KENNEWICK -- For two years, Drydn Dow watched, learned and waited his turn.
Now in his third year with the Tri-City Americans, the 19-year-old defenseman has a steady job on the blue line.
"I feel like this is the first year I'm playing to my ability and earned a role on the roster every night," said Dow, who has one goal and two assists in 23 games entering tonight's home game against Swift Current. "The first year, there were times I felt out of place. I wanted to be here and play for this team. I can't ask for any more than I've been given. It was worth the struggles of the first year."
Two years is a long time to pay your dues in the Western Hockey League, but Dow is not your prototypical defenseman.
At 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, the Calgary, Alberta, native is considerably smaller than his defensive partner Derek Ryckman, who tips the scales at 6-4, 205.
"He's a smaller guy but a good skater with an offensive edge," said Ryckman, who joined the Americans in mid-October after a trade from Lethbridge. "I'm more defensive, and that balances us out."
Dow has skated with just about every defenseman on the Tri-City roster since his rookie season, but there is something about playing alongside Ryckman that has enhanced his game.
"When he came in, we had an automatic chemistry," Dow said. "He's an awesome defenseman. There was a time my rookie year I played five or six games with (Jarrett) Toll. It was fun to play with a guy of that caliber. I've been all around the horn. It's nice to finally find a guy to be paired with on a regular basis."
Dow and Ryckman had a little history between them before they ended up with the Americans.
"We lived together back in the day when we were trying out for the Drumheller Dragons (Alberta Junior Hockey League)," Dow said. "He made the (Lethbridge) Hurricanes that year, and I was sent back to midgets."
Americans general manager Bob Tory listed Dow in March 2009. He joined the team that fall.
His rookie season, he played just 30 games. The next year, his ice time grew to 53 games, and he chipped in four goals and seven assists.
"Last year was interesting," Dow said. "I came in expecting to play more, but we had a solid team. I wasn't playing to my ability. Then, we had a bunch of injuries, and Jim (Hiller) gave me a chance to play up front. That gave me confidence."
Hiller has coached Dow since his rookie season and seen firsthand the strides he has taken to earn his ice time.
"He has persevered not one year, but parts of two," Hiller said. "He wasn't an everyday player, but one we relied on. It took him a couple of years, but now he's very dependable. He's in his comfort zone and has confidence to excel.
"He and Ryckman complement each other," Hiller continued. "They are the same age. Derek is big, strong and physical, and Dowsie gets up the ice better."
While Ryckman has been good for Dow's game, Dow in turn has helped Ryckman learn the Americans' style of play.
"He helps me out in practice and helped me make the transition to the speed and tempo of the game they play here," Ryckman said. "The East is more crash and bang. The speed (of the game) didn't surprise me, but it took me a couple of practices and games to get it under my belt."
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org