Tri-City Americans

Ams reach WHL finals

Drew Owsley watched alone from his crease as the last faceoff of the game took place at the other end of the ice with 0.8 seconds remaining.

But it didn't take long for the Tri-City Americans to embrace their goalie, celebrating their first-ever WHL Western Conference title with a 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Giants before a stunned crowd of 5,538 on Sunday night at Pacific Coliseum.

"This is pretty awesome," said Tri-City forward Kruise Reddick, who had a goal and two assists. "We are going to the finals -- it's a dream come true. I can't wait."

The Americans will play the Eastern Conference champion Calgary Hitmen for the Ed Chynoweth Cup and a trip to the Memorial Cup. The schedule for the series has not yet been released.

"We have a strong group of veteran players and some young players and they ran with the opportunity," said first-year Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. "Those two things came together and helped us realize we are a good team. Coaching is so fickle. When you get an opportunity to get around players who want to win and who have had success, it's nice. We are all in this together."

The Americans got 30 saves from Owsley, who was named Western Conference finals MVP.

"I feel unreal right now," said Owsley, sporting his championship T-shirt. "I was in a zone for this series. There is always pressure, but it helps when the guys are scoring goals and taking some the pressure off me."

The Americans, winners of three straight U.S. Division titles, needed 22 years and 1,738 games (regular season and playoffs) to win their first Western Conference title.

Tri-City previously played in the conference finals in 1995 (lost in 6 games to Kamloops), 1999 (swept by Kamloops) and in 2008 (lost in 7 games to Spokane), a series still fresh in the mind of Americans team captain Jarrett Toll.

"This is a brand new feeling," Toll said. "It's such a good feeling. That (Spokane series) was such a devastating feeling. I never want to go back to that."

And the Americans made sure it didn't come close during the last 20 minutes of the game.

Rookie Patrick Holland broke the 2-2 tie just 26 seconds into the third. Reddick gave Tri-City a 4-2 lead at 3:06 with a rebound, and Sergei Drozd finished things off, taking a nice pass across the slot from Mike Brown and finding an open net behind Vancouver goalie Mark Segal at 13:59.

"In the first and second periods we were a step behind and sitting back," Reddick said. "It was different with all their power plays. It was a different pace."

Vancouver had nine power plays on the night, including three in the third period. It converted two into goals, but had little else to show for their effort as Owsley once again handcuffed the Giants.

"Drew has been our best player this series," Reddick said. "We lean on him a lot. When a series goes this long, you know what (the Giants) are doing and it makes for an easy transition."

Holding a precious 4-2 lead late in the third, Tri-City was forced back on the penalty kill, but Owsley made sure the Giants didn't sneak back into the game as he laid his stick down, blocking a shot by Brendan Gallagher with 6:30 remaining.

It was just one of many key stops by Owsley, who is 12-5 in the playoffs with a 2.14 goals against average and a .931 save percentage.

"He made a save on the PK in the third that would have tied it and completely changed the game," Toll said. "I was in the crease and I was shocked. He is a big reason we won this."

Vancouver came out pressing in the first period, and were awarded three straight power plays -- including an extended 5-on-3. But it wasn't until the tail end of the third man advantage that Milan Kytnar was able to shove the puck through Owsley's pads for a 1-0 Giants lead at 9:27.

The Americans came right back to tie the score at 10:08, exploiting Vancouver's penalty kill once again, as Johnny Lazo picked up a rebound and beat Segal.

Tri-City went out front 2-1 at 12:49 as Justin Feser gathered the puck coming down the right lane and put it in the net under Segal's right pad.

Working on a power play at the end of the first, the Americans were poised to take a 3-1 lead, but failed to corral a bouncing puck in the waning seconds as Segal was out of position.

The Giants, whose power play has been solid during the playoffs, rang up their second power-play goal of the night in the second as Craig Cunningham pulled Vancouver even with the Americans at 2 at 7:35.

Cunningham, who is a finalist for the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy for the top player in the WHL, led the Giants in playoff scoring with 24 points.