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Tri-City Herald: Ams anxious for rematch with Calgary

By Annie Fowler | Tri-City Herald

The last time Tri-City and Calgary met on the ice, the Hitmen put an end to the Americans’ dream season, winning the Western Hockey League title in five games.

Tonight, the two teams aren’t playing for a trip to the Memorial Cup, but the Americans still are feeling the sting of having their best season in franchise history ended at the hands of the Hitmen.

“They ended our season last year in a hurry,” said Tri-City captain Kruise Reddick, who is questionable for tonight after suffering a concussion Oct. 8 against Brandon. “A lot of guys in the room have a bitter taste in their mouth. We want to erase that. We want to come out and take it to them. We need to come out strong. They are a good team and they will play us tough.”

The Americans will be playing their first home game since Oct. 2. They went 3-3 on their recent trip through the East Division.

“We are ready to be home,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. “It was quite a trip, starting in Spokane and going as far east as Brandon. We made it through the adversity and I liked how we finished much better than how we started.”

The Americans (7-3-1-0, 15 points) are sitting second in the U.S. Division behind Portland, while the Hitmen (4-4-0-0, 8 points) are fifth in the Central Division. Calgary, which is 2-1 on its trek through the U.S. Division, will finish at Spokane on Wednesday and head home.

The Americans will have a couple of fresh faces in the lineup tonight as Mason Wilgosh will play his first game of the season after suffering a broken jaw during the preseason, and Zak Stebner will dress for his first game since coming over in a trade with last week.

“We are starting to see what we have with the new players and what they bring,” Hiller said. “The veterans are becoming more comfortable, some struggled a bit a out of the gate. Zak brings something that is hard to find and that is experience on the blue line. He’s a right-handed shot and plays on the power play and penalty kill. He plays an important role on the power play. It helps balance out the minutes and in the end will make everyone better.”

The Hitmen lost nine players from last year’s WHL championship team, including Stebner.

“This is a different team and we’ve had a slow start,” said Calgary coach Mike Williamson. “We’ve been happy with our road start, so far. We’re 2-of-3 and want to finish these last two on a positive note.

“It was a difficult decision to let Zak go,” Williamson continued. “All four (overage players) are great kids. It’s good that (general manager) Kelly (Kisio) could find Zak a good team that is a contender.”

Stebner, who arrived in Calgary last season at the trade deadline in January, is excited for his Tri-City debut, even though it is against his former team.

“It’s going to be different,” said Stebner, who collected some personal items off the Calgary bus Monday. “Some were worried that I’d give up all their secrets. It will be weird, but I’m doing what I love to do. I’m moving on and I’m going to have a good time with this team.”

And the Tri-City fans.

“They are a pretty wild bunch,” Stebner said. “Coming in during the playoff last year, they were crazy. It will be cool to have them on my side.”

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Stebner joins a back end led by Tyler Schmidt.

“He brings size and he’s going to put up some points,” said Reddick, who played midget hockey with Stebner. “He’s a well-rounded player and we’re happy to add him to our roster.”

The Hitmen, who scored 269 goals last year while giving up just 177, have struggled to score just 24 so far this season — the third fewest in the league.

“We’ve had good goaltending, that hasn’t been an issue,” Williamson said. “We’ve struggled at times to create offense. You don’t win games in this league without a high level of work ethic.”

Calgary captain Tyler Fiddler has struggled offensively with one goal and two assists.

“We’ve been fighting the puck a little this year,” Fiddler said. “The one thing we have to do is stay positive. Tri-City is one of the better teams we will play this year. We have to be ready.”

Notes: Everett Silvertips coach Craig Hartsburg will undergo surgery on his heart after being diagnosed with an ascending aortic aneurysm. Hartsburg will undergo a heart catheterization at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett on Wednesday, with surgery to follow in the coming weeks. It is expected that he will be sidelined through the first half of the season. Associate head coach Jay Varady will handle the bench in his absence along with assistant coach Chris Hartsburg. … Prince George defenseman Sena Acolatse was named WHL player of the week after scoring three goals with eight assists and a plus-8 rating in three games. … Kelowna coach Ryan Huska was named head coach for Team WHL for the Subway Super Series against an all-star team from Russia. Williamson will be behind the bench with Huska for both games, while Kamloops coach Guy Charron will assist in the game in Kamloops on Nov. 17. PG coach Dean Clark will assist in the Nov. 18 game in Prince George. The roster for Team WHL will be announced this week.

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