It’s the start of a new year for the Tri-City Americans.
With 2013 behind them, they will start fresh tonight with a home game against the Portland Winterhawks.
It is the third meeting between the teams since they returned from Christmas break and the seventh this season, in which the Winterhawks hold a 4-2 lead.
“The last few times we’ve played Portland we’ve generated plenty of chances, but (goalie Brendan Burke) has played pretty well,” said Americans coach Jim Hiller. “The key against Portland is not to let them have chances on the rush.”
Burke has given up just three goals to the Americans over the last two games.
Tri-City comes into tonight’s game eighth in the Western Conference at 17-8-2-2, and while the Americans have lost their last seven games, they have not lost their will to win.
“If you don’t have that, you can’t win,” Hiller said of his team’s positive demeanor. “We have seen it, we just haven’t been rewarded. We know it will turn around.”
The Winterhawks (25-10-2-2), who suffered a 9-3 loss to Kelowna on New Year’s Eve and a 7-2 defeat against the Rockets on Thursday, lead the U.S. Division and are second in the Western Conference behind Kelowna, which has won 16 games in a row.
The Americans have been playing shorthanded because of injuries and tournament commitments.
Affiliate players Jordan Davies, Brendan O’Reilly and Maxwell James have stepped in to help out.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Hiller said. “But they haven’t looked out of place.”
Tri-City goalie Eric Comrie has played outstanding in the wake of setbacks, including a 36-save performance against Spokane on New Year’s Eve.
“Eric’s job is to stop as many pucks as he can and we need to score more goals,” Hiller said. “Eric never puts his record and numbers above the team.”
Comrie, who signed with the Winnipeg Jets on Christmas Eve, said he’s confident things will turn around.
“Right now, it’s not working out for our team, and that’s unfortunate,” Comrie said. “We are getting scoring chances, but we are having some bad luck and bad bounces. When we get some experience back in our line up it will help.
“I believe how hard we are working and how badly we want to win will help us in the future. I think Jim has done a great job of keeping us motivated. We are missing just by inches right now. Soon those inches will turn into goals.”
Comrie missed part of last season with a hip injury, but he said he’s never seen such a rash of injuries two seasons in a row.
The Americans lost nearly 200 games to injuries last year and are up over 100 this season.
“When I was 16, hardly anyone got hurt,” he said. “The Tri-City Americans have been a great franchise for a long time. We will come out of this stronger. If we keep putting forth this effort and we get those guys back, we will have a solid team. It will be fun to finish the season with a full roster.”
Americans defenseman Michal Plutnar and the Czech Republic were eliminated from the World Junior Championships after a 5-3 quarterfinal loss to Finland. ... Americans F Braden Purtill and Team West suffered a 4-1 loss to Team Quebec in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in North Sydney, Nova Scotia. The West will play in today’s ninth-place game against Germany. Also at the U-17s, Tri-City F Ty Comrie and D Parker Wotherspoon helped Team Pacific to a 3-1 win over Sweden and a trip to today’s semifinals. ... Portland parted ways with overage forward Shane McColgan, who has missed most of the season with a broken thumb. ... Seattle’s Evan Wardley was suspended two games by the WHL for a boarding major and a game misconduct vs. Kamloops on Dec. 31. ... The Vancouver Giants traded D-man Blake Orban to the Edmonton Oil Kings for a second-round bantam pick in 2014.