The Tri-City Americans face a long weekend of travel, not to mention a couple of tough U.S. Division games without one of their top players.
The Americans (31-21-3-0, 65 points), who are sitting third in the division, are six points back of Seattle and seven behind leader Everett.
They have won six of their past 10 games, but face a red-hot Seattle team Friday, which has points in its past 10 games — including nine wins.
“They are a good team,” Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. “They were very short-handed to start the year, but they have everybody back. They have some dynamic players and they are playing with a lot of confidence. You have to match their work ethic and their intensity. They are usually playoff-style games against them. Should be good preparation for us.”
Following Friday’s game, the Americans get back on the bus for a Saturday game at Spokane, then it’s back across the pass for a Monday matinee at Vancouver.
Tri-City likely will play Friday and Saturday without leading goal scorer Michael Rasmussen, who has an undisclosed lower-body injury, and rookie defenseman Seth Bafaro, who was shelved for the rest of the season with an upper-body injury.
“You never want to have to deal with that, but at some point in the season you will be faced with that adversity,” Williamson said of the injuries. “Just like at the start of the year when Jordan (Topping) was hurt and Max (James) was hurt, guys will have to step up. We’ll get through it.”
While Bafaro gave the Americans depth on the back end, Rasmussen is a big piece of the Americans’ offense and power play, having scored 32 goals.
“Seth got hurt a few weeks ago,” Williamson said. “It was something he could play with, but was something that needed to be addressed. We came to a decision to deal with it now and for him to get a get a good start next year. With Michael, we have monitored it day by day, and thought there was a chance for the weekend, but we are going to error on the side of caution and keep him out Friday and possibly Saturday. These games are huge and important for us, but long-term health is the most important thing.”
Topping missed the first 29 games of the season with an ankle injury, but has come back strong with 15 goals and 13 assists in 26 games.
“It will be a good stretch of games coming up and you want to be playing your best hockey going into the playoffs,” Topping said. “I think our team will pull through here. I hope I can do my part, but there are a lot of guys in the locker room who have done their part this season to get us where we are.”
The Americans’ power play, which has been ranked among the top teams all season long, still is fourth (25.4 percent), but Tri-City was 1 for 8 against Medicine Hat last Saturday, and 1 for 5 against Everett the night before.
“Our power play has been so key for us,” Williamson said. “The Medicine Hat game was disappointing. We had eight chances and came up with one goal. I really liked our puck movement and we had lots of scoring chances. We need to do a better job of making sure we bear down and capitalize on those. If we keep moving the puck like we did that night, we’ll be OK.”