Tri-City Americans

Ams face Central Division opponents

The Tri-City Americans will get their first taste of the Central Division tonight when they take on the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook, British Columbia.

The Medicine Hat Tigers (14-5-1-0) lead the Central Division with 29 points, while the Ice (12-3-1-2) is just two points back.

The Americans (12-5-0-0, 24 points) will play at Medicine Hat on Friday and at Lethbridge on Saturday.

Tri-City will complete its tour of the Central Division in January with trips to Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary.

The Americans are coming off a 4-1 win at Spokane last Saturday, the first of a five-game road trip that will end in Seattle on Nov. 18.

"It certainly makes it clear how we have to play on the road against a good team -- be responsible with the puck in the neutral zone," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller of the win over Spokane. "Kootenay is historically big and strong and Medicine Hat is smaller and quicker than Kootenay. Every game is hard. You go on the road and make it that much more difficult when you make them earn it."

The Ice have relied on goaltender Nathan Lieuwen (1.64 GAA, .941 save percentage) this season to make the big saves. While the Ice have only scored 50 goals with season, they have allowed just 37 -- second fewest in the league.

Emerson Etem and Hunter Shinkaruk have scored 45 of the Tigers' league-leading 83 goals. Though the scoring is plentiful, Medicine Hat's penalty kill is one of the worst in the league, sitting at 17th through Tuesday's 6-3 victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Etem, a 2010 first-round draft pick (29th overall) of the Anaheim Ducks, leads the WHL in scoring with 43 points.

Lethbridge (3-15-0-1, 7 points) has lost nine of its last 10 games.

The Hurricanes' power play is 21st among the 22 WHL teams, while their penalty kill is 20th.

While all three teams are vastly different, Hiller is confident his team is well prepared for what lies ahead.

"We feel we've had a challenging schedule and we are proud of our record," he said. "Based on that, we are getting better. Every game is a challenge for our players and our team."

The Americans roll into the Central Division having allowed just 39 goals (fourth fewest in the league), and with the third-best penalty kill (83.3 percent). Tri-City has scored 58 goals, using a balanced scoring attack that includes 11 goals by defensemen.

This is the first long road trip for the Americans this season, and the last to the Central Division for overage players Adam Hughesman, Brendan Shinnimin and Mason Wilgosh.

"The three of us are trying to step it up and go out with a bang," said Hughesman, who leads the Americans with 13 goals and 28 points. "The win against Spokane was big for us. They are a good at home and are well coached. It was a confidence booster for us heading into the road trip.

"Teams are built on the road. It's harder to win on the road and it's important to win as a team."