The Tri-City Americans will honor one of their own tonight when they host the Regina Pats for the inaugural Shaun Vey Aware Down There Night.
Vey, who played for the Americans from 2004-08, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in February. He is in the Tri-Cities to bring awareness and raise funds for men’s health issues. All funds raised will stay local and benefit the Tri-Cities Cancer Center Foundation.
None of the current Americans played with Vey, but they are supportive of him and the cause.
“He was a part of this family once and we are now,” said Americans captain Mitch Topping. “Living his legacy on and helping him out any way we can. We can have some fun with it growing our mustaches and it’s just a bonus he’s agreed to help us out and hopefully he has a little fun himself.”
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With testicular cancer being a young man’s cancer, Tri-City coach Jim Hiller welcomes the information for his team.
“Not too long ago he was in the room,” Hiller said of Vey. “It hits close to home with our players. As young people, you don’t think it can happen to you. Shaun is an example of that and he’s doing great things about it.”
On the ice, Tri-City (12-9-0-2, 26 points) hit a few speed bumps at the start of the season but have since smoothed things out, earning points in eight of its last 10 games to move to fifth in the Western Conference.
That streak includes wins over Swift Current, Seattle, Kootenay, Portland and Everett.
“They are all good teams,” Hiller said. “There’s never a night when you are going to have an easy one. But it’s been a different week for us. It’s the first week since the start of the season we have been able to practice Monday through Thursday. I hope it’s a good thing and not a bad thing. We will find out (today). I think everybody is excited to play. They have practiced enough, seen me enough and heard me enough. I think they will be happy to see Regina.”
Regina (12-10-0-0) will be playing the fifth game of its eight-game road trip. The Pats are 2-1 against the U.S. Division with wins over Seattle and Everett and a loss to Portland.
The Pats are faring better than other East Division teams who have rolled through the states. Swift Current went 0-for-5 and Brandon was 1-for-4 with a win over Everett.
“We have to go in with the mentality that it is a hard game and obviously they have had some success against good teams on their way to Tri,” Topping said. “We know what they are capable of. We need to focus on our defensive zone and get pucks on net.”
Brian Williams leads the Americans with 16 goals and 25 points. Connor Rankin has seven goals and 20 points, and Parker Bowles, who returned from a shoulder injury six games ago, has joined the pair on the top line, contributing three goals and eight assists.
While scoring has been an up-and-down affair for the Americans, their penalty kill has been solid. They are ranked third in the WHL at 84.4 percent.
Regina, on the other hand, is next to last among the league’s 22 teams at 69.6 percent and has given up 31 power-play goals.
“We are going to look to keep our penalty kill going,” Topping said. “Hopefully we don’t have to kill to many. We are looking to have success with our power play, which has been good lately, too. We’ve been heating up.”
Regina will play without its second-leading scorer, Chandler Stephenson (8 goals, 15 assists), who was suspended for two games by the WHL for a checking-to-the-head penalty Sunday against Portland. He will be eligible to return Saturday against Spokane.
The Americans will get their first look at Vancouver on Saturday at Pacific Coliseum. “Mr. Hockey’ Gordie Howe will do the honors for the ceremonial puck drop.
“It’s going to be special for sure,” Topping said. “Mr. Hockey himself. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for that. Again, we have to put that aside and focus on the game after a long night’s travel. It will be a tough one.”
Vancouver (8-11-2-1), which hosts Medicine Hat tonight, has had its share of struggles this season. The Giants lost nine of 10 games to start the season, but from Oct. 27 to Nov. 11, they have won five of their last eight games.
“They are a physical team and they challenge you that way,” Hiller said. “I like to play Vancouver. Guys have to be ready to play or you will get ran over. That goes back to my Chilliwack days. That’s a good team to play and they bring the best out of your team.”
Note: Americans forwards Justin Gutierrez and Taylor Vickerman were listed in NHL Central Scouting’s latest ‘Players to Watch’ list for the 2014 NHL draft. Gutierrez is on the C skater’s list (indicates a 4th/5th/6th round candidate), while Vickerman is on the limited viewing list because he has been injured since Sept. 24.