Tri-City-Kelowna series is David vs. Goliath

March 20, 2014 

Bob Tory called it David versus Goliath.

He’s right. It is. Exactly 50 points separated top-seeded Kelowna and eighth-ranked Tri-City in Western Conference standings.

So don’t be surprised if you find him in a sporting goods store between now and Saturday, when their first-round playoff series starts.

“We will show up and play with a lot of passion and a lot of pride,” said Tory, Tri-City’s GM. “But make no mistake, this is David versus Goliath, and we’re having trouble finding 20 slingshots. So if anyone knows of a hardware store that has some, let me know where they are.”

Tory’s comments during a WHL playoff press conference on Thursday had the media in attendance laughing. But even if slingshots were legal in hockey, Tri-City would still have a tough time defeating Kelowna.

The Rockets’ weakness this season has been teams that play tough, like Victoria or Seattle. Playing hard-nosed hockey isn’t Tri-City’s gig; up-tempo hockey is, and that’s a style Kelowna, with its fleet, deep roster, can handle.

Experience also favours Kelowna, with Tory saying his squad became the youngest in the league after the trade deadline. Also in Kelowna’s corner: scoring. The Rockets had the second-most goals at 310, while Tri-City was 20th out of 22 at 178. Portland was first at 338, with Lethbridge last at 171.

“We have a lot of pride and have a lot of respect for this league and how hard it is to accomplish what this Kelowna team has done,” said Tory. “For our young team, this will be a great learning experience, to be put under the fire against the top team in Canada right off the bat.

“We’ll take those lessons and we’ll put everything on the line to try and win this series. Whatever the outcome, we’re going to learn a lot from playing Kelowna.”

Asked if his young team, led by head coach Jim Hiller, could steal a game or two, Tory replied “we’d like to steal four games, but we’ll start with one. Certainly the odds are against us; they dominated the season series (4-0). Let’s not make any mistakes; it’s the top team in Canada versus a team that limped into the playoffs.

“We’re proud of the fact that we made the playoffs, but we’re not happy with the type of season we had. It was up and down, and we had seven consecutive 40-win seasons and we were gunning for eight. Our whole organization was humbled a little bit by this season ... we made some adjustments and got younger, but we set our sights quite high every year. We try to win every game we play and we want to be first every year, but we also have a lot of respect for the league and the teams that we play and how hard you have to work.

“This is a chance for our guys to reset and make a statement in the playoffs, not only for this season for the future.”

Four years ago, the roles were somewhat reversed. Tri-City finished first in the West while Kelowna was sixth. The two clubs met in the second round, with the Americans winning 4-1. The year before, though, Kelowna eliminated Tri-City in the second round, 4-2.

“We’re expecting this to be a very good series,” said Rockets coach Ryan Huska. “Tri-City has a very well coached team with Jim Hiller, and they’re terrific defensively. They don’t give up a lot of opportunities, and whenever they do, they have a terrific young goaltender that typically backs them up. So we’re anticipating a very challenging series, and we’d like to wish Tri-City the best of luck in this series. We’re looking to getting started.”

At the start of the press conference, Tory congratulated Kelowna for winning the Scotty Munro trophy as regular-season champions, stating “it’s a tremendous accomplishment and I know how hard it is to do,” adding that “coach Huska and (GM) Bruce Hamilton run one of the finest organizations in the CHL.”

You can include Tory and Tri-City in that group.

Not long ago, the Americans were on the cusp of relocating to Chilliwack; today, thanks to Tory, they’re as strong a team as you’ll find in the league, and I’m glad WHL commissioner Ron Robison touched on that topic Thursday.

“There was a time in our history where I wasn’t sure that franchise was going to survive,” said Robison. “Under Bob’s leadership, combined with a tremendous franchise ownership group led by Stu Barnes and Olaf Kolzig, along with Dennis Loman and Bob, they have put together a very competitive program where they seem to be in the playoffs or competing for a position every year. They’ve stabilized that franchise extremely well in the Tri-City area.”

Tri-City has a great GM in Tory and an equally good coach in Hiller. However, that won’t be enough for Tri-City to get past Kelowna. Rockets in sfive; it’d be four, but goalie Eric Comrie can steal a game.

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