SPOKANE — It wasn't so long ago that the Tri-City Americans and Spokane Chiefs played an epic seven-game series in the Western Conference finals that saw five games go into overtime before the Chiefs closed out the series and went on to win the Memorial Cup.
That was 2008. Three years later, Americans captain Kruise Reddick still feels the sting of the loss.
"It just seems like yesterday that that happened," Reddick said. "It's still fresh in the mind. It's something I'll never forget; it's our turn this time. It should be a great series. Both teams are going to come out and play and the better team is going to win."
The Americans and Chiefs open their Western Conference semifinal round today at Spokane Arena, with Game 2 on Sunday in Spokane. It's the first time the teams have met in the playoffs since 2008.
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The series will have a 2-3-2 format because of building availability in both towns. Games 3 and 4 will be at Toyota Center on Tuesday and Thursday, as will Game 5 on April 17, if necessary. The final two games, if needed, would be April 19 and 20 in Spokane.
"Anytime Tri-City and Spokane get together it's entertaining," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team advanced after sweeping Vancouver in the first round. "To have a series is great for both towns and the players, and I think everyone involved. It increases the intensity of it all. In the end, it just ice hockey, you have to go out and execute."
The Chiefs won the regular-season series 7-5-0-0. The Americans won four of the first six games, and the last meeting of the 12-game series. Tri-City was 5-2 with Drew Owsley in goal. The starting goaltender missed three games against the Chiefs with a knee injury.
"We have our full team. They have their full team. Both teams will come hard, hopefully we will come out on top," said Tri-City defenseman Tyler Schmidt, who played in the 2008 series. "We played them eight or so times in the second half with five or six guys out. That's hard when you are playing against such a good team and trying to beat them without all of your top players. They haven't seen this team yet."
But Spokane coach Don Nachbaur has. He coached the Americans for six seasons, and was behind the Tri-City bench for the 2008 series.
"It's about character," Nachbaur told the Spokesman. "You just saw that rise to the top on both sides. It's was a battle. No team was going to quit. Just the emotion of winning and losing; watching a team walk off the ice with what you wanted. But a lot of respect. I think they had the same respect for us that we had for them winning the series."
Reddick said he has fond memories of playing for Nachbaur, but this is no time to be sentimental.
"He's a great coach and I wouldn't be where I am today without him," Reddick said. "He knows us and we know them -- we play them 12 times a year. He may have the inside track on us, but we are going to play our hardest. I twill be fun."
Schmidt also enjoyed playing for Nachbaur, but he said that has nothing to do with the task at hand.
"I want to come out on top this time," he said. "It sucked going home after that series after playing so hard in the end. It was pretty much a 10-game series. Don knows us well, but we know his ways too. We were here three years with him, we know how he coaches. It goes both ways."
The Americans, who played the last month of the season without leading goal scorer Adam Hughesman, Mason Wilgosh and Neal Prokop, are back to full strength for the first time since the Christmas break.
"It's nice to have a full team," Schmidt said. "Against Vancouver, it was nice to have everyone back together. Guys were getting used to playoff style in the first couple of games and having the whole team back together, we just started molding and by the end of the series we were playing really good."
The Chiefs played the last two games of their series against Chilliwack with leading scorer Tyler Johnson, who was shoved into the boards by Tyler Stahl. Johnson practiced a couple of days this week, but Nachbaur was mum on his status for tonight's game.
Hiller isn't concerned with Spokane's lineup. He wants to see his team continue to play the way it did against Vancouver.
"We feel we are playing as good a hockey as we have played all year," Hiller said. "Against Vancouver, we got better every game. We are ready and in a really good frame of mind."
-- Tonight's game and Game 4 will be broadcast on KVEW/KXLY at 7 p.m.
Tri-City -- Justin Feser (3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points); Brendan Shinnimin (1-4-5); Adam Hughesman (2-2-4); Matt MacKenzie (1-3-4); Kruise Reddick (0-4-4).
Spokane -- Steven Kuhn (2-3-5); Levko Koper (1-4-5); Blake Gal (4-0-4); Tyler Johnson (2-2-4); Dominik Uher (1-3-4).
Tri-City -- Drew Owsley 4-0 (1.38 goals against average, .939 save percentage, 1 shutout).
Spokane -- James Reid 4-0-1 (2.30 GAA, .901 save percentage, 1 shutout).
By the numbers
6,700 -- Number of tickets sold for tonight's game as of 4 p.m. Friday.
477 -- Games Don Nachbaur coached the Tri-City Americans (regular season and playoffs).
77 -- Games Nachbaur has coached the Spokane Chiefs (regular season and playoffs).
249 -- Shots by Spokane vs. Chilliwack in the first round (5 games).
21 -- Goals scored in 5 playoff games by Spokane.
16 -- Goals scored by Tri-City in 4 playoff games.
6 -- Goals allowed by Owsley in 4 playoff games.
5 -- Times Tri-City and Spokane have faced each other in the playoffs.
2 -- Games missed by Spokane's Tyler Johnson after taking a hit from Chilliwack's Tyler Stahl in Game 3 of the first round.
1 -- Times Tri-City has won a playoff series against Spokane (1995, conference semifinals).