Trip home a highlight for Sawchuk

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Prince Albert product Riley Sawchuk made his return to the Art Hauser Centre Friday as the Tri-City Americans took on the Prince Albert Raiders.

Being away from home can be a challenge for a young hockey player, especially if you are playing in a foreign country.

So for 19-year-old Prince Albert product Riley Sawchuk, the Tri-City Americans biannual trip through the Western Hockey League’s East Division is one that he eagerly awaits.

“Unless I’m lucky enough to see them once or twice in the regular season, I don’t meet up with my family and friends from August until the Christmas break,” Sawchuk said.

“I love being able to play in front of them. It gives me some extra confidence and it’s really exciting knowing that there are people coming out to watch me play.”

Although he was unable to get on the scoresheet like he did on his last trip to the Art Hauser Centre on Jan. 6, 2017 when he scored his first WHL goal in a 7-1 win over the Raiders, Sawchuk was in the starting lineup for the Americans Friday in their 3-1 setback against the top ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League.

“I was hoping to get another goal,” Sawchuk smiled.

“The nerves were up coming into the rink tonight and I wanted to get that first shift out of the way so that nervousness would go away. The crowd here was huge and it was incredible to play in front of that many fans.”

Sawchuk is off to a solid start in his third season with the Americans, as the former Prince Albert Mintos forward has eight goals and five assists in 19 games.

“As you get older and more used to playing in this league, you start to gain more confidence,” Sawchuk said.

“That’s something I’m finding with my game this year, especially when I have the puck as I’m keeping things simple.”

After making a trip to the Western Conference final last season, the Americans currently find themselves in fourth place in the U.S. Division with an 12-7 record.

“There’s some new faces here so we’ve been working a lot on getting our chemistry going, but I think we’re off to a decent start,” Sawchuk said.

“There’s been a few ups and downs along the way, but I think we’re on the right track.”

One of the big keys to the Americans success has been the play of 19-year-old netminder Beck Warm, who happens to be Sawchuk’s billet brother.

After serving as a backup with the team for two seasons under former Raider Rylan Parenteau and Patrick Dea, Warm has played in all but one game this year and has an 11-7 record with a 2.86 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.

“When you watch how he prepares before a game, his level of focus is unbelievable to see,” Sawchuk said. “To have someone back there that you can trust like him is an incredible feeling.”

The Americans will conclude their trip through the WHL’s East Division Saturday night against the Saskatoon Blades.