If the first few weeks of the WHL season are any indication of what's to come, the Tri-City Americans will be in much better shape than most anticipated.
For a team that was second-to-last in scoring a season ago, the Ams (4-4-1-0) have rebounded in a large way nine games into the season.
Thirteen different Americans have found the back of the net already this season. That includes four who potted their first career WHL goals: Michael Rasmussen, Kyle Olson, Juuso Valimaki and Parker AuCoin.
Tri-City is also averaging almost an entire goal per game (3.4) more than it did all of last season (2.6). Granted its only nine games into the season, but it's a fantastic sign for a club wondering in the offseason where the scoring would come from.
AuCoin netted his first on Wednesday to open the scoring in the Americans' 5-3 loss at home to Prince Albert. Overage player Brian Williams also scored his first of the season on a 5-on-3 advantage midway through the first for a 2-1 Ams lead.
But the Raiders grabbed the lead with three goals in 12 minutes and held on to win. Reid Gardiner continued his stellar road trip with his seventh goal of the season to give the Raiders the lead for good. Evan Sarthou finished the night with 23 saves. The win was the second of three straight for Prince Albert to conclude its U.S. Division road trip.
Third straight loss Friday
Friday night the Ams had trouble solving goaltender Payton Lee in a 2-1 loss at Vancouver. Williams scored in the first on the power play for his second in two games, but Lee shut the door the rest of the way, turning aside 26 shots to earn first-star honors.
Nicholas Sanders impressed in his first start in goal this season. He stopped 19 of 21 shots. After a performance like that, you can expect to see Sanders between the pipes more often to give Evan Sarthou some needed rest. Sarthou had played every minute of the Americans' first seven games.
Maxwell James won a scrap with respected Vancouver tough guy Dakota Odgers.
Breaking the skid
On Saturday, Tyler Sandhu potted a pair of goals to help the Tri-City halt its losing streak at three with a 4-2 home win over Portland.
Sandhu batted a rebound out of the air for the winner off a Brandon Carlo shot in the final minute of the second period with the scored tied 2-2.
Portland grabbed a 2-1 lead in the second on goals from Alex Schoenborn and Dominic Turgeon, but Michael Rasmussen scored his second of the year less than two minutes later. Parker Bowles added another power play goal in the third as the Ams went 2 for 4 with the man advantage.
Sarthou stopped 30 of 32 shots and helped the Ams kill off six of seven penalties.
Hillis makes return
Defenseman Riley Hillis made his first appearance of the season Saturday against Portland. Hillis had missed the first eight games while recovering from offseason surgery. Hillis' only appearance on the score sheet was a high-sticking penalty in the third period.
The Ams make their first visit to Kent this season on Wednesday to face the division-leading Thunderbirds (5-1-1-0). They return home and face Eastern Conference power Brandon (6-1-0-2) on Friday as the Wheat Kings make their annual trip west. Portland (2-6-0-0) comes to Kennewick Saturday night looking to rebound from another slow start to the season.
Comrie leaves Giants
Ty Comrie has left the Vancouver Giants less than a month after he was traded from Tri-City, according to Giants reporter Steve Ewen. Comrie has apparently decided to head home. The conditional draft pick Tri-City received in the trade is likely to head back to the Giants.
New lease agreement
The WHL, along with the City of Kennewick and VenuWorks announced a new five-year lease agreement that keeps the Americans playing in the Toyota Center through at least 2020. Tri-City has played in the Toyota Center since the franchise moved to Kennewick from New Westminster, B.C., in 1988.