In a hard-fought, bitter matchup, the Americans fell 4-2 to the Rapid City Rush in Game 4 of the Ray Miron President’s Cup Finals Friday night at the Allen Event Center.
The Americans, who bill themselves as the ‘AA affiliate of the Dallas Stars,’ missed a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and are now tied 2-2.
Even though Allen went up 2-0 on early power play goals by Justin Bowers and Bruce Graham, they ended up surrendering two later goals on Rapid City power plays as the Rush stormed back in the second period to take control of the contest.
From the Allen perspective, the Rush were helped significantly by questionable officiating from referee Ryan Hersey, who the Americans have apparently had issues with in the past.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” said Allen coach and general manager Dwight Mullins, who earned a game misconduct for expressing his opinions at the final buzzer. “I put a request in to the league on a situation that has been occurring several times over the course of the season and I guess they refused to take me seriously. Unfortunately, we were put in a situation that kind of took us out of the hockey game. This isn’t a regular season game - we’re in the Finals here and you have two teams that have clawed and scratched their way to this. It’s about the players and it’s disappointing.”
With Allen trailing 3-2 in the third period but pressing for the tying goal, the Americans got into some penalty trouble and ended up down two men for a full two minutes after Nino Musitelli was whistled for interference, followed immediately by a Mike Salekin unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing the original call.
It took Rapid City just 19 seconds to capitalize on the opportunity, as Jon Pelle pounced on a loose puck in front and chipped it up and over Americans goaltender Chris Whitley at 10:39 to make it 4-2.
That incensed the Allen bench and things got a little rougher over the final nine-plus minutes. Salekin ended getting ejected with 2:09 left in regulation after complaining to a linesman, who skated over to Hersey, who then issued the game misconduct.
“If you go back from January and you look at the times that he did games and the times that we’ve played, we have gotten minor penalties called by linesmen in every single game,” Mullins said. “If you look in the playoffs, even in the last three, we have had minor penalties called by somebody other than the referee. And it isn’t anybody else.”
There was even a full-on brawl with 1:12 remaining, as Bowers picked up a game misconduct and four other Americans were penalized, while three Rush players were also sent off. The bad blood between the teams certainly sets the tone for an interesting Game 5.
With a 2-0 lead into the second period, the Americans seemed to let up just a bit as the Rush came out determined and completely altered the complexion of the game, outshooting Allen 13-3 over the first 15 minutes (18-9 for the period overall) and outscoring them 3-0.
Rapid City got one back at 9:21 when Derek LeBlanc, stationed in the high slot, re-directed Gio Flamminio’s shot from the left point past Whitley.
The Americans spent some time in the penalty box and the Rush were able to cash in on a 5-on-3 advantage that lasted 52 seconds, as Brandon Hodge rifled a blazing slap shot from the point that sailed through a screen in front and found the upper right corner at 13:12 to tie the contest.
Just as Allen started to regain some of their spirited play, Rapid City notched the go-ahead goal with 2:50 remaining in the period as Les Reaney raced into the Allen zone on a 2-on-1 rush with Scott Wray. After faking the pass across to Wray, Reaney fired a wrist shot from the right face-off circle that beat a surprised Whitley between the pads.
“I thought we had three legitimate chances to make it 3-0 and we didn’t bear down and bury the puck,” Mullins said of the second period. “They got a goal off of a long shift and then we put ourselves in a hole on the power play. Games like that are going to happen. We made a tactical error on the third goal that we shouldn’t make this time of year, but that’s the hockey game.”
The Americans got off to the quick start they were hoping for as they converted on both ends of a 5-on-3 power play 29 seconds apart, to surge out to a 2-0 lead just 3:12 into the contest.
With a two-man advantage for 1:22, Allen needed just nine seconds to strike first, as Graham controlled the puck deep in the right corner before whipping a perfect cross-ice pass right to Bowers at the left post for an easy tap-in.
Just 29 seconds later, still on the power play, the Americans went up by two as Graham received a pass from defenseman Jordie Benn (the older brother of Dallas Stars’ rookie Jamie Benn
) and unleashed a scorching wrist shot from the high slot that beat Rapid City goaltender Danny Battochio.
“I think we gained automatic possession and we moved the puck around,” Mullins said of the Allen power play, which ended up 2-for-6 on the night. “A couple of times late in the game, I thought we lost some draws and had to chase the puck around a little bit. They worked hard. The other team worked hard, too. I’m disappointed in the fact that they won’t let the players decide what the heck’s going on. That’s my frustration.”
With Game 5 on Saturday night back here in Allen, Mullins was sure his club would put the frustration of this game behind them and come out focused and ready.
“It’s 2-2 and it’s a seven-game series and we have to look at it like that,” Mullins said. “We have an opportunity to win a game tomorrow night and go up 3-2 and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re fine, my hockey team, they’re fine.”
Because of the CHL’s 2-3-2 format, Game 5 Saturday night (7:30 pm start) at the Allen Event Center will conclude the Americans’ home schedule - and will be the last chance for Metroplex hockey fans to see live hockey this season. If you can’t catch it live, listen to the broadcast with play-by-play man Tommy Daniels for free on www.sportsjuice.com
or watch for a small fee on CHL TV (accessible by going to www.centralhockeyleague.com
). Those who get Time Warner Cable can also watch the game via tape delay on Metro Sports channel 185 or find it On Demand after the fact. STARGAZING
- Bowers extended his point streak to 10 games, during which he’s recorded eight goals and 19 points, and he leads all CHL playoff scorers overall with 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists). He is just four points shy of the CHL record for points in a playoff year, set by Colorado’s Greg Pankewicz in 2007.
- In making his 18th start of the post-season, Whitley set a new CHL playoff record for both appearances in goal and minutes played. His 35 saves also allowed him to break the league record for saves in a post-season, with 566.