Taylor Vickerman was the happiest hockey player in the Western Hockey League’s Western Conference when the Tri-City Americans made a trade with the Vancouver Giants in August 2013 to bring the Kennewick native back home.
But the past two seasons were not all sunshine and roses for Vickerman, 19. He had two knee surgeries, one shoulder surgery and a broken wrist, limiting him to 90 games.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound forward put in the time over the summer to heal after undergoing a knee operation to clean out scar tissue. He adopted healthier eating habits, learned the value of sleep and discovered yoga.
His efforts paid off in winning the team’s veteran’s fitness award earlier this week.
“I put in the time in the offseason, and hopefully I’ve helped myself,” Vickerman said. “I’m just taking everything slow and taking everything into account that helps me. It was a big step for me this summer. I’m just going to play the game and have fun.”
Vickerman’s efforts have been noticeable to the coaching staff during the Americans’ main camp.
“He had a great offseason,” Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. “He’s always worked extremely hard and takes his fitness training seriously. He won the fitness award, and he’s carried that over to the ice. He has been one of the best on the ice every time out. He’s excited about playing a bigger role. He’s excited to get the season started. He has taken a mature approach, has put the last two years behind him and is ready to go. He needs to use that confidence and run with it.”
Vickerman was able to get ice time when he needed it this summer. He helped out with the Americans’ youth hockey camp last month along with teammate Beau McCue.
“Beau and I did a lot together this summer,” Vickerman said. “We did weights together and the kids camp. I dragged him to yoga once, but it wasn’t his thing.”
With everything he put into his summer program, Vickerman looks forward to playing a complete season. He played 52 games his rookie season with Vancouver, and injuries limited him to 30 games his first year with Tri-City. Last year, he got in 60 games.
“We will have a really good team this year, and I hope to contribute,” Vickerman said. “The compete level has been pretty high at training camp. I’m looking forward to getting the season started.”
Hillis on the mend
Defenseman Riley Hillis had shoulder surgery over the summer, and his return to the ice is undetermined, according to Williamson.
“I don’t know an exact time frame, but we are going to err on the side of caution,” Williamson said. “We are going to ease him into things. We need him long term. He brings a lot to the team. He is a heart-and-soul kind of player, and there is value in that.”
Megna holds his own at rookie camp
Kennewick native Sammy Megna made the most of his invitation to the Americans’ rookie camp last week. The young goalie ended his time with the team by finishing with 23 saves in the annual Blue-White game.
“I think it was a great experience for him,” Williamson said. “He seemed to enjoy himself and take away a lot from camp. I think the level was higher than what he had been exposed to, but he got more comfortable as it went along. Hopefully, he can take that experience and put it in his game and improve.”
WHL goes to 3-on-3 in OT
Following the lead of the NHL, the WHL will adopt a 5-minute, 3-on-3 overtime format this season, according to WHL vice president of hockey operations Rick Doerksen.
The reason for the change is to allow more games to be decided in overtime without resorting to a shootout, thus creating a more accurate portrayal of the standings come postseason.
Williamson said he likes the change, but he isn’t sure how the Americans will implement it.
“There is really no litmus test for us,” Williamson said. “We’ve been talking about it and throwing ideas around. I think it will be entertaining with a lot of scoring chances. I think a lot of games will end in overtime instead of a shootout. Different teams will come up with different strategies. Fans will be excited.”