KENNEWICK -- For 23 years, the Tri-City Americans and Spokane Chiefs have been battling it out on the ice, but they have only met in the playoffs five times over the years, including this year's Western Conference semifinals.
This year's battle is tied at two games apiece entering Sunday's Game 5 at Toyota Center.
The first time the Americans and Chiefs met in the playoffs was 1995, when Tri-City beat Spokane in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals. Terry Ryan, a forward with the Americans during that series, remembers it vividly.
Ryan, 34, scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 to send the Americans to the Western Conference finals, where they lost to Kamloops in six games.
"Actually, that same year, I scored the game winner on New Year's in overtime, too," said Ryan, who lives in St. John's, Newfoundland. "I remember that game. It was always heated. Not only were games with Spokane heated, but it was a packed house, and there were a couple of real good fights at the end."
Tri-City had a 3-1 lead in the series before the Chiefs rallied to tie it and force Game 7.
"When we were up 3-1, we weren't counting our chickens," Ryan said. "We knew better."
Ryan, who scored 50 goals with 60 assists during the 1994-95 regular season, had 12 goals and 15 assists in 17 playoff games, but none bigger than the one on the night of April 13, 16 years ago at Toyota Center.
With the score 4-4 entering overtime, Spokane's Sean Gillam looked to have scored the game winner past Tri-City goalie Brian Boucher, only to have the goal disallowed. The referees ruled that the puck had been kicked into the net, giving the Americans another chance.
"It was kicked in, but watching the game video, close-up views show that the puck went in off our player," Ryan said. "There was no replay back then.
"The next shift, I shot from the blue line, and it found its way in. It was a big goal. They were comparing it to Olaf Kolzig's goal. It still has a place in team history."
It certainly does. It's the only time the Americans have won a playoff series against the Chiefs.
Spokane swept Tri-City in the first round in 2000, then followed with a 4-1 first-round win in 2001. The last playoff battle was 2008, when the Chiefs won an epic seven-game series in which five games went to overtime -- three of those to double overtime.
This year's series could play out in the same fashion, and Ryan offered a bit of advice to his Tri-City brethren.
"I've been in a lot of Game 7s," Ryan said. "It's just a game. Relax. Go out and be a team. Focus on being a team, and put yourself in the best position to win. Let the other team know that you are a team -- shift by shift. Be team tough."
Ryan's family moved from Newfoundland to British Columbia in 1991 so he could further his hockey career.
"My dad (Terry) played pro hockey, and he knew the best options," Ryan said. "They didn't recruit (in Newfoundland) much back then. Most of the players here went to the Q (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), but that wasn't my style."
The Americans selected Ryan in the first round (third overall) of the 1992 WHL bantam draft.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Ryan played three years with the Americans (1993-96). He played with the likes of Daymond Langkow, Boucher, Brent Ascroft, Chad Cabana and Sheldon Souray.
"When I went to camp, I was a good centerman, but Daymond was better," Ryan said. "(Coach) Bob Loucks told me I could center the second line or play left wing with Daymond. I became a winger."
His 1995-96 season was cut short because of a concussion, but he still finished with 32 goals and 37 assists in 59 games. During the 1996-97 season, he was traded to Red Deer.
During the 1994-95 season when he scored 110 points, Ryan also had 207 penalty minutes.
"I was smart about it," Ryan said. "I would get into fights at the end of the game. I wasn't a goon or anything."
Ryan was drafted in the first round (eighth overall) by the Montreal Canadiens in 1995. His NHL career spanned eight games.
"That was tough," he said. "Everywhere I went, I put up good numbers. I made sure I played with character, and if I wasn't putting up points, I was dropping the mitts. But I was never able to have that success in the NHL."
Ryan had a good run in the minors, but an ankle injury in 2000 has left him a step behind.
"I love the game, and I have peace of mind with it," said Ryan, who runs hockey schools, plays senior-level hockey and plays on the national ball hockey team. "I still keep in contact with the guys. We went through a lot together. It's an experience that can never be taken away."
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; email@example.com