KAMLOOPS, B.C. - As cliché as it sounds, all good things must come to an end. And, on Wednesday night, a very good thing reached its conclusion inside an arena full of bad memories for the Americans.
Colin Smith scored twice and Cole Cheveldave stopped 30 shots, as the B.C. Division-leading Kamloops Blazers (29-10-1-2, 61 pts) outlasted the visiting Tri-City Americans (32-8-0-0, 64 pts) 3-2 in front of 4,069 fans at Interior Savings Centre. With the win, the Blazers earned their fourth straight victory while knotting the four-game season series with Tri-City at a win apiece. For Tri-City, meanwhile, the loss was their first since November 30, snapping their franchise-best 13-game winning streak.
With the two top-ranked teams in the Western Hockey League butting heads, Wednesday's contest lived up to the hype. Not only did it feature two of the top 3 goaltenders in the League, but also two of the highest scoring offenses.
And, it was the Blazers' offense that would strike first. Just 4:25 into the contest, Tim Bozon worked the puck free from Ty Rimmer at the right post, then fed Smith in the slot, who proceeded to bury his 21st goal of the season.
Following the early misstep, it was then the goaltenders turn to shine, as they both held each high-octane offense in check until the third period.
Just 1:07 into the final period, though, Smith redirected a Tyler Bell shot from the point past Rimmer to make it a 2-0 Kamloops lead. The goal was reviewed, as the crew was looking to see whether or not the puck made contact with Smith's stick above the crossbar, and was later upheld.
Four minutes later, though, Tri-City finally broke through on Cheveldave. Using a breakout pass from Zachary Yuen, Brian Williams slipped around the Blazers defense and carried the puck into the right corner. From there, he found a hustling Jesse Mychan in the slot, who slipped his own rebound between Cheveldave's pads to pull the Americans to within one. For Mychan, it was his 4th goal of the season while playing in his first game as a member of the Americans.
With 6:22 left in the third, the Blazers thought they had scored goal #3, but the officials on the ice had signaled no goal on Brendan Ranford's attempt. The play was later reviewed, and upheld, allowing the Americans to stay within striking distance. But, with 2:23 left in regulation, defenseman Tyler Hansen used his first goal of the season to make it a 3-1 game.
Just 15 seconds later, though, Dylan Willick was called for hooking and the Americans went to work on the power play. With Rimmer pulled for the 6-on-4 advantage, Patrick Holland found Jordan Messier in the mid-slot, who slipped one past Cheveldave at the far post, pulling Tri-City back to within one at 3-2.
With Rimmer still on the bench, and with just over a minute left to play, Cheveldave made a fantastic diving save on Brendan Shinnimin, which was likely Tri-City's best chance at tying the game. In the end, Cheveldave made key saves down the stretch to preserve the upset victory.
Cheveldave, the 18-year-old rookie, picked up his team-leading 21st win of the season. Meanwhile, on the other end of the ice, Rimmer, with 25 saves, was tagged for his first loss since that November 30 game in Kelowna, snapping an 8-game win streak. Tri-City finished the night 1-for-5 on the power play and was a perfect 4-of-4 on the penalty kill.
The Americans will need short memories, as they will look to rebound on Friday, January 13 against the Vancouver Giants (26-14-1-1). Game time is 7:30 p.m. at Pacific Coliseum. The Giants, winners of three of their last four, will be looking to even their four-game series with Tri-City after being blanked 5-0 in the season's first meeting back on Oct. 15. Meanwhile, Tri-City will be aiming for their 9th win in 23 visits to Pacific Coliseum. The game will be aired regionally on ROOT Sports and SHAW, starting at 7:30 p.m. The game will also be broadcast live on NewsTalk 870 AM, starting with the Sterling Savings Bank Warm-up Show at 7:15 p.m.
Applebee's 3 Stars:
1, Colin Smith, Kamloops
2, Cole Cheveldave, Kamloops
3, Patrick Holland, Tri-City