Good news Tri-City Americans fans, Juuso Välimäki is back in action. Bad news, he will only play three games before heading to the World Junior Championship.
But until he leaves, the Americans are sorely in need of his presence and leadership on the ice. Tri-City is in a three-game slide heading into Friday’s game at Seattle.
“Every time you can play, it’s fun,” Välimäki said. “That’s what we are here for and what we do. It’s exciting.”
Michael Rasmussen rejoined the team last week, as did Isaac Johnson and Dylan Coghlan, who served a two-game league suspension. And, Parker AuCoin should be back in action next week on the first half of the team’s Central Division road trip.
“It was good to get out there, but you want to get the win and all that,” Rasmussen said. “It’s always good when you have a full lineup. We are excited to get those guys back, for sure.”
A healthy roster is like an early Christmas present for coach Mike Williamson.
“It will be nice to get them back in the lineup,” Williamson said. “We have missed them a bit, and Parker is close. Having them back will help a lot.”
Over the past two weeks, the Americans (14-9-3-0, 31 points) have gone from being at the top of the U.S. Division to fourth. Granted, they are just three points back of second-place Everett, but the concern is real.
“We desperately need to turn things around,” Williamson said. “Division points are hard to come by and hard-fought for. We have two games this weekend before we head out on our road trip, and they will be big and have an impact on the standings.
“I thought our last game (overtime loss to Spokane) that we played well and our compete level was good, it just went the other way in overtime. Prior to that, having the guys out that we did hurt, and we did not play at the level we need to have success in that situation. We have to play smarter.”
Välimäki, who was out with a minor knee injury, was flown to Calgary last week to have the Flames’ doctors take a look.
“It gives me a feeling that they think I am important,” Välimäki said of the Flames. “It’s nice they wanted to take care of things and make sure it’s fine. It was really nice to see the guys and watch a couple of games.”
World Junior Championship
Team Canada invites were extended Wednesday, but Rasmussen, a first-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, was passed over.
“Obviously I’m disappointed and all that, but it’s not really in my control,” he said. “I can only control things I can control. I just have to keep working hard and stay focused.”
Välimäki’s last game with the Americans will be Dec. 13 at Medicine Hat. From there he will join Team Finland for the WJC in Buffalo, N.Y.
He was named captain for Team Finland, and is looking forward to the tournament.
“It’s definitely a huge honor,” Välimäki said of being named team captain. “I think even playing in that tournament for my country is a big honor. It’s something special and it gives you a boost for your own game. We have a really good team with a lot of leaders, my job will be easy.”
Finland, which is in Group A with the United States and Canada, will open play against Canada on Dec. 26.