Jessey Astles is quite familiar with the Tri-City Americans. As a member of the Kelowna Rockets, they faced each other four times a season for three years before the rugged forward was traded to the Saskatoon Blades.
Then there was the second-round playoff series in 2010, where the Americans beat the Rockets 4-1, taking Game 5 by a 4-3 score in overtime.
“That was the worst feeling,” Astles recalled Thursday afternoon.
After Wednesday’s trade, Astles won’t have to face the Americans anymore. Instead, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound native of Coquitlam, British Columbia, will pull on a Tri-City sweater and join the fun.
“When I got the call, I was excited,” Astles said of the trade. “They have always been a good club.”
Astles, who turned 20 on June 4, would have been one of 12 overage players heading back to Saskatoon in the fall. He said the trade did not surprise him.
“I really wanted to go back to Saskatoon, but ever since I got home, I was expecting to go somewhere else,” Astles said. “Basically, every day I was waiting for a call.”
Americans general manager Bob Tory has had his eye on Astles for a couple of years, and was happy to add him to the fold.
“When he was in Kelowna, he was an impact player there,” said Tory, who gave up a sixth-round pick in the 2014 WHL bantam draft for Astles. “At the trade deadline last year, I thought I could get him from Saskatoon. He was hurt at the time, but was expected back for the playoffs.
“Saskatoon had an overage problem and I was able to add him to the mix. The price was really good. It could have been more when the overage deadline came around.”
Astles will battle for a job in Tri-City, as well, joining prospective overage players Mitch Topping, Zach Yuen, Tyson Dallman, Lukas Walter and Phil Tot.
“It’s up to Jessey to come in and earn a spot,” Tory said. “We will pick the best players for our team regardless. He needs to come prepared to earn a spot.”
Astles has size on his side, to go along with a bit of a nasty streak. In 179 career games, Astles has seven goals, 11 assists and 284 penalty minutes. He missed 50 games last season with a wrist injury.
“Size is important at all levels,” Tory said. “You don’t want to sacrifice skill or speed, but you have to have all elements to have a successful team.”
Tot played 15 games with two goals and seven assists before suffering a concussion at Seattle on Oct. 26. He did not play the rest of the season.
“Phil plans to come to camp, but he has to have medical clearance and pass the concussion protocol before we can put him on the ice,” Tory said. “He will come back and give it a try, but we want to error on the side of caution.”
Though Astles can defuse situations on the ice, he wants to be able to chip in offensively and limit his time in the penalty box.
“My intentions are not to fight,” Astles said. “If a fight happens, I will drop the gloves for sure. But I want to play hockey.”Astles has fully recovered from a wrist injury that occurred Nov. 9 against the Regina Pats.
“There was a scrum on the ice and a guy wanted to fight me,” Astles recalled. “The kid (Griffin Mumby) was 16 and I was just holding on to him. The ref thought we were going to fight and pulled us apart. I fell, and trying to get out from under him, I cut my wrist with my skate.”
Astles cut four tendons and the radial artery in his right wrist. He had surgery and went through rehab before returning to the ice with three-regular season games remaining. He played in the playoffs and in the Memorial Cup, where the Blades were the host team.
The move to the Americans puts Astles closer to home. Kennewick is a 6-hour drive from Coquitlam, while Saskatoon was a 16-hour drive.
“It’s a lot nicer to be close with this being my last year,” Astles said. “It will be nice to see my parents and family a lot more. They didn’t get a chance to see me play much last year because of my injury.”