Americans reach new heights beating Giants
Vancouver's inability to kill penalties means Tri-City is heading to WHL championship final for first time
By Lyndon Little, Vancouver Sun
April 26, 2010
Vancouver Giant Craig Cunningham tries to jam the puck past Tri-City Americans goalie Drew Owsley during Tri-City's 5-2 win at the Pacific Coliseum on Sunday night. The Americans are off to the WHL championship final, after beating the Giants in six games.Photograph by: Stuart Davis, PNG, Vancouver Sun
The Tri-City Americans are venturing into territory no edition of the hockey team has ever gone before.
With three previous trips to the WHL Western Conference final and nothing to show for it, the Americans will finally be making their first league championship series appearance after eliminating the Vancouver Giants with a 5-2 Game 6 victory Sunday before a crowd of 5,538 at the Pacific Coliseum.
The Ams -- the top team in the Western Conference during the regular season -- will take on the Calgary Hitmen in this year's WHL final with the first game going Friday in Cowtown.
In Tri-City's three other trips to the Western Conference final the team had lost twice to Kamloops and once to Spokane. So, it's not surprising the Americans played like a club hungry to finally gain some recognition.
"A lot of people thought we'd lost too much [in the way of players] to do well this year, but we had a solid core of guys coming back," said Tri-City GM Bob Tory.
"We don't get a lot of recognition down in our area. We just go about our business quietly and try to do our best."
"I knew we had potential," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, who didn't get the job behind the Americans' bench until mid-August after being fired by the Chilliwack Bruins. "It's a young team, but these players have faced adversity this year and always come through."
Small but skilled and tenacious in their approach to the game, the Americans took everything the Giants threw their way and came back for more.
Special teams played a big part in the series. The Giants have had trouble on the penalty kill all playoffs and, it seemed, the scrappy Americans made them pay just about every time a Vancouver player made a trip to the penalty box.
Tri-City scored two more power-play goals Sunday, giving them five man-advantage markers in the final three games of the series.
Tri-City got power-play goals Sunday from Johnny Lazo and Kruise Reddick and even-strength scores from Justin Feser, Sergi Drozd and Patrick Holland.
Both the Giants goals also came on the power play, by Milan Kytnar and Craig Cunningham.
Tri-City goalie Drew Owsley faced 102 Vancouver shots over the final three contests and let only five get past him.
"One of our main goals was to outwork their goalie and we weren't able to do that," said Giants' centre James Wright. "I'm not saying he [Owsley] outplayed our goalie but he made lot of big saves."
"Our inability to kill penalties hurt us right through the playoffs," said Giants' coach Don Hay. "Each round the competition got better. We were beaten in this series by a very good hockey team."
"It should be an exciting final," says Hiller, a B.C. product who grew in both Nelson and Cranbrook. "We only played Calgary once this year and lost. But anytime you're one of the final two teams in any league is a really proud moment."
G-NOTES: Owsley, a small [5-foot-8, 156-pounds) but cat-quick 19-year-old from Lethbridge, was chosen as the MVP of the Western Conference final ... Cunningham, a finalist for WHL player of the year, finished the playoffs with 12 goals and an equal number of assists. Only Calgary's Brandon Kozun has more playoff points (26) than the 19-year-old Vancouver centre ... The Giants finished the playoffs with a 6-2 record on the road, but went only 4-4 at the Pacific Coliseum.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun