The time has finally come.
The US Division of the WHL is gearing up for a hot start, and on March 18th, the Tri-City Americans will take the ice. For the first time since March 8th of last year, the Toyota Center will play host to WHL hockey. For those of you counting, yes, that’s more than a year. It’s been a long road, but here we are, and fans can’t wait to see the boys in blue back on the ice. As we enter a season that will only see teams play 24 games, fans and players alike are just happy for a season at all.
State of the team
With the new season comes a clean slate, and the Americans will be looking to improve their 17-40-4-2 record from the previous year with a .317% points percentage. In a stacked US division, of which three of the top WHL teams call home, the Americans will need to be on their best behavior. The team was second in the division for penalties and second to last on the penalty kill, taking needless penalties may cost them goals where they can’t afford to give them up.
The team will look slightly different from last year. With Krystof Hrabik, Dom Schmiemann, and Kyle Olsen aging out, eight rookies look to make their WHL debut with Tri-City.
Meanwhile, Luke Zazula, who collected 21 points in 37 games last year, will be looking to protect the defensive zone, similar to the way he did last year after being acquired in a trade. Unlike last year, however, Zazula will be sporting the “C” on his jersey, having been named the 32nd captain of the franchise. Perhaps his newfound captaincy will be a learning experience for the Americans. The overage BC native has the opportunity to guide his fresh face rookies through this shortened season. The rest of the Tri-City Americans 2021 Leadership group consists of forwards Sasha Mutala, Connor Bouchard, and defenseman Mitchell Brown.
Our 2020-21 leadership group:
— Tri-City Americans (@TCAmericans) March 16, 2021
Mutala finished last season with 28 goals and 39 assists and offers extensive knowledge of the team, having been an American his entire junior career, to the leadership team. During the offseason, he spent time with both the Grand Prairie Storm of the AJHL and the Colorado Eagles of the AHL. He brings with him those experiences to Tri-City as one of only a number of players to have games under his belt heading into the WHL season.
Bouchard posted 10 goals, and 34 assists in 54 games played last season. Heading into his third season with Tri-City, the Alberta native will be hoping to improve his record as he has every year previously.
Meanwhile, Brown contributed five assists to the team last season in his 25 games from the blue line. The defenseman from Salmon Arm, BC, was injured early in the season last year, cutting his season short.
You’ll see the familiar face of Talyn Boyko between the pipes, who looks to draw the eyes of scouts everywhere. His “B” rating on NHL Central Scouting’s players to watch list has him off to a good start in that respect. His height, combined with an ability to make tricky saves and keep a cool head, will be instrumental in propelling the Americans forward in an arguably difficult division.
Joining Boyko in net for the Americans is Mason Dunsford. Entering the season with a .838 save percentage and a 6.81 goals-against average, Dunsford is looking to improve his numbers throughout the season.
Heading into Thursday’s game
With a strong leadership team and a group of well-versed and experienced players on the ice, Tri-City will look to capitalize on their players’ overwhelming size and the space they take up on the ice when they open their season to an empty arena.
The Tri-City Americans open the season at home on Thursday, March 18th, against the Portland Winterhawks. Puck drop is set for 7:05 PDT.