KENNEWICK -- The Tri-City Americans have helped revive the careers of several of the Western Hockey League's brightest stars -- most recently Colton Yellow Horn, Mitch Fadden, Jason Reese and Carter Ashton.
All came from teams swirling the bottom of the proverbial WHL drain at the time, and all four proved worthy of the price Tri-City general manager Bob Tory paid.
"We believe in second chances," Tory said. "It's not an exact science, but we have a lot of good things going for us. New players are welcomed in the dressing room. There is no pecking order -- it is a family environment. Everyone is treated with respect and dignity. It's a different environment when you play on a team struggling to win."
Goalie Ty Rimmer, left wing Nate MacMaster and defenseman Derek Ryckman know that feeling all too well.
Rimmer came in a trade from Prince George, a team that made the playoffs by the skin of its teeth last year after finishing the regular season 33-35-2-2.
MacMaster started last season in Moose Jaw before being traded to Calgary after 22 games. The Hitmen won just 20 games last season, and had the worst record in the league at 20-47-3-2.
Ryckman played his entire career in Lethbridge before a trade brought him to the Americans. The Hurricanes were a a woeful 23-36-5-8 last season and missed the playoffs.
To get a fresh start with the Americans has been a blessing. You can see it in their eyes.
"This team is different in the sense we come to the rink expecting to win," MacMaster said. "That is the attitude you need to win. In Calgary, there were times we would drop four or five in a row. It was hard to stay positive. When you are 18 or 19 (years old), you aren't happy just to be in the league any more. You want more."
He's gotten that and paid for his keep with four goals and an assist while playing a key role on the checking line.
"I saw a trade coming and when I found out it was Tri-City, I was excited," MacMaster said. "(Calgary GM) Kelly Kisio told me I was going from worst to first. They have a great tradition here. I love the group of guys here. They have treated me awesome since the first day I got here."
After three-plus years in Lethbridge, Ryckman was a bit nervous for a change, but after he arrived the butterflies flew away.
"I'm excited to be here," he said. "It's more fun when you win -- there is a different attitude around the rink. This team knows how to have fun, but knows when it's time to be serious."
The trade has helped Ryckman be able to play to his strength as a stay-at-home defenseman.
"In Lethbridge I was depended on a lot on the PK and the power play, and in all situations," he said. "Here I get to concentrate on the defensive part of my game. It's a lot of fun to play here. The crowd is energetic and loud, and the guys are great."
Rimmer struggled in PG last year to the tune of a 17-20-0-2 record with a 3.29 goals against average and an .899 save percentage. This season, he is 8-3-0-0 with a 1.65 GAA and a .947 save percentage (tops in the WHL).
"We have a great team here," Rimmer said. "The 20 guys and our staff are responsible for our record. It's a lot of fun to win, and a lot of hard work. I feel blessed with the opportunity to play here."
Rimmer tried to be diplomatic in regards to PG, but finally opened up.
"I'm having a great time here," he said. "I love coming to the rink everyday. It's a treat to play with these guys. I believe our defensive corps is second to none in the league. They give me a chance to play more aggressive."
And that's not all.
"I love playing in front of the home crowd," he added. "There were a lot green shirts (empty seats) in Prince George."
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; email@example.com