November 4, 2009
Oh say, can you see ...Americans proving to be dawn's early light of the WHL campaign
By SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA
Most WHL teams have reached the quarter-pole of the season.
And, without question, the red-hot Tri-City Americans are the talk of the league.
It's not that the Americans, who posted a 101-point campaign last season, were expected to flounder.
But few were predicting a league-best 13-3 start to the season.
Head coach Jim Hiller said there were a number of openings in training camp after the club said good-bye to three key graduates.
Taylor Procyshen, Jason Reese and Mitch Fadden piled up a combined 238 points last season.
"We lost three 20-year-olds who played a lot of minutes last season," Hiller said. "We thought we had some guys who were capable of filling those minutes."
One player who's made the most of his increased ice time is 18-year-old centre Brenden Shinnimin.
The Winnipeg product leads the team with a dozen goals and 28 points through 16 games.
"He's one of the guys who we thought would be capable of stepping up," Hiller said of Shinnimin, who had 25 points in 64 tilts last season.
"We knew he'd be good, but he has been great to start the season. There was some opportunities created by (losing the overagers).
"We returned 18 players. Some of them hadn't had as much success because they were younger or were in different roles in the past."
Americans fans have been treated to some of the best goaltending in junior hockey over the past few seasons.
First, they had current Montreal Canadiens 'tender Carey Price between the pipes.
Then it was Chet Pickard, who was named the WHL's top goaltender the past two seasons.
"Yeah, (the fans) have been spoiled -- no question" Hiller said. "There was a question as to who would replace Carey. Then it was, 'Who's going to replace Chet?'
"Both of our guys have answered that question."
Drew Owsley has posted a 12-3 record and is among the league leaders with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.
Prior to last night's game in Kamloops, backup Brett Martyniuk had yet to surrender a goal in 69 minutes of work.
The Americans, who had won 11 of 12 before taking on the Blazers, have hockey fans in the Tri-City area of Pasco, Richland and Kennewick, Wash., excited.
"It's an intimidating rink to play in," Hiller said of the Toyota Center in Kennewick. "The fans are boisterous and enthusiastic."
And they're deserving of a solid team.
Ams supporters suffered through some lean years earlier this decade, including a miserable, league-worst 48-point season in 2002-03.
But they've been a powerhouse for a number of years now.
And it doesn't appear as though that will change this season.
"There were some years when the team didn't have a lot of success, but the fans were still supportive," Hiller said. "They're being rewarded for their patience now."
The Americans, who are 6-0 on home ice, are on pace for 117 points.