The Tri-City Americans finished the first half of their season with a 4-1 victory over Spokane on New Year's Eve.
The Americans have a lot to celebrate going into the new year, including a 29-7-0-0 record heading into tonight's home game against East Division-leading Moose Jaw (24-10-4-1, 53 points).
The Americans lead the Western Hockey League with 58 points, have won a franchise-record 10 consecutive games, and went undefeated in the month of December with a 10-0-0-0 mark. They also have won 10 in a row on home ice.
"With everything that has transpired, people thought we'd be a weaker team," Tri-City general manager Bob Tory said. "Things needed to be addressed, starting with the overage situation. We moved Chris (Drieger) and Drew (Owsley) to shore up the goalie situation. Next, we addressed the blue line, and dealt with that with the (Mitch) Topping trade. We got (Nate) MacMaster for (Brock) Sutherland, then brought in Derek Ryckman. We have 13 new players."
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In moving Drieger and Owsley, roster spots opened for rookie Eric Comrie and Ty Rimmer, who came from Prince George in the Owsley trade. Topping and Ryckman have added experience -- and in Ryckman's case, size -- to the blue line. The result? Just 85 goals allowed -- the fewest in the league. And, Rimmer (17-4-0-0) leads the league with a 2.03 goals against average and a .932 save percentage.
"Ty has come in and seized the opportunity, and has been a good mentor for Eric," Tory said. "The impact that Mitch and Derek have brought to the blue line has been important to our success."
Up front, Adam Hughesman leads the team with 23 goals and 60 points. Brendan Shinnimin has 20 goals and 55 points, while Justin Feser has 18 goals, Patrick Holland 15 and Connor Rankin 12. Defenseman Zach Yuen has added five goals, 17 points and a team-high plus-26 rating.
"We have a no-name team, for the most part," Tory said. "People look at the roster on paper and ask 'where did they come from?' No one player is more important than the other, but collectively they are very good. They feed off each other. Part of that is environment. It's not about individual glory, but team success."
Captain Mason Wilgosh and his leadership team are in charge of team chemistry, and what they have brewing is better than any alchemist could have conjured up in a lab.
"I think it's the guys and how they have jelled together," Wilgosh said. "Everyone is really tight right now and we are having fun. Everyone trusts each other. We open our arms and welcome guys who haven't been here. We keep the room loose, and on the ice we lead by example every day and every night.
"In the second half, we don't want to change anything. We want to keep playing the way we do."
Off the ice, the players keep their competitive spirit with heated games of Ping-Pong and Mario Kart.
"It keeps your mind fresh," Wilgosh said. "It's good to have fun when you aren't playing hockey non-stop. When you come back (to the ice), your mind is clear."
Notes: The Americans will be without D Sam Grist tonight, who is serving a one-game suspension by the league for a check-from-behind hit on Spokane's Marek Kalus last Saturday. ... Moose Jaw, which lost to Portland 4-3 in overtime Tuesday, comes into tonight's game with a 1-2 record against the U.S. Division. ... A the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in LaSalle, Ontario, Team Pacific finished fifth with a 5-4 overtime victory over Quebec. Comrie did not play in the game. For the tournament, Comrie was 2-1-0 with a 3.03 goals against average and a .889 save percentage.