Parker Bowles did not have the start to the season he had hoped.
Instead of pulling on his Tri-City Americans jersey for the first 17 games of the season, he sat in the stands in a suit and tie watching and waiting for doctors to give him the green light to return from a shoulder injury.
“It’s been a really long time,” Bowles said. “I have been practicing a lot. I Just got cleared for (contact) about a week ago and I’ve been trying to put a lot more game-type situations in practice.”
Americans coach Jim Hiller has been counting the days for Bowles’ return. The offense, which is averaging just 2.5 goals per game, could use a boost.
“I’ve been waiting for this day way back to summer when I knew he would be delayed,” Hiller said. “The guys have done a good job in his absence. He is one of our top offensive players. His offensive ability will help us and it will go up and down the lineup.”
Bowles makes his return on the first game of the Americans’ Central Division swing. Tri-City is at Medicine Hat tonight, at Lethbridge on Saturday and at Kootenay on Sunday.
“You’d love to start in front of the home fans, but I have a lot of family coming see me play,” Bowles said. “It’s going to be a good test for us. We’ve been starting to come together as a team the last couple of games and hopefully we can keep that going.”
Tri-City (8-8-0-1, 17 points), which has won three in a row, takes on a Medicine Hat (10-3-2-0, 22 points) team that also has won three in a row.
Lethbridge (2-11-1-2, 7 points) is last in the Eastern Conference and has won just one of its past 10 games.
Kootenay (8-6-2-0, 18 points) has won two in a row and five of its last 10 games. They are third in the Central Division behind Calgary and Medicine Hat.
“In the beginning, we spent a lot of time on the road,” Hiller said. “Then we had a good stretch at home. This is another challenging part of the season for us and a chance to take another step and climb the ladder. The rungs go pretty high and we are no where near the top.
“We have good depth. We have four lines and our younger guys have come long and we know what they can do. We have six or seven quality defensemen. We can spread the minutes out more, especially on this 3-in-3 road trip.”
Bowles, a native of Kelowna, British Columbia, gutted out most of last season and the playoffs with a shoulder injury. He finished his rookie season with 21 goals and 23 assists in 71 games.
He had surgery May 30 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
His surgery was a Bankart repair — an operation for habitual anterior shoulder dislocation.
“It happened in preseason last year,” Bowles said. “It would come out a lot and it would just pop back in. It didn’t really hurt as much after the second time.”
Bowles found success the second half of last season on a line with Brian Williams and Connor Rankin. From January through the end of the season, he scored 11 goals with 19 assists.
“That would be exciting,” Bowles said of joining his former linemates. “We’ll have to see what happens. I’m ready for anything.”
Though Hiller liked the numbers the Bowles-Rankin-Williams line put up last year, he’s not sure exactly where Bowles will end up.
“I have some different plans for Parker this year,” Hiller said. “I can foresee him playing center this year and not just the wing. We’ll have to see how it all starts. We have to take into account, including preseason, that others are 20-odd games into (the season) and this is his first. I’m going to say I’m going to ease him in slowly, but once the game starts, I won’t.”
Note: Everett’s starting goaltender, Austin Lotz, suffered an ankle injury last weekend against Kamloops and is expected to miss at least three weeks. The Americans have a home-and-home series with the Silvertips next week, playing at Everett on Friday and at Toyota Center on Saturday. Lotz (9-2-0-1) has a 2.36 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. Daniel Cotton, who has played in three games this season, will take over until Lotz returns. Everett called up Nik Amundrud, 16, to serve as Cotton’s back-up.