The finalists are Kelowna, Red Deer and Saskatoon.