Above the Glass
by Samantha on 12/13/11 at 04:53 PM ET
They’ve dialed the Portland Winterhawks’ number. And so far this season, the Tri-City Americans have dialed it in every game they’ve played against the Hawks. This weekend they did it again, with a 3-0 win that extends their points lead in the top spot in the WHL’s U.S. Division. Their roster is full of NHL prospects, relatives of NHL players and two very talented brothers, all of whom come to every game to kill and eat anything that wears a Winterhawks jersey. You know what they say; keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer. So, let’s meet the Tri-City Americans, shall we?
They’re well connected: Goalie Eric Comrie has two brothers you might have heard of: Mike and Paul. Therefore, he is also the brother-in-law of Hilary Duff, for whatever that’s worth. Born in 1995, he was drafted by the Ams in the first round of the 2010 Bantam Draft. Goalie Ty Rimmer, acquired in a trade in August, is no slouch either. It was he who racked up the shutout on Sunday, in which he was also chosen as the first star of the night.
They have great Twitter handles: Check out defenseman Justin Hamonic’s Tweets @Hammertime6. When I said the Ams come to kill and eat something, this is one of the players who comes to kill and eat several somethings. Or you could follow Jordan Messier @messkid19. Captain Mason Wilgosh can be found @blackmullet18. Or there’s always Brendan Shinnimin @ShinboSlice.
They are very scary good: Especially Adam Hughesman, Mason Wilgosh, Brendan Shinnimin and Connor Rankin (who just turned 17 last month). Hughesman (New York Islanders) and Shinnimin (Phoenix Coyotes) spent the pre-season at NHL camps, where they were invited as free agents. Defenseman Zachary Yuen had the honor of being drafted by the Winnipeg Jets this summer, in their first NHL draft in forever and a day. Fellow d-man Sam Grist was not, but did get invited to the Philadelphia Flyers’ training camp a week later. He likes to get in your face, which when you think about it, makes him perfect for the Flyers. Shinninmin is criticized around these parts for being a bit of a diver, but there’s no denying the boy can play: in 30 games played, he has amassed 45 points. Notably, he had a sort-of hat trick in a November 23 game against the Hawks, where he racked up one goal and three assists.
It might have something to with this: In addition to all being overagers this year, Hughesman, Shinnimin and Wilgosh all hail from Winnipeg and yes, they played together in childhood.
They boast an almost-Winterhawk on their current roster: Lukas Walter played with the Winterhawks during training camp and the pre-season, and was put on waivers, where he was snatched up by the Ams. That move, by the way, put the Winterhawks one player under the roster minimum (the prime reason was 15 players at NHL camps), forcing the cancellation of a pre-season game. I’d keep an eye out for Walter. A lot of people here liked what they saw in him; he’s a 6-foot tall spark plug who likes to start the business. I don’t think he got through a game at Winterhawks training camp without dropping the mitts, which is exactly why he’s a good fit for the Ams.
Or maybe one day they’ll just play alongside each other in the NHL: Right wing Patrick Holland is a Calgary Flames prospect, and already played alongside Sven Bartschi at the Young Starts Tournament in September. If that was any sign of things to come, the Flames’ future is in good hands.
Family connections don’t hurt either: Brothers Jordan and Marcus Messier come to the Ams from their hometown of Canmore, Alberta. Jordan is 19, and Marcus is 17. Their father is former pro hockey player Mitch Messier, who played for the Minnesota North Stars before injuries suffered in a tragic car accident ended his career. And yes, they are related: their father is Mark Messier’s second cousin.
Numbers don’t lie: The Tri-City Americans are first in the WHL’s U.S. Division, 7 points ahead of the Portland Winterhawks, who sit in second place. They are first in the Western Conference; Portland is third. For all their physical play, they have fewer penalty minutes than the Winterhawks; 522 compared to our 569. Something tells me young Mr. Walter there will help them close that distance before season’s end.
They start their engines, put it in overdrive and never look back: In 2008, the team won the U.S. Division title for the first time. They won it three straight seasons in a row, and if you ever go to a game at Toyota Center in Kennewick, Wash,. you will see people still wearing their “Three-Peat” t-shirts. Or, if you sit in the right part of the rink, you can just stare in awe at the banners. That is also how they play. Once they get inside the opponents’ head and start scoring, at least where the Winterhawks are concerned, there’s no stopping them.
Well, ok, maybe we can feel their pain on one important point: In 2010, the Tri-City Americans won the Western Conference title for the first time. They went on to drop the league championship to the Calgary Hitmen in five games. This year it was the Winterhawks’ turn: the team took the U.S. Division and Western Conference titles and punched a ticket to the WHL finals, where they were defeated by the Kootenay Ice in five games.
So in short, be afraid. Be very afraid: Because the Tri-City Americans are very good. They are very fearless. And they play every game like you should: out loud, in your face and without apology.
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About Above the Glass
Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.
I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.
Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass