Ams relieved to secure playoff spot

March 12, 2014 

Eric Comrie was at Toyota Center Wednesday afternoon, but his truck wasn’t.

Seems his tags expired not long ago and he didn’t notice. The police did and recently pulled him over. He got off with a warning. With no wheels, he hitched a ride to the rink for an optional practice.

“I didn’t have him scheduled to be on the ice today,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. “He asked if he could go out. I told him he could, then he thanked me.”

Welcome to the world of Eric Comrie, where hockey comes first.

Comrie’s commitment to the game paid dividends Tuesday night when he made 46 saves in a 3-2 overtime road loss to the Portland Winterhawks. The point earned clinched a playoff spot for the Americans, and Comrie set a franchise record for saves in a single season with 1,831, surpassing Aaron Baker’s mark of 1,825 during the 1997-98 season.

“That was a big point for us to get, especially since Portland is a tough place to win,’ Comrie said. “We didn’t win, but we got out of there with our point and clinched a playoff spot, which is a huge feat to do against an unbelievable team.”

The Americans held a 2-1 lead in the third period, but a goal by Mathew Dumba tied the score at 2-2 at 11:07. The score held through regulation, giving Tri-City the point it needed to lock up the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

“It has been a roller coaster like no other,” Hiller said of this season. “We have had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Last night was similar. You go into a tough building, weather the storm a bit and Eric has to make lots of saves. We scored a couple, they score. We hung on long enough to get the point and get in the playoffs, which is what our goal was heading to Portland.”

Once the Americans knew they clinched a playoff spot, Comrie said the sense of relief played a part in overtime.

“I know I should have stayed a little more focused going into overtime, but I was so relieved that we got that point and are going to the playoffs,” Comrie said. “I have never actually started a playoff game in my career. I am excited for that.”

It is the 11th consecutive season the Americans have earned a trip to the playoffs.

“I have been a part of that for three years now and each year has been a different journey,” Comrie said. “It’s just exciting to be a part of this team every year. It’s such a great organization. You see the history on the walls and the 40-win seasons. From where this franchise came from, this is incredible.”

For Hiller, it is his fifth trip to the playoffs with the Americans.

“It gives everyone a fresh start,” Hiller said. “We play all year for that. There have been years we played so well, we played the eighth-place team. This time we are the eighth-place team and we have to play the big guys, but  the fact is you wipe the slate clean and start fresh. It’s time to have some good fortune on our side and see what we can do.”

Comrie need 41 saves Tuesday night to surpass Baker. The save that put him over top came at 8:26 of the third — a stop on Oliver Bjorkstrand.

“It think it was a power play,” Comrie said. “They went back door to Bjorkstrand, I made a blocker save, covered the rebound and we killed off the penalty. That was good. That was the most important thing at the time. We were protecting a one-goal lead and we were just trying to win the game.”

The play earned praise from Hiller.

“Eric has made a lot of nice saves and maybe none nicer than that one,” Hiller said. “That really put an exclamation point on the record he achieved. As many saves as there have been, he has the highlight reel saves to go with them. He is our backbone and that has been proven all year.”

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