RICHLAND — With 29 games left in the regular season, the Tri-City Americans are locked and loaded for the homestretch.
On Sunday, the Americans picked up forward Mike Brown from the Swift Current Broncos. The 19-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, comes from a Broncos team that is battling for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference to a Tri-City team that is 31-11-0-1 and leading the U.S. Division and the Western Conference.
"It's a good thing for me," said Brown of the move after 2 1/2 years in Swift Current. "I'm definitely excited to be here. Just the thought of coming to a team with the chance of a long run is exciting."
Americans coach Jim Hiller said adding the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder to the roster is a big help after Todd Kennedy suffered a knee injury last weekend.
"I think any time you can add size -- and size that can play -- is important," Hiller said. "We want to make sure we have guys who can go up and down the lineup."
With Brown and the addition of Russian goalie Alex Pechurskiy after the Christmas break, Hiller sees good things ahead for his team.
"We couldn't keep Drew (Owsley) going at the pace he was," Hiller said of his top goaltender, who played 33 games before Christmas. "We are seeing Alex more comfortable and that's a position we are confident in. The nice part is that we have added pieces to be stronger. Today, we are in a much better position to do that (a long playoff run) than we have been all year."
Brown, who will wear No. 12, is not a prolific scorer, coming in with five goals and two assists.
"I'm a checking-line guy," Brown said. "I'm a role player -- a big body who is a physical presence on the ice. I just have to go out, play hard, do what I came here to do and make an impression on the coach."
Brown will get an opportunity to do just that tonight when the Americans host Seattle in a U.S. Division matchup. The Thunderbirds (14-23-2-4, 34 points) have won just two of their last 10 games, but have earned points in four. Seattle sits just six points back of eighth-place Kelowna in the race for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"There is time left, but six points is a lot to make up in the second half of the season," said Seattle coach Rob Sumner. "We are working on closing in on that last playoff spot. We are taking it day by day."
Against the Americans this season, the Thunderbirds are 2-2. This is their first visit to Toyota Center since Nov. 17, when the Americans posted a 5-3 victory.
Seattle comes in armed with the top-ranked goaltender -- Calvin Pickard -- in the Central Scouting Service's midseason rankings.
Pickard's record of 12-19-2-4 is not indicative of his caliber of play.
"The results have been decent enough, but Calvin has been the big story in the success we've had," Sumner said. "We aren't fooling ourselves, they are a top team. Our concern is playing well against a good team. We will do our homework, but we are more concerned with playing well ourselves.
"Calvin is 17, we have a great up-and-coming group and he is a leader in that group," Sumner added. "Calvin is deservedly where I think he should be. He's a very top-end player in that age group, it's his draft year and he's getting appropriate recognition."
Pickard has made life difficult for the Americans in the two game they have lost to the Thunderbirds.
In their first matchup of the season, Tri-City fired 57 pucks at Pickard, who stopped each one in a 1-0 victory. Pickard again was at his best Dec. 11, stopping 54 of 55 shots in a 5-1 win at ShoWare Center.
"Both times in Seattle, Calvin was very good," Hiller said. "They play a strong defensive game in front of him, then you have to beat him."
Tri-City forwards Brooks Macek, Jordan Messier and Justin Feser are ranked in the Central Scouting midseason report of players eligible for the 2010 NHL draft. Macek is ranked 101st, Messier 146th and Feser 154th.