Tri-City Americans

Ams hit the road again

The way things have been going this season in the Western Hockey League, it's got to be hard for coaches to close their eyes at night, for lurking around every corner is another nightmare of a game.

"Every team, especially with the way Prince George and Seattle have improved their records over last year, it's going to be a race from start to finish -- 1-10 from right here through March," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. "I don't think anyone can predict who will be where."

The Americans (10-4-1-0, 21 points) will travel to Everett tonight to take on the Silvertips in the 11th road battle in the last 12 games. Tri-City will be at home Saturday against Prince George for just its fifth home game this season.

Everett (5-4-1-2, 13 points), which was one of the top two teams in the U.S. Division last season, finds itself fourth in the division standings heading into tonight's game.

"Unlike past seasons, there are no easy games in the Western Conference this season," said Everett associate coach Jay Varady, whose team has lost three in a row and seven of its last 10. "It is an extremely competitive conference. Every night your team has to be at its peak performance to win."

Tri-City has played 11 of its first 15 games on the road, where they are 6-4-1-0. With games in Seattle and Everett, there has been time for practice this week.

"As much as everyone loves to play, you have to practice to get better," Hiller said. "You also get a chance to gain confidence as a player. During a game there is so much on the line, but in practice you can try different things."

Adam Hughesman has taken the reins in the early part of the season, scoring a point in all but one of the Americans' 15 games. He leads the team with 10 goals and 20 points.

Patrick Holland, who had a five-point night last Friday at Prince George, has nine goals and 19 points, while Jordan Messier has nine goals.

"There are a few factors that play into it," Hughesman said of his hot start to the season. "We have a few guys hurt and Shinny (Brendan Shinnimin) is suspended. We aren't at full strength. But that's the strength of our team -- it's hard to shut us all down. They shut down Shinny or Kruise (Reddick, concussion) and Mess or (Justin) Feser is there to score. We will score by committee until we get the rest of the guys back."

Hiller has noticed and appreciated the team marching forward without two of its top players.

"We having been playing a young lineup without Kruise and Shinny," Hiller said. "Many who we didn't predict would play that much. They have doing a good job and that's a good sign for the future.

"We made an example of Hughey from day one," Hiller continued. "When guys were at NHL camps, he was here setting the pace. He has done an outstanding job right through training camp. I'm glad to see him rewarded. From the first day he showed up here, he has been as determined as we've ever seen him and that's reflected in his play on the ice."

Everett, which has been playing without coach Craig Hartsburg on the bench because of heart problems, is fourth in the U.S. Division.

Hartsburg was at practice Wednesday and Thursday and will be at tonight's game, just not behind the bench. Varady and assistant coach Chris Hartsburg will continue to run Everett's bench.

"From our standpoint, we are comfortable as a group," Varady said of the situation. "Craig has been around quite a bit. Everyone has been supportive and the players are focused. Every day is a new day. You look forward to the opposition and the challenge of each game, but our focus right now is on the consistency of our game for 60 minutes."

The Americans split with Prince George last weekend on the road, winning 7-3 the first night, and dropping an 8-3 game the next.

Tri-City is 19-3 against the Cougars in the last five years, but PG hasn't won at Toyota Center since Nov. 2, 2003. The span reaches 13 games, which includes a 3-3 tie on Feb. 6, 2004.

After Saturday, the Americans will get a week off before playing host to Red Deer on Nov. 6.

Notes: Friday will be Pink the Rink night at Comcast Arena. The Silvertips will suit up in special 'Pink the Rink' jerseys which will be auctioned off following the game. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Providence General Foundation that provides free mammograms to women in Snohomish County. ... The Americans will get some face time on FSN this season as the station will broadcast 10 WHL games starting Jan. 14 with Everett at Seattle. Tri-City's first game will be Jan. 28 with visiting Portland. On Feb. 4, the Americans play host to Spokane for a televised game, while on March 8, Tri-City's game at Kamloops will be broadcast. ... The New York Islanders are sending Nino Niederreiter back to the Winterhawks. He is expected to play tonight against Kelowna. In nine games with New York, Niederreiter had one goal and one assist. He led Portland last year with 36 goals.