The Kelly Buchberger Era of the Tri-City Americans begins Saturday night (puck drops at 7:05) at the Toyota Center when the Spokane Chiefs visit for the 2018-19 Western Hockey League season opener.
The new Americans coach has an idea of what he wants this season’s team to do.
“We want to play fast,” said Buchberger. “I feel that in today’s game, it takes skill and quickness to win hockey games. And we’re going to play hard.”
Buchberger was an assistant coach for the NHL’s New York Islanders last season, and before that he spent 12 years with the Edmonton Oilers in various roles.
He played in the WHL from 1984-86 for the Moose Jaw Warriors before joining the Edmonton Oilers as a player. He was part of two Stanley Cup teams, and ended up playing for five different NHL teams.
Buchberger realized that after Lou Lamariello took over as team president for the Islanders in June, then subsequently fired general manager Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight, and finally named himself as GM, that he wasn’t sure he had a job.
So he reached out to Americans’ general manager Bob Tory.
Tory was looking for a coach after Mike Williamson resigned following last season, citing the need to do something else.
Tory hired Buchberger.
It’s been a great ride so far, said Buchberger.
“Ever since I retired as a player, coaching young players is the next best thing to being on the ice,” he said. “They’re sponges. The biggest thing is that they all want to succeed. And if they want it bad enough, they’ll go get it. They want to watch (film) clips with you to get better.”
The Americans’ top three regular-season scorers from a year ago – Morgan Geekie, Jordan Topping and Dylan Coughlan – are all gone.
Last year’s leading scorer in the playoffs, Michael Rasmussen (16 goals, 17 assists, 33 points), could be back, but it’s more likely that he won’t. Rasmussen, a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2017, has been playing well in preseason for those Red Wings and may just make the NHL team’s roster.
What the Americans do have is center Kyle Olson, drafted in the fourth-round by the Anaheim Ducks in 2017.
Olson spent last week with the Ducks in preseason, and he had a hat trick for the Anaheim rookies in a game against the Vegas Golden Knights rookies.
Rasmussen was named the team’s captain this summer. But when he’s not here, the ‘C’ will go to RW Nolan Yaremko.
Yaremko will be assisted by Olson and LW Parker AuCoin – both four-year WHL veterans – and second-year veterans LD Roman Kalinichenko and RW Sasha Mutala.
Mutala played for Team Canada this summer as it won the gold medal in the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament.
There is a lot of talent on the front line, even without Rasmussen.
“Our front corps is solid,” Buchberger said. “They have a fair amount of skill. We shouldn’t have a problem creating offense.”
Defense will need improvement though, and the back line will have to improve fast.
Goalie Patrick Dea was an overage player last season.
That leaves plenty of net time for his backup Beck Warm, who was 16-11-1-1 last season in Dea’s place.
Warm will be pushed by rookie Talyn Boyko, who actually got more minutes in net during the Ams’ preseason and was 2-2-0-0.
Buchberger knows he has one job to do, and one thing that will make him happy.
“We gotta win,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing in this league for a coach.”
And while last year’s playoff run to the Western Conference finals was nice, it means nothing for this season.
“We have high expectations,” said Buchberger. “But we’ve had a few changes. We’ve lost a few players. We’ve got to remember the past, but look toward the future.”
Notes: Tri-City will begin the season with eight rookies on the roster. … The Americans will actually have a Washingtonian on the roster. RW Matt Dorsey hails from Wenatchee. …. Tri-City will begin the season with a six-game home stand, its longest of the season. … The Americans will hit the road on Oct. 20 for 11 games through Nov. 17. That includes six games in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. … The CHL’s Pre-season Top 10 poll recently came out, with the Halifax Mooseheads the No. 1 team. The Spokane Chiefs (No. 6) and Portland Winterhawks (No. 7) are also in the poll. The Vancouver Giants received an honorable mention.