The Tri-City Americans pulled out their brooms and swept the Kelowna Rockets out of the playoff Thursday night.
Morgan Geekie had a hat trick, and Nolan Yaremko added a goal and two assists in a 5-3 victory over the B.C. Division champions before a crowd of 3,032 at Toyota Center.
“They worked hard for this,” Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. “Every game was close in the series. Tonight they (Kelowna) wouldn’t go away. If they would have won this one, they would have had the momentum. It’s important that we closed it out.”
It’s the first playoff series win for Tri-City since they beat Spokane in the second round of the 2012 playoffs. It also is the first series sweep since 2012 when they dispatched Everett in the first round.
“Our fans are just incredible,” Williamson said. “You would have thought there were three times as many fans as there were. We were happy to finish it here so they could watch that.”
For the Rockets, it’s the first time they have lost in the first round since 2012, and the first time they have been swept since 2016 when Seattle beat them in the Western Conference finals.
“We battled hard,” said Kelowna forward Dillon Dube, who had two goals in his final game in a Kelowna sweater. “When you are in your last life in the series, you battle hard. We went out on a good note. They were a good hockey team. They caught us off guard at home and we were chasing the 8-ball at the end.
“There were a lot of good players in this series and that’s what made it exciting,” Dube added. “This is one of the best first rounds I have played in. I think the fans enjoyed it a lot.”
Kelowna won 43 games during the regular season and won their seventh division title before taking on the Americans, who were the seventh seed in the Western Confernce.
“There is a fine line in playoff hockey,” Rockets coach Jason Smith said. “It’s a battle of leaders, goalies making good saves. That’s how close the games can be. We didn’t score enough goals to win. We competed, came back from being behind, but we didn’t quite finish it off. Credit to them (Tri-City), they finished it off.”
The Americans, who are are the first WHL team to reach the second round, won’t learn their second round opponent until the rest of the Western Conference series are finished. In the other series, Victoria and Vancouver are tied 2-2, Everett leads Seattle 2-1, and Portland leads Spokane 2-1.
Thursday, Tri-City led 2-1 heading into the final period, only to see Kyle Topping score on the power play to tie the score.
Yaremko gave the Americans a 3-2 lead at 10:03, but Dube, with his second of the night, made it 3-3 just 41 seconds later.
With time winding down, Geekie scored his second goal — and the game winner — with 54.8 seconds left, then completed the hat trick 17 seconds later to put the game out of reach.
“There was still a lot of time on the clock, it wasn’t in my head to score again,” Geekie said. “I was lucky enough to be in the right spot at the right time. It was a tough series. We were lucky to come out on top.”
Yaremko echoed the sentiment.
“It’s a great feeling,” Yaremko said. “Kelowna is a good team and had a great year. Both teams battled hard. It was a good series for us.”
Jordan Topping also scored for the Americans, while Isaac Johnson and Michael Rasmussen each had two assists, and Patrick Dea finished with 25 saves.
Americans 5, Rockets 3
First — 1, TC, J.Topping 1 (Johnson, Yaremko), 7:04. Penalties — Wilton, Kel (tripping), 3:06; Lind, Kel (tripping), 12:18.
Second — 2, Kel, Dube 1 (Lind, Korczak), 4:38. 3, TC, Geekie 7 (Olson), 17:41. Penalties — Olson, TC (hooking), 2:03; C.Foote, Kel (boarding), 11:09.
Third — 4, K.Topping 2 (Lind, C.Foote), 4:45 (pp). 5, TC, Yaremko 4 (Johnson, J.Topping), 10:03. 6, Kel, Dube 2 (Twarynski), 10:448. 7, TC, Geekie (Coghlan, Rasmussen), 19:05. 8, TC, Geekie 9 (Rasmussen, Yaremko), 19:22. Penalties — James, TC, double minor (slew footing), 2:49
Shots — Kel 8-10-10 — 28. TC 13-12-16 — 41. Power plays — Kel 1-3. TC 0-3. Goalies — Kel, Porter 0-3 (41 shots-36 saves). TC, Dea 3-0 (28-25). Referees — Kyle Kowalski and Fraser Lawrence. A — 3,032.