From the Portland Winterhawks to the Brandon Wheat Kings, fans have no problem going on chat sites and voicing their opinions about the coaches, players and the organizations as a whole.
The Tri-City Americans are not exempt from disparaging comments, and after getting off to a 4-6-0-1 start, there are plenty to wade through — that is if you care to.
“I could care less what people say on chat lines,” said Americans general manager Bob Tory. “We have put a pretty good product on the ice for the last seven years. We have had a run at the top. We have a young team and there are a lot of good teams in our division. We continue to improve on a weekly basis. If people don’t like what they see, they don’t have to come.”
The Winterhawks, who host the Americans tonight at the Moda Center (formerly the Rose Garden), are at the bottom of the U.S. Division standings with Tri-City with nine points. And just like Tory, Portland coach/GM Mike Johnston is not in panic mode.
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“We are fairly similar teams,” Johnston said. “We have young players and players who are getting more minutes than ever before and that’s a challenge. Early in the year, you have to give teams 20 games to see where they fit in the league. By 20 games, you get a good indication of where they are at.
“Tri-City has always done a good job of getting better throughout the season.”
The Americans, led by Brian Williams (8 goals, 5 assists), Connor Rankin (5 goals, 8 assists) and goalie Eric Comrie (2.53 goals against average, .924 save percentage), have been close in six of their losses. They have lost four games by one goal and two by two goals.
“What people don’t realize is Malte (Strömwall), who was our second-leading scorer last year didn’t return,” Tory said. “Parker Bowles is still out until mid-November, Taylor Vickerman is out 8 weeks and Zach (Yuen) signed with an AHL team. Take those four players and put them back in the lineup and we are a different team. We’ve dealt with that and we are trying to improve.”
Comrie, who missed a good portion of the second half of the season last year with a hip injury, has come back in top form.
The second-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets ranks second in minutes played (593) and is seventh in save percentage and 10th in goals against average. He has one shutout (3-0 against Seattle).
Portland, which won the Ed Chynoweth trophy last year and went to the Memorial Cup, has faced it’s share of setbacks this year.
Nic Petan and Brendan Leipsic, who led the league in scoring last year with 120 points each, have combined for 18 points this season, with Petan having 16. Oliver Bjorkstrand leads the Winterhawks with 10 goals and 18 points.
“Chase has had a good start, but he hasn’t had (Ty) Rattie or Leipsic with him,” Johnston said. I still think Brendan will round out to where he was last year, and Oliver has taken a step forward.”
Seattle and Spokane lead the U.S. Division with 16 points, with Everett in the mix with 14.
“As much as we play each other in our division, it will help all of us,” Johnston said. “Playing that caliber of hockey every night will help when it comes time for the playoffs.”
Notes: The Americans have two affiliate players selected to play in the U16 Western Canada Challenge Cup to be played Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 in Calgary. Forward Parker AuCoin will play for Team Alberta, while forward Dylan Coughlan will play for Team British Columbia. Manitoba and Saskatchewan have yet to announce their rosters. ... Ryan Gropp, Seattle’s top draft pick (sixth overall), will join the team in Kamloops tonight. He started the season with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, scoring three goals with five assists in 10 games. ... The Regina Pats claimed overage goalie Mac Engel off waiver from Prince George. Engel has appeared in 135 career WHL games for Spokane and Prince George with a 2.91 GAA and a .894 save percentage.