Taylor Vickerman hasn’t seen the ice since he got hurt Sept. 24 at Portland — the third game of the season.
After missing 25 games, the Tri-City Americans forward will pull on his No. 22 jersey tonight and be in the lineup as the Americans host the Victoria Cougars (17-10-0-1) in the first of a Thanksgiving weekend doubleheader.
“I’m pretty excited,” said Vickerman, a Kennewick native. “It should be fun Friday getting back out there in the lineup. When the guys got Bowlsie (Parker Bowles) back, it sparked the team. He’s a guy that can score. Hopefully I can do the same. I’m excited to play Friday and Saturday and get a couple of wins.”
Tri-City (14-11-1-2) will finish the weekend Saturday against Spokane — the first time the Chiefs (17-8-0-1) have been at Toyota Center since opening night.
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Vickerman’s return comes as the Americans lost two key defensemen to injuries. Captain Mitch Topping broke his arm last Friday against Kelowna, and Wil Tomchuk has a broken bone in his wrist and will have surgery next week. Both are expected to be out until late January.
“Sometimes you have years where you are more fortunate and stretches where you are more fortunate than others,” Americans coach Jim Hiller said. “It has been a pretty lousy week for us, for sure, but we will sort it out and see who rises to the occasion.”
With just five healthy defensemen, the Americans made a trade Wednesday with the Kootenay Ice for defensemen Jeff Hubic, who is expected to play Saturday.
“We’d started to come together as a team, starting to get some chemistry and working really well together,” said acting team captain Justin Hamonic. “Too bad it has come to this. We will make do with what we have and make the best of it. It’s not an ideal situation. Hopefully (Hubic) can help us out and we can win some games. We will get through this.”
At 19, Hubic can add veteran leadership to a blue line that has three rookies and veterans Hamonic and Michal Plutnar.
“With Mitch and Wil out, he assumes their role of veteran leadership on the blue line,” Hiller said of Hubic. “He played a regular role for (Kootenay) and has a good stay-at-home presence.”
Vickerman was injured when he was hit by Portland’s Brendan Leipsic at 17:09 of the second period. Leipsic was given a two-minute minor for charging at the time, but the Western Hockey League handed down a three-game suspension two days later.
“I chipped (the puck) in and I saw him come out of nowhere,” Vickerman recalled “That’s about all I remember. Then I got up and skated off the ice.”
Vickerman had surgery a couple of days after he was hurt and has been going through a rigorous physical therapy program since. “I’m stronger than ever now,” he said. “I feel like I’m in shape, if not better than I was at the start of the year, and I’m confident going in and picking up where I left off.”
Vickerman has been skating on a line with Marcus Messier and Phil Tot this week.
“I think Jim knows what he’s doing,” Vickerman said. “He’s a smart guy and a great coach. He’s doing what is best for the team right now.”
While Hiller is concerned about his defense, he’s happy to have a scoring threat back in the lineup.
“It has been awhile for him,” Hiller said. “It’s always a challenge to get your timing back and those sorts of things. You try not to put too much pressure on Vicks at this point, but he had a really good start to the season (1 goal and 1 assist in 3 games) and leaves us optimistic that it won’t take too long to come back and help us offensively.”