Last August, Tri-City general manager Bob Tory pulled the trigger on a trade with Lethbridge that brought forward Phil Tot to the Americans.
The team had high hopes with Tot in the lineup. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Calgary, Alberta, native brought size and a much needed scoring touch after the departure of 50-goal scorers Brendan Shinnimin, Adam Hughesman and Patrick Holland.
Tot, who will turn 20 on Sept. 16, had two goals and five assists in his first 15 games. But just as he was getting the hang of the Americans’ game plan, Tot took a hit Oct. 26 at Seattle, suffering a concussion that ended his season.
Tot returned to the Americans for training camp two weeks ago and played his first game in 10 months last weekend in the Everett Tournament.
“It’s a pretty good feeling, to be honest,” Tot said of lacing up his skates and getting back on the ice with his teammates. “I’m feeling pretty confident. Last year was a bit of a disappointment. The long time off really helped me. The first game after 10 months was weird, for sure. It was really high paced, but I felt OK. I was tentative and maybe a little more aware of things. I played smart and made plays.”
For missing such a long stretch of time, Tot impressed Americans assistant Dan Price.
“I just thought he was really physical,” said Price, who was running practice for coach Jim Hiller, who has been a guest coach at a skills clinic this week. “I thought he went to dirty areas in the corners and along the boards, and he went to the net. We saw him all week in practice taking it to the net with a lot speed an a lot of aggression. Even in training camp, which was impressive. He carried that over into the games.”
Tot will get to test his game again today as the Americans return to the ice at the Red Lion Hotels Preseason Tournament at Toyota Center against the Kootenay Ice.
With goalie Eric Comrie (Winnipeg), forward Connor Rankin (Pittsburgh) and defensemen Zach Yuen (Toronto) and Michal Plutnar (Detroit) off to NHL camps, the Americans will piece together lineups for the weekend, which will include a few young players still hoping to earn a roster spot.
“It will be fun to play at home, it has been awhile,” Tot said. “We will have a few more veterans in the lineup. We haven't won a game yet, so we have to prove that with the guys we have.”
The Americans will continue tournament play Friday against Seattle and Saturday against rival Spokane. All games are at 7:05 p.m.
“Everyone is really excited to get home,” Price said. “They got the taste of game play up in Everett, which was great, but it's always nice to play in front of the fans in Tri-City. A lot of guys are away, so there are a lot of opportunities for guys to step in and show Bob and Jim what they can do. Three games in three nights is a great test.”
For Tot, this season is like starting over again with the Americans. When he got hurt in Seattle, he thought he might be out a couple of weeks, not months.
“I’ve had a few (concussions) before, but this one never really got better,” Tot said. “It was hard, for sure. I saw a therapist and stuff like that, but honestly there’s not a whole lot you can do. Just a lot of nothing.”
Tot remained in the Tri-Cities until Christmas break, hoping he’d be well enough to play, but there was no such gift. He returned home to Calgary as his team finished the season without him.
“It was hard,” Tot said of being at home. “As soon as the playoffs came around, it was really hard. I’ve never played in the playoffs in my life and it was hard being at home for that. I hope this year is different.”
Note: The Americans signed prospect Kurtis Rutledge, 16, to a standard WHL players contract Tuesday. A 6-2, 175-pound defenseman, Rutledge is a native of Calgary. Last season, he had one goal and five assists for the Calgary Flames of the Alberta Midget Hockey League.