A trek to Vancouver, British Columbia, is a quick six hours on the bus for the Tri-City Americans. But when you are headed to Victoria on Vancouver Island, the trip takes an entire day.
The Americans, who play tonight and Saturday at Victoria, left Wednesday and crossed the Strait of Georgia on the ferry that night. They practiced Thursday at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
“It’s just a long trip,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, who is from Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. “By the time you wait for the ferry and go across on the ferry, it’s time-consuming. Once you get on the ferry and get going, it’s about an hour and a half.”
While the Americans have been in Victoria since Wednesday night, the Victoria Royals returned home late Thursday afternoon after playing Wednesday in Kelowna.
In the Royals’ 4-2 loss to the Rockets, Victoria forward Ben Walker took a nasty spill and was taken to Kelowna General Hospital. Walker returned home with the team Thursday and will be evaluated by team medical personnel today. No specific injury was noted.
Tonight, the Americans (21-14-1-2, 45 points) take on a Victoria team that is 12-5-0-1 on home ice.The Royals (19-15-0-2, 40 points), who beat Tri-City 4-3 in a shootout earlier this season at Toyota Center, are right behind the Americans in the Western Conference standings.
“They are young, but they are starting to come of age,” Hiller said of the Royals. “They have some pretty dangerous forwards. It’s always tougher on the road, but our style lends itself to a good road game — a physical and tenacious game. You have to play good defense on the road because the other team usually gets a good push from the fans, and you have to have good goaltending to give you a chance to get two points.”
The Americans have allowed the fifth-fewest goals in the league, but they could play without veteran defenseman Mitch Topping this weekend after he suffered an undisclosed injury Dec. 29 against Portland. Rookie Clint Filbrandt has held his own in Topping’s place.
“Mitch is 50-50 for this weekend,” Hiller said. “Clint has come in and played really well. Much like Hamo (Justin Hamonic) last year, he was very patient in the first half. He has a lot of poise with the puck and has shown us some really great stuff. To his credit, he has really improved in practice. What I like is he isn’t afraid to go out and play the game. He has confidence.”
Offensively, the line of Connor Rankin, Brian Williams and rookie Parker Bowles has been on fire the last three games, scoring seven of the Americans’ 12 goals. Rankin has four goals to go along with two assists, while Bowles has two goals and three assists, and Williams one goal and two assists.
“Those three have shown us great chemistry and have really sparked us,” Hiller said. “They have energy and complement that with skill. They are fun to watch. They are 18 and 17 (years old). They could grow together here.”
While Rankin (6-foot, 195 pounds) has size and power, Williams (5-8, 170) and Bowles (5-9, 180) are speedy and fearless.
“When you are little, you can’t be afraid,” Hiller said. “They are not afraid to mix it up out there.”
Feser’s streak continues: Tonight, Americans captain Justin Feser will play his 288th consecutive game, tying him for third all time in the WHL with Spokane’s Steve Kuhn (Sept. 18, 2008-March 17, 2012).
Saturday’s game would put Feser second all time at 289 games with Edmonton’s Terry McDonald (Oct. 8, 1971-Nov. 14, 1975) and Kootenay’s Adam Taylor (March 17, 2001-March 19, 2005).
Dwayne Newman (Brandon and Victoria) holds the league record at 311 consecutive games from Feb. 2, 1988, to March 17, 1992.
Notes: The WHL suspended Vancouver forward Taylor Vickerman for five games for a major kneeing penalty against Prince George on Dec. 30. The opposing player suffered a serious knee injury on the play. Vickerman, a Kennewick native, will be eligible to return Tuesday at Medicine Hat. ... Victoria acquired forward Trent Lofthouse from Everett on Wednesday for a sixth-round bantam draft pick in 2014. Also on Wednesday, the Royals traded goalie Jared Rathjen to Vancouver for an eighth-round bantam pick this spring. Rathjen currently plays for the Whitecourt Wolverines of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Rathjen will join the Giants on Saturday in Edmonton.
*Annie Fowler: 582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org