Because it is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt, and abundance rejoices.
Charles Dickens could well have been writting about the Tri-City Americans when he penned that line in A Christmas Carol.
The Americans don’t want for a lot, but an abundance of healthy players would be nice. Through the first 36 games of the season, Americans players have missed nearly 100 games because of injuries.
As a result, the Americans are 17-16-1-2 and eighth in the Western Conference with 37 points. At this time last season, they were 20-12-1-2 (43 points).
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No one is to blame for this lackluster start.
General manager Bob Tory constructed a talented team and with quality goaltending and a good defense, coach Jim Hiller just needed to keep a Band-Aid on the offense until Parker Bowles returned from offseason shoulder surgery.
But the dominoes started to fall one by one before that happened.
Taylor Vickerman went out with a shoulder injury the third game of the season and others missed a game here or there with minor injuries before the Grinch stole everything, right down to the last can of Who Hash.
Defensemen Mitch Topping (broken arm) and Wil Tomchuk (wrist) went down and Bowles followed, suffering knee injury after playing just 11 games. All three are expected back by the end of January.
Vickerman is back, but the damage has been done.
Tri-City is on the hunt for its eighth consecutive 40-win season, and to make that happen, things have to change in the second half.
Santa is putting a couple of replacement defensemen under the tree, but the Americans need the likes of Connor Rankin, Phil Tot and Beau McCue to find the net more in the second half of the season.
The Americans limped into the holiday break on a four-game losing streak. There is no Justin Feser to save the day, but there are several players who have the ability to step up and be a leader.
Eric Comrie: Has given the Americans a chance to win every game (OK, there were a couple of blowouts, but those happen). Comrie is 14-13-3 with a 2.52 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. His GAA average ranks eighth in the Western Hockey League, while his save percentage is fourth. He is third in minutes played with 1,785. He was drafted by Winnipeg in June and signed by the Jets on Christmas Eve. It would be a different story without him. Grade: A
Evan Sarthou: As backup goaltenders go, he’s a keeper. In seven games, he has a 2.69 GAA and a .921 save percentage. He is 3-3-0-0 as a starter and the team has confidence in him. Grade: A-
Brandon Carlo: For a young guy, he has shown a lot of promise. Has paired with several of the veterans and had held his own. In 35 games, has two goals and two assists. Grade: B
Justin Hamonic: A reliable stay-at-home defenseman, he is a big part of the team’s stingy defense (they allow 2.88 goals per game) and stellar penalty kill that ranks fifth in the WHL. He blocks more shots than Dwight Howard and leads the team in ice time. He has a goal this season to go with six assists. For the amount of time he is on the ice, he has just 19 PIMS — another sign of his value. Not sure what Santa is giving him, but here is my gift. Grade: A
Riley Hillis: Had limited ice time until injuries opened up spots in the lineup. In 21 games he has no points and 44 PIMS (including 6 fights). It’s a learning process and he has a ways to go. Grade: C+
Jeff Hubic: Came over in a trade from the Kootenay Ice when the Americans lost two D-men to injuries. In seven games, he has played solid defense and chipped in an assist. In 34 combined games this season, he has one goal and six assists, but I didn’t see most of that. Grade: Incomplete
Michal Plutnar: Had a slow start to the season. Visa problems kept him from crossing boarder early on and a couple of injuries have limited his play (1 goal, 3 assists in 22 games). Was selected to play for the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship. He was named an alternate captain, which should help boost his confidence when he returns. Grade: C+
Wil Tomchuk: Hasn’t stepped to the forefront like I thought he should at 19. Injuries and inconsistent play have limited him to 25 games. Had wrist surgery and is expected back late January. Grade: C
Mitch Topping: His leadership is his greatest strength. The players look to him and look up to him. His play with the puck has improved from last season, as has his plus-minus (plus-2), which landed him on the naughty list last year at minus-13. Leads the defensemen in scoring with 3 goals and 11 assists. Has missed nine games with a broken arm and isn’t expected back until late January. He plays on the power play and penalty kill, and has been missed on both. Grade: A-
Parker Wotherspoon: Being a 16-year-old on the blue line is tough, but he has made the transition to the WHL without the rookie jitters that come with the responsibility he has been handed. Paired with Hamonic, they are a dangerous duo. Plays special teams and has six assists in 34 games. He’s good with the puck (reminds me of a taller Drydn Dow) and not afraid to shoot the puck — that first goal will come soon. Grade: A
Jessey Astles: Just who the Americans needed after Jesse Mychan graduated. Adds a touch of grit and a reputation that has opponents thinking twice before dropping their gloves. In 30 games (was suspended for two and injured the rest) has five goals and 2 assists, which tied a career high for points in a season and we’re only half done. Has 47 PIMs (30 from 6 fights), which speaks to his desire to play the game not watch from the penalty box. For the role he was brought in to play, he has delivered that and much more. Grade: A-
Parker Bowles: Missed the first part of the season with a shoulder injury. Went into Christmas break with a knee injury. In between, he had four goals, 15 assists and a plus-6 rating in just 11 games. During the time he played, the Americans were 6-4-0-1. I don’t usually give grades for just 11 games, but in this case, he deserves one. Grade: A
Ty Comrie: Younger brother of the goalie, but he’s made his own mark in the league. In 35 games, has two goals and four assists. He has good hands and makes good decisions, but he needs to hang out with Santa, eat some milk and cookies and put on a few pounds. For 16, he has played consistent hockey. Grade: B
Matthew Gelinas: Has three assists in 20 games. Was a late comer to the league at 18. Still is learning the ropes at the WHL level. Grade: Incomplete
Justin Gutierrez: Willing to play on any line with anyone. Has made the most of his ice time with one goal and 11 assists in 35 games. Is capable of scoring and has had some quality chances, but hasn’t been able to finish. Tons of energy; willing to do everything from fight (has had 5) to play special teams. Grade: B+
Justin Marreck: You feel for the young guys who haven’t seen the ice very often. He has played 10 games, including the last two before the holiday break, with one assist to his credit. His time will come. Grade: Incomplete
Devon McAndrews: An 18-year-old rookie who has been with the team for 21 games. Has one goal and four assists. He has good speed for a guy who comes in at 6-4, 210 pounds. Still has plenty to learn, but has caught on fast and has not been a liability. Has been a pleasant surprise. Grade: B
Beau McCue: In 35 games, has 10 goals and five assists. He plays his heart out every game and is key on special teams (2 short-handed goals), but the production just isn’t where it should be and where the team needs it to be. Grade: B
Marcus Messier: Is closing in on last year’s numbers with five goals (2 short-handed) and 11 assists, but his value far outweighs the points. He plays against opponents top lines and creates havoc from one end of the ice to the other. He’s a shot-blocking machine and has the bruises to prove it. Along with Hamonic, quarterbacks the PK. Anyone crazy enough to lay out in front of a Myles Bell slap shot deserves what he gets. In this case ... Grade: A
Lucas Nickles: Every game is a new adventure with this guy. He has speed to spare and has not made any friends playing point on the PK. His eight goals and 11 assists are closing in on last year’s totals, but the big improvement in his game has been his plus-minus numbers. He was minus-17 last year and right now, leads the team with a plus-10. He is a valuable asset and has been a nice surprise. Grade: A
Braden Purtill: Is he a forward or a defenseman? As a forward, he had limited shifts. He moved to the blue line when the injuries depleted the ranks and has skated a regular shift every night. He was a D-man in his younger days and it didn’t take long for him to pick it up again. He has four goals and four assists in 32 games. Grade: B+
Connor Rankin: He leads the team in scoring with 31 points. He has played every game, but he hasn’t played to the level that the team needs him to. He has 12 goals — seven on the power play. He’s above where he was last year at this time, but this should be his year to shine. The Americans have their sights set on an eighth consecutive 40-win season, but for that to happen, he needs to up his game, and in a hurry. Grade: C
Rodney Southam: It’s been a learning process for the young man. He has two goals and one assist in 24 games, but consistency has been an issue. Grade: C
Phil Tot: Limited to 15 games last year because of a concussion, he has returned with confidence sprinkled with offense. He has nine goals and 11 assists in 33 games. He is strong in the corners and reliable with the puck. He has had a good start to the season, but as an overage player who has a proven scoring touch, I expect a more. It’s just a matter of time before it all comes together. Grade: B+
Taylor Vickerman: Always good to have a local kid on your team, but a shoulder injury has limited the Kennewick native to nine games with two goals and three assists. Had he been healthy the entire first half of the season, the Americans might have a bit more to be thankful for. Grade: Incomplete
Brian Williams: Leads the team with 20 goals. Is second behind Rankin with 30 points, but the difference between the two has been the ability to find the net. Has already equaled his season-high for goals. A strong second half is essential for the Americans. Grade A-