KENNEWICK -- It has been almost a year since Michelle Simpson of West Richland was told she had breast cancer.
After three months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, Simpson has been cancer-free since August.
"It's all kind of a blur," Simpson said. "I found a lump, I had it checked and it snowballed from there. Before I was diagnosed, I hadn't known anyone who had had breast cancer. No one is immune. It doesn't matter how old you are or if it runs in your family."
Simpson, 36, and her 5-year-old son, Evan, will drop the puck tonight at the Tri-City Americans' annual Breast Cancer Awareness game against the Seattle Thunderbirds at Toyota Center.
This is the seventh year the Americans have raised money for the Tri-Cities Cancer Center. In 2006, they raised $2,826. Last year, the total was $22,259.
During the last six years, the event has raised more than $92,000 through auctions and merchandise sales.
"For the Tri-City Americans to do this fundraiser is awesome," Simpson said. "We are fortunate to have the Cancer Center. I don't know what I would have done without them."
The Americans, who will wear black-and-pink breast cancer awareness-inspired jerseys and play on pink ice tonight, perform more than 2,500 hours of community service per year. The Breast Cancer Awareness game is in addition to those hours.
"This is a very important event," Tri-City general manager Bob Tory said. "We do a lot in the community. It's important for our organization and our players to realize we are only as strong as our community. We impress upon our players the importance of giving back. The pink ice is nice, but the cause is more important."
The Americans (35-12-1-1, 72 points) also hope to reward the fans at tonight's game with a victory. Tri-City has won just three of its last 10 games -- this after winning 13 in a row.
"You never want to go through a spell where you aren't winning or playing as well as you should," said Americans coach Jim Hiller, whose team went 1-1-1-0 last week against the Central Division. "But in a long season, (stretches like this) will rear its ugly head. We hope to fix that with a good week of practice."
Hiller said it hasn't been just one thing that has derailed the team.
"For me, it's too many players expecting it to be too easy than what it is at the time," Hiller said. "Red Deer and Calgary are an example. The better part didn't show up willing to play as hard as they needed to.
"Our job as coaches and players is to concentrate on today. You have to leave the bad stuff behind. We've proven we can be an excellent team."
The players know they have not played up to their potential lately.
"You can call it a bunch of things, but what is disappointing is we can control it,"
Tri-City forward Adam Hughesman said. "But we haven't give the effort needed to win in the Western Hockey League. We are better than that. We have the talent in the room. We just have to put in the effort.
"This is a great team. We can't afford to waste it."
The Americans have been playing without captain Mason Wilgosh (lower body injury) and Marcus Messier (upper body injury), but Hughesman said they must move forward.
"Playing without Wilgosh doesn't help," Hughesman said. "We do miss him, but everyone has to step up. It's an opportunity for the young guys to step up and for the veterans to lead. Everyone has injuries in this league. We can't use that as an excuse.
"It is nice to be home. Our fans help us out, and we'll need that. We play a lot of games (14) in February."
Seattle (18-29-1-1, 38 points) is clinging to the last spot in the Western Conference playoff race. The Thunderbirds are one point behind Victoria, which visits Tri-City on Saturday.
Seattle, which has lost three in a row, has not had much luck in recent years at Toyota Center. The T-birds have not won in Kennewick since Jan. 27, 2008, a span of 20 games, and goaltender Calvin Pickard is winless in 13 starts.
NOTE: The WHL suspended Spokane defenseman Corbin Baldwin for two games following a hit on Kamloops' Dylan Willick in the Chiefs' 4-1 loss to the Blazers on Wednesday.
* Annie Fowler: 582-1574; email@example.com