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Examiner.com: Ams open season with bang

By Rene Ferran | Examiner.com

The Tri-City Americans ringed center ice Saturday night, encircling captain Kruise Reddick and alternate ‘C’ Tyler Schmidt as they unfurled the U.S. Division and Western Conference championship banners earned a year ago.

Then the Americans got down to the business of going about winning another set of banners.

They fed off the energy of the opening ceremonies for the 2010-11 season, going up 5-0 on archrival Spokane (led by former Ams coach Don Nachbaur) in the first 21 minutes of play before hanging on for a 6-3 victory at Toyota Center.

“Obviously, the guys were pretty pumped up for tonight,” said center Brendan Shinnimin, who opened the scoring just 1:22 into the game, added another goal 57 seconds into the second period and saw a third disallowed despite a lengthy video review.

“It felt good to get that early goal. It got the fans going, the team going, and we built on that. We let up in the second and third, and I didn’t like that. It was good to get the win, but we’ve still got stuff to work on.”

Patrick Holland added a goal and three assists, and Justin Feser, Jordan Messier and Mike Brown also scored for Tri-City.

The offense picked up right where it left off a year ago, when it was the top-scoring attack in the Western Conference and No. 3 overall in the WHL.

That’s in large part because of the continuity of the top two lines — Shinnimin and Adam Hughesman played with the graduated Johnny Lazo last season, and Holland and Feser were together.

For coach Jim Hiller, it was a matter of figuring out who would best mesh with the returning linemates.

With Shinnimin and Hughesman, he added Brooks Macek to the mix, making for a dynamic top line.

“Macek is probably our quickest skater when he gets going,” Hiller said. “So it’s a similar line to last year. They’re a real offensive group.”

Holland and Feser were joined on opening night by Brown, whose offensive improvement earned him a spot alongside a pair of 20-goal scorers of a year ago.

“Brownie adds some size to the mix and can also skate with them,” Hiller said. “In Holland and Feser, we’ve got two guys who can make plays together, and we added a third guy who can make them better.”

Captain Kruise Reddick centered a line that includes rookie sensation Connor Rankin and Jordan Messier. Hiller paired Reddick and Rankin together in the preseason and liked what he saw so much, he’s kept them together.

“I thought they had some chemistry together, and Kruise is a great mentor for Connor,” Hiller said.

The fourth line in Saturday’s game had former Chief David Conrad centering for second-year player Nils Moser and rookie Max Moline.

The top defensive pairing was no surprise — Hiller had said in the preseason he liked how the fifth-year veteran Schmidt teamed with up-and-coming sophomore Zachary Yuen.

The No. 2 pairing saw second-year player Drydn Dow team with 19-year-old veteran Brock Sutherland, while rookies Sam Grist and Spencer Humphries manned the third pairing.

“Dow and Sutherland communicate pretty well together and move the puck out quickly,” Hiller said. “With Sam and Spencer, they’re both big, strong guys, and if they can develop chemistry, they can become a big, aggressive, nasty pairing. We just need to give them a chance.”

That also was Shinnimin’s take on how the young defensive pairing did on opening night.

“Grist made some big hits and established himself in this league,” Shinnimin said. “What we need them to do is learn every game. When we get them to the level of our veteran players, our back line is going to be tough to beat.”

One change for sure for Sunday’s home game against Seattle will see Alex Pechurskiy start in goal. Drew Owsley had a solid opening game, stopping 25 shots.

Whether a few others among the six healthy scratches Saturday night see the ice Sunday won’t be decided until the morning skatearound. Mason Wilgosh will miss at least another month with a broken jaw.

Four rookies still wait to make their debuts — Nikita Kardashev, Zach McPhee, Riley Guenther and Marcus Messier — while Cody Castro and Tanner Olstad (technically a rookie, although he played in 10 games for Tri-City last year) also sat out Saturday’s game.

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