The Tri-City Americans had become accustomed to starting strong, scoring a ton of goals and winning on home ice. So much so, that they had won 13 straight at Toyota Center.
Sunday, the Kelowna Rockets threw a wrench into the Americans' perfect world, getting two goals from Zach Franko and 30 saves from rookie goalie Jordan Cooke in a 4-3 victory before a crowd of 4,017.
"They came in and were more determined than we were," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team had played four games in six nights. "Their feet were faster than ours and it was hard to make plays. Generally, it's the other way around."
The Americans (29-13-2-1, 61 points) trail Portland by six points and Spokane by three points in the U.S. Division standings. The Winterhawks beat the Chiefs 6-5 in overtime Sunday.
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Kelowna (27-20-0-0, 54 points), which has won it's last four games, had not won at Toyota Center since Feb. 25, 2008, a span of nine games.
But for Rockets coach Ryan Huska, winning three big games -- all on the road against Seattle, Spokane and Tri-City -- was bigger than anything else his team accomplished this week.
"It was a good week for us," Huska said. "What we did this week is more important than anything in the past."
From the start, Kelowna played a physical game, eventually taking the Americans out of their game plan.
"I thought when we pushed back that's when we got better," Huska said. "If you allow them to skate like they can, you are in for a long night."
The Rockets took a 2-0 lead 11:47 into the game off goals by Jessey Astles and Zach Franko, but the Americans came storming back to tie the game by the end of the period.
Carter Ashton, in just his sixth game with Tri-City, scored his fifth goal at 14:24 to cut the deficit in half.
Kelowna goalie Jordan Cooke had committed to Brendan Shinnimin on the left side of the goal, but Shinnimin dished the puck off to Adam Hughesman, who in turn found Ashton with a wide open net at the right post.
"We knew Kelowna would come in tough," Ashton said. "They came out strong. As a group we had to match that and at times we did. Four in six is no excuse. It was frustrating to hand the goals to them. We outplayed ourselves."
Justin Feser tied the game at 18:01, taking a pass from behind the net from Patrick Holland and beating Cooke for his 16th goal of the season.
The Rockets, who dictated play in the second, took a 3-2 lead at 10:56 as MacKenzie Johnston's blast from the right point ricocheted off pipes and into the net for his first WHL goal.
The Americans had a golden opportunity to get back on even ground with an extended 5-on-3 power play at 16:44. Tri-City worked the puck around the zone, but had no shots on goal during the man advantage that lasted 1:51.
"I don't know the last time we didn't score a power-play goal," Hiller said. "To me, that might have been able to save us. On the 5-on-3, we didn't execute very well. When the feet aren't working, the head isn't working. It's a hard game to play then."
Franko scored his second of the game just 4:11 into the third period for a 4-2 lead, but the Ashton had the Americans back in the hunt after he scored from the top of the left circle at 8:24.
Tri-City pulled goalie Drew Owsley the last 1:18 of the game for an extra attacker, but the Rockets did a good job of keeping the Americans from setting up their offense.
"This was a tough one," said Kelowna captain Tyson Barrie. "Tri is well skilled and fast. They play a great game. It's tough to win three in one weekend, but we pulled it off."