Americans drop Game 2 to Kelowna

Tri-City HeraldMarch 23, 2014 

Eric Comrie put in an honest effort Sunday night with 44 saves, but a lack of goals by Tri-City at the other end has the Americans trailing 2-0 in their Western Conference first-round series with Kelowna.

The Rockets scored two goals in the first period, including the game-winner by Ryan Olsen on the power play, en route to a 3-1 victory over the Americans before a crowd of 5,041 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia.

“We started the game well and with energy,” said Americans coach Jim Hiller in a phone interview. “We starting taking penalties and we got into trouble. We are getting the saves, but we need the goals.”

The best-of-7 series shifts to Toyota Center, where the Americans will host Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Wednesday.

“We have one of the best crowds in the WHL; they’re going to come out loud and proud and we’re going to try to feed off that as much as we can,” Comrie told The (Kelowna) Daily Courier. “We have a good team and we have great 20-year-olds who want to go out with a bang. Our team isn’t backing down. We still think we have the series in a good position.”

Comrie stopped all 18 shots he faced in the third period — including a highlight reel left pad save on a shot by Olsen with about 51⁄2 minutes left in the game — but the damage had already been done.

“They’re a really good team, one of the best teams in the CHL ... well, they are the No. 1 team in the CHL, according to the rankings,” Comrie said. “For us, it’s just about going out there and working as hard as we can. We have to go out there and win some games now.”

Clinging to a 2-1 lead heading into the second period, the Rockets killed off the second half of a 4-minute Tri-City power play, then went to work at the other end.

Rookie Joe Gatenby scored his first WHL goal at 3:01 as his shot from the point went over Comrie’s shoulder for a 3-1 lead and a little breathing room.

“We did get our opportunities but weren’t able to get it done,” Hiller said of the extended power play. “If we don’t get a lot of chances, we have to make the ones we do get count.”

The Rockets amped up the pressure as the second period progressed, and the Americans were keeping pace, behind a stellar performance by Comrie, who had 14 saves in the period.

During Kelowna’s power play with 3 minutes left in the second, the Rockets twice rang the puck off the pipe and Comrie made a couple of acrobatic saves to keep the score 3-1.

“(Comrie) is such a good goaltender, he doesn’t give you a lot to shoot at,” Rockets coach Ryan Huska told The (Kelowna) Daily Courier. “Tonight was a night where he was really on. We have to find a way to bury or capitalize on our chances, so when in games like this, where I feel we’re outplaying a team, they don’t come back to bite us.”

The Rockets outshot the Americans 15-9 in the second period, and Tri-City did have a couple of quality chances. Parker Bowles missed an open net at the left post with 7 minutes to play, and Jordon Cooke robbed Justin Gutierrez with a glove save with less than a minute left in the period.

The Americans opened the scoring midway through the first period Sunday as Bowles fed the puck to Phil Tot in the slot. Tot redirected the puck past Cooke at 10:37 just as their first power play had ended.

The lead lasted just 4 minutes as the Rockets came alive at the other end. Working on a power play, Myles Bell beat Comrie with a wrist shot low on the blocker side at 14:40 to tie the score.

The Rockets kept pushing late in the first period and were rewarded with a goal by Olsen, albeit a weird one.

Mitchell Wheaton’s shot flew high over the net, caromed off the glass, bounced off the top of the net and landed near the left post, where Olsen banged it home at 17:18 to give Kelowna a 2-1 lead.

“We got the first and they got the momentum back with the two goals,” Hiller said. “The building came alive and we had a tough time after that.”

The Americans were awarded a 4-minute power play with two minutes left in the first as Wheaton got his stick up in Jackson Playfair’s face in front of the Rockets’ net. Tri-City came up empty on the first half of the man advantage and carried the final two minutes into the second period.

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