It may take more than Santa, Frosty and Rudolph to put a little joy into the Tri-City Americans’ Christmas holiday.
With a 14-19-1-0 record at the break, it’s more like Winger got run over by a reindeer than a holly jolly Christmas. The Americans, one of the youngest teams in the league, did win three of their last four games before the break, but the faithful fans still are pouting — but not yet crying.
There have been some silent nights at Toyota Center this week as the players told their parents they’d be home for Christmas.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, spending time with family and friends, but it came upon a midnight clear that I must hand out mid-season grades.
This may lead to me being decked in the halls just days after Santa comes to town, but I am not here to bring joy to the world.
Injuries have taken their toll on the team early on, and the Americans are in need of a little magic. They need to have a good run before their playoff hopes melt away.
MIKE WILLIAMSON: He could not foresee the injuries, which for once do not include the goalies. Watching the team squander leads of four goals and two goals and barely hang on for the win — or lose — is simply disappointing. With players returning and the lineup back to full strength, good things are bound to happen, but they can’t take too long or they will risk missing out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season. Grade: A-
PARKER BOWLES: Leads the team in goals (19) and scoring (46 points) in 34 games — six goals and two more points than he had all of last year, which was limited to 47 games because of injuries. Much is expected of him in his fourth and final year in the league. Needs to keep better control of the puck and limit turnovers in his own end — which earned him the minus. Grade: A-
JORDAN TOPPING: Second-year man already has eclipsed last year’s point totals with 14 goals and 30 points (second in team scoring). A strong player with a bit of an edge to his game. Nothing but good things to come in the second half. Grade: A
MICHAEL RASMUSSEN: Just 16, he is a big, strong kid who has quickly picked up the WHL style of play. Fourth in team scoring with nine goals and 25 points. Eight of his goals have come on the power play. Has earned top-line play. Played for Team Black at the U17 Hockey Challenge, where he had two goals and one assist in five games. Grade: A
BEAU MCCUE: This season’s captain and last year’s leading scorer. I don’t question his leadership, but his play has been erratic this season. Has 11 goals and 11 assists. He is a hard worker and a bulldog on the penalty kill, which has resulted in a team-leading three short-handed goals. The team expects and needs him to produce more if it is going to challenge for a playoff spot. Grade: B-
VLADISLAV LUKIN: The second-year man from Russia has almost doubled his point total from last year in 34 games. He has nine goals and 13 assists. He at times can make highlight reel plays, and other times he disappears for games at a time. The Americans need him to be a more consistent player. Grade: B
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Only fifth-year man on the roster. Has missed three games with minor injuries, but that shouldn’t play much of a part in his lack of production. He has seven goals and 13 assists. He has one goal and three assists in December. His best season was his third in the league when he had 36 goals and 56 points. If the Americans are going to save their season, they need more from him — and soon. Grade: C
TYLER SANDHU: After playing for three teams last season, he has settled into a regular role with the Americans. He fell off his game in November, recording just three points. He’s pick up the pace in December, but like others, the veterans have to lead the way. He’s skilled and has speed, just need a bigger dose of him every night. Grade: C
TAYLOR VICKERMAN: The Kennewick native has been limited to 15 games because of injuries. Has two goals and four assists. Not sure when he will return to action. He’s a strong, rugged player, which has led to his injuries. Grade: Incomplete
KYLE OLSON: Oh how the Americans have missed him. Was injured right before the U17 Hockey Challenge in October and has not played since. He came off the IR right before the holiday break, but did not play. Two goals and three assists in 11 games. He is a playmaker, and the team needs him back. Grade: Incomplete
PARKER AUCOIN: A work in progress, but he’s getting the hang of things. Not afraid to take on any role. A high-scoring bantam and midget player, the Americans need him to find that touch once again. Three goals and two assists in 25 games. He’s capable of more. Grade: B
MORGAN GEEKIE: Always hard to gauge the rookies. A little size and strength on his lanky frame would go a long way in keeping control of the puck. He’s a proven scorer, and the team needs to see that from him in the second half. Grade: B-
MAXWELL JAMES: Here’s a guy who so wants to keep the peace and dish out a little love that he finds himself in hot water. At 6-4, 200 pounds, he is a beast to contend with, but he’s no Nasty Mirasty. Has a team-high 79 penalty minutes, five fights and a one-game league suspension. Don’t mind that he stands up for his teammates, but the ill-advised and lazy penalties are costly. A little less time in the penalty box and more hockey action is needed. Grade: C
JORDAN ROY: Another young one who still is trying to grow into the game. Again, Injuries have forced the younger players into regular roles — ready or not. Grade: C
NOLAN YAREMKO: Another player who was a scoring machine at the bantam and midge level. Needs to find his touch in the WHL. He’s been given the opportunity — 32 of 34 games — but has one goal and one assist. On a team that is in a score-by-committee mode, they need his help. Grade: C
AUSTYN PLAYFAIR: Another player who has spent more time on the injured list than he has on the ice. Has played just nine games — six just before the break. Let’s hope for a happy new year. Grade: Incomplete
PARKER WOTHERSPOON: Third in team scoring with six goals and 21 assists. Handles the puck well, solid defensively in his own end. A player who puts team above himself. Has been playing with an injured jaw since their game in Calgary — and missed one game. Power play and penalty kill are just two of his many duties. His value is has no price. Grade: A
JUUSO VÄLIMÄKI: The Finnish player has adjusted to the smaller rink and rules of the WHL without missing a beat. Gifted with the puck and not afraid to shoot. Has six goals and 17 assists. Grade: A-
BRANDON CARLO: The second-round pick of the Boston Bruins is one of the top stay-at-home D-men in the league. An injury and World Junior duties with Team USA have limited him to 22 games, where he has two goals and 12 assists. Quality special teams player. He and Wotherspoon complement each other when paired, which is most nights. Grade: A
DYLAN COGHLAN: Already had doubled his point output from last season with one goal and 9 assists. But his job is to help keep the puck out of the net, and that’s where he needs a little work. Earned a C rating in the Central Scouting preliminary report in September (indicates a 4th-5th-6th-round candidate for the upcoming NHL draft). Needs to polish his game to help out the goalies. Grade: B
KURTIS RUTLEDGE: Being an 18-year-old rookie is tough, but with a slew of injuries, he’s had to step up and play a regular role. He’s offered up one goal and three assists, but still has a ways to go in polishing his game. Grade: B-
BRENDAN O’REILLY: It’s a shame he has been waylaid by an injury for the past 19 games. He should be back in action after the new year. They could use his help on the back end. There is no substitute for experience. Grade: Incomplete
JEFF RAYMAN: When the Americans needed help, he answered their call. In 17 games he has shown much improvement and has been an asset with Carlo and O’Reilly injured. Scored his first goal in two years just before the break. Always good to end on a positive note. Grade: B
DAKOTA KREBS: Big kid with a lot to learn. He’s seen action in 22 games, but not quite sure he’s ready for prime time. Not sure we’ve gotten a true sense of who he is. Grade: Incomplete
EVAN SARTHOU: In his draft year, things are not going quite as the Black Diamond native had hoped. He scored a B rating in the Central Scouting preliminary report in September. He is 12-18-1-0 with a 3.74 goals against average and a .878 save percentage, but in his defense, his defense has been hit with injuries. He has had his moments of inconsistency, which the team can ill afford. Don’t want to put the team on his back, but he has to be better night in and night out. Grade: B
NICK SANDERS: Has seen action in seven games, posting two wins (both on the road) with one loss. He has a 3.01 GAA and a .892 save percentage, but hasn’t played enough for a full evaluation. Grade: Incomplete