Tri-City Americans

Macek sees improvement in second year with Ams

KENNEWICK — Brooks Macek makes things happen.

The second-year forward for the Tri-City Americans has 13 goals this season and is second on the team in scoring with 50 points. When you do the math, it comes out to 37 assists -- tied for third-best in the Western Hockey League.

"Assists have to do with who you play with," said Macek, who skates with Jordan Messier and Kruise Reddick. "They are just as good as a goal."

The 5-foot-11, 175-pound native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, has more than twice as many points as he had last season as a rookie, when he had eight goals and 16 assists.

"I had a year to adjust to the league, and I know what to expect," Macek said. "(Coach) Jim (Hiller) has faith in me on the power play and that helps. It's a lot more fun than being a rookie and not getting as much time. Everyone here is a pretty good player, and it's easy to gel with each other."

Macek's line has produced 39 goals this season for the U.S. Division-leading Americans (29-10-0-1, 59 points), who will try to add to their lead this weekend with three games, starting tonight against the visiting Prince George Cougars (9-30-1-1, 20 points).

Saturday, the Americans play at Spokane (23-14-3-0, 49 points), then they return to Toyota Center on Sunday against Chilliwack (19-18-1-5, 44 points) for the first of seven straight home games.

"It's been a busy run after Christmas," said Hiller, whose team just played five games in eight days ending with a loss Sunday to Saskatoon. "Just go, go, go. We've had some time this week to get our legs back. Having a stretch of games at home is a chance for us to get the second half started right."

And that begins against a Prince George team that has lost 11 straight games over the course of five-plus years at Toyota Center. The Cougars have not won in Kennewick since Nov. 2, 2003.

And things don't look too good for PG tonight as star player Brett Connolly is out for a second time this season with a hip flexor injury, and the Cougars are without goalie Hudson Stremmel, who has concussion-like symptoms and did not make the trip. Alex Wright (3-8-0-1) will get the start.

"Injuries have been an issue," said PG coach Dean Clark. "We missed Dallas Jackson the first part of the season and Brett is a world-class guy. He is the difference in some of those one-goal games. It's hard to say, but when your top guy is out, you know he would make you better."

And the Cougars have been playing better of late, winning four of their last 10. One may not think that is a good thing, but when your win total is nine, it's progress.

"We have won some games, but we are not near where we want to be," Clark said. "We have made some improvements. We won in Vancouver, which I don't think this club has done in a long time. Playing the better teams help mark where you're at. It's a challenge for us and I like to see how they react in those situations."

The Americans are 3-2 against the Chiefs this season and have split their games at Spokane Arena. Tri-City beat Spokane 5-2 on New Year's Eve at Toyota Center.

Spokane, coming off a 5-4 loss to Saskatoon on Tuesday, hosts Chilliwack tonight. The Chiefs, who have played without forward Tyler Johnson (Team USA) and defenseman Jared Cowen (Team Canada) for nearly a month while they were at the World Junior Championship, have lost seven of their last 10.

According to Spokane general manager Tim Speltz, both players were due to arrive in Spokane on Thursday night, but their status for Saturday's game is unknown.

Chilliwack, second in the B.C. Division standings behind Vancouver, has won six of its last 10.

Hiller, who coached the Bruins for three seasons, said the first game against his former team (Oct. 28) was a bit tense, but that playing them again isn't an issue.

"Every game is important," Hiller said. "We want to win and it's irrelevant who they are. The two points don't discriminate."

NOTE: The Americans came in at No. 6 in this week's CHL poll, moving up from seventh. The Windsor Spitfires (31-5-0-5) are No. 1.