The Tri-City Americans’ connection to Red Deer, Alberta, continues.
Outgoing captain Justin Feser, who has left for the American Hockey League after spending five years with the Americans, turned over the reins of the team to best friend and fellow Red Deer native Mitch Topping on Tuesday.
Topping was named team captain for the 2013-14 season. He is the 25th team captain in Americans history, and the first defenseman to lead the team since Jarrett Toll (2009-10).
“It’s going to be difficult not playing with my best buddy,” said Topping, who was an alternate captain this season. “Any way you look at it, it’s a great honor. I’m at a loss for words. I’m looking forward to next season with the ‘C’ on my jersey. We have a heck of a team coming in next year.”
Americans general manager Bob Tory said Topping brings everything that is expected of a captain.
“Mitch sets the tone in the dressing room with his positive attitude and respect for all our players and organization,” Tory said in a news release. “What he has done in the community since arriving here is above and beyond what anyone would have expected. He is first and foremost a quality person, with the integrity necessary to lead our team.”
Topping, 20, will be the third Americans captain from Red Deer. Before Feser, defenseman Gary Lebsack was co-captain with Chad Cabana for the 1993-94 season.
Topping, who came over in a trade with Chilliwack before it relocated to Victoria last season, has played four full seasons in the Western Hockey League.
This season, he had career highs in goals (13), assists (26) and points (39). In 267 career games between Chilliwack and Tri-City, Topping has scored 26 goals with 63 assists.
Topping also is a finalist for WHL Humanitarian of the Year.
“If you would have told me when I got traded that I would be team captain in two years, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Topping said. “To be up there with all of those who have come before me is special.”
Feser, who led the Americans with 106 points (44 goals, 62 assists) this season, signed an amateur tryout contract with the Portland Pirates of the AHL, reuniting him with former Tri-City teammate Brendan Shinnimin.
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Feser was fourth in WHL scoring and was named a Western Conference first-team all-star. He also set the WHL Iron Man record with 321 consecutive games, breaking the former record of 311 games.
Feser, who will wear No. 9 for the Pirates, was en route to Portland, Maine, on Tuesday and was not available for comment.
Shinnimin, who has 11 goals and 18 assists in 65 games for Portland, is looking forward to having Feser join the team.
“It was a surprise to me,” Shinnimin said. “He texted me (Monday) night and told me he was coming. It’s pretty rare that he hasn’t gotten an offer before now with the season and career he’s had. What he brings to the rink is hard to overlook. Knowing him, he will come in here and turn some heads.
“Fes is a good guy. He will fit right in here.”
Annie Fowler: 582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tchicequeen