The last time the Tri-City Americans played the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League playoffs, goalie Carey Price was a rookie.
That was 2004, and Price, now with the Montreal Canadiens, led the Americans to a 4-1 series win.
Tonight, the Americans host the Winterhawks in the opening game of the Western Conference finals.
Tri-City is coming off a 4-3 series victory over Spokane, in which the Americans beat the Chiefs 3-2 in Game 7 at the Toyota Center.
“It was a really intense 13 days,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said of the Spokane series. “It was mentally taxing, too. We’ll take a day off and recharge. We have more great hockey starting (today).
“We are coming off a pretty thrilling victory. I think (Wednesday) was the best game we had played all year. No better way to go into the next series. I think the guys are ready to get back at it.”
Portland also is coming off a seven-game series, beating Kamloops 2-0 in Game 7 on Wednesday.
“It would have been a huge advantage had one team finished early and had three or four days to rest,” Portland coach Mike Johnston said. “I know what it’s like to play Spokane in a series, and Kamloops is the same. It’s a grind on you.”
Tri-City is in the Western Conference finals for the third time in five years. The Americans lost a seven-games series to Spokane in 2008, and beat Vancouver in 2010.
This is the second consecutive trip for Portland, which won the conference title last year, beating Spokane in six games.
Tri-City forward Adam Hughesman, who has played in more playoff games (68) than any player in franchise history, has played against nearly every conference team in the playoffs. This is his first against Portland.
“Me and my dad (Dale) were talking about that,” said Hughesman, who has six goals and 14 points in 11 playoff games. “We always seem to miss them. It will be a first for me and the other guys. This is an exciting time to be playing, there are only four teams left. People don’t realize how hard it is to get here.”
Dale Hughesman and John Shinnimin drove 20 hours from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to watch their sons play Game 7 against Spokane on Wednesday night, and will stay for the weekend.
“They would have been (peeved) had it just been one game,” Adam Hughesman said.
Tri-City and Portland are no strangers to one another. They played each other 10 times during the regular season, with the Americans winning six games. Tri-City won the first five meetings, while Portland won four of the last five.
“When you play a team as many times as we have, you know their strengths and where they are vulnerable,” Hiller said. “Our job is to expose their vulnerabilities. They are a great team. We are home (tonight) and Saturday and we’ll get it started the right way.”
Johnston is looking forward to playing a team that he is familiar with. The Winterhawks beat Kelowna in the first round before they met up with Kamloops. They play each of the B.C. Division teams just four times during the regular season.
“Our first two series were against teams we don’t see a lot,” Johnston said. “Now we are playing a team we are more familiar with and that is less preparation. There isn’t a lot of time to get ready and this makes it easier.”
Portland’s Ty Rattie leads the playoff scoring with 23 points (13 goals), while teammate Sven Bartschi has 21 (16 assists). Goalie Mac Carruth (8-3-0) has a 3.06 goals against average.
Brendan Shinnimin, who led the league in scoring during the regular season with 134 points, leads the Americans in the playoffs with six goals and 18 points. Hughesman follows with 14 points and Patrick Holland with 12.
Tri-City goaltender Ty Rimmer (8-0-3) ranks third among playoff goalies with a 1.98 goals against average. It will be his first trip to a conference final.
“It has been an amazing experience,” Rimmer said. “(Wednesday) was crazy. It was the most intense game I’ve ever played in. Not every kid gets to go through this. We are growing as a team and we are extremely excited about the opportunity in front of us. It will be a different challenge than Spokane, but we will have no problem getting revved up for (today).”