In Game 5 of the Ray Miron President’s Cup Finals, the Americans were routed 7-2 by the Rapid City Rush Saturday night at the Allen Event Center, falling behind in the best-of-seven series 3-2.
The Americans, who bill themselves as the ‘AA affiliate of the Dallas Stars,’ now have their backs to the wall as Game 6 moves to Rapid City on Tuesday night, when the Rush will have the opportunity to clinch the Central Hockey League championship.
In the final professional hockey game to be played in the DFW Metroplex this season, in front of a standing-room-only sellout crowd of 6,003 rabid, red-clad fans, the Americans were done in by a poor second period for the second consecutive night.
They were once again outscored 3-0 in the middle frame to turn a tight 2-2 game into a 5-2 Rapid City blowout heading into the third, and it only went south from there. The players almost seemed to feel worse that they gave such a passionate turnout a disappointing performance than the fact that they now trail the series 3-2.
“It’s truly an amazing place to play,” captain Jarret Lukin said. “Hats off to all the people involved here, the fans, you can just see the way they showed up for us tonight, our last home game. I feel sorry, and I speak on behalf of the team, that we didn’t have a better outcome, but this thing’s not over and we’re going to try our best for the fans here - they deserve it.”
“It’s disappointing in the sense that you get your largest crowd of the year and you have some things that maybe don’t go your way,” added Americans coach and general manager Dwight Mullins. “It’s unfortunate, but we’re a proud hockey team. Nobody’s told us to go home yet and when the puck drops on Tuesday night, it’s back to square one.”
Even though they will be facing elimination, the Americans are confident that they can claim Game 6 and force a deciding Game 7 in Rapid City on Friday.
“We just move past it. We don’t have time to sit and feel sorry for ourselves,” said Mullins of his team that is 3-0 this post-season when a loss could end their season. “The thing I like is that our future is defined now, where two days ago, maybe it wasn’t. ‘Can we win at home, do we have to go to Rapid City?’ Our future’s defined now and we have to focus on the task and when we’ve been able to do that, we’ve been good.”
It was a tough night in several respects on the ice. It was the first time all season, regular season or playoffs, that the Americans lost consecutive games on home ice, and the seven goals allowed represented the most they’d surrendered all year. For goaltender Chris Whitley, who led the CHL with 31 regular season victories and has been outstanding during the post-season, setting a league record for the most games, minutes and saves in a playoff year, giving up five goals on 15 shots through two periods was unprecedented.
“The guy has been there for us all year, he’s been there for us the entire playoffs,” Mullins said of Whitley. “Maybe not the kind of night he had hoped to have, but at the same time, I’m not concerned. Some things happened tonight that haven’t happened to us in a long time.”
Offensively, Justin Bowers scored a goal and an assist and Colton Yellow Horn also found the back of the net for the Americans.
After falling behind 2-0 early, the Americans roared back, tying the game before the opening period was over. Heading into the second, the Americans had the momentum early, but it was Rapid City who got the next goal, as Brendan Cook scored his first of the night at 4:03. With a wall of bodies in front of Whitley, Derek Campbell curled into the slot and spotted Cook just off the goal line to the right of the net and Cook drilled a one-timer from a sharp angle over Whitley’s shoulder.
“I think the third goal, that might have been their best goal of the night,” Mullins said. “They worked real hard and created an opportunity out of some missed coverage and that was a good goal.”
Cook made it 4-2 at 10:33, just 18 seconds after Allen’s Tobias Whelan entered the penalty box on a questionable high-sticking call. Cook collected a loose puck just inside the Americans’ zone and unleashed a wicked wrist shot from the left face-off circle that beat Whitley over the glove.
Rapid City pushed the advantage to three with 3:02 remaining, just four seconds after the Americans were called for a too-many-men penalty that nullified their own power play and left the clubs skating 4-on-4. Les Reaney won the ensuing face-off back to Scott Wray and then headed to the slot, where he deflected Wray’s slap shot past Whitley.
“Look at the fifth goal,” Whitley said. “Lose a draw and Reaney’s going to the net and tips it in. There’s nothing much you could do on a couple of those, but it’s just bad breaks, I guess.”
Local product David McKee replaced Whitley in goal for the third period, but that didn’t help as Cook completed his hat trick just 47 seconds in on the first shot against McKee. On a 2-on-1 rush into the Allen zone, Reaney fed the puck across to Cook, whose wrist shot from the slot bounced off McKee’s shoulder and rolled over the goal line to make it 6-2.
The Rush got another one at 4:23 on another bad bounce, as Jon Pelle’s slap shot from the point sailed wide. But after retrieving the puck behind the Allen net, Derek LeBlanc slid a backhander in front that ricocheted off McKee’s skate and trickled slowly over the goal line in a play that seemed to typify the Americans’ fortunes on this night.
Things didn’t start out too well for the Americans, either, as the Rush jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a couple of odd goals before the game was eight minutes old.
Just 3:10 in, Campbell scored the contest’s first goal on a somewhat fluky play. After Reaney’s shot from the left side of the goal line hit the side of the net and popped straight up in the air, Lukin swatted the puck down with his hand, but it bounced in the crease next to the left post, and Campbell managed to jam it past Whitley’s pad and in.
“It pretty much started from the first goal,” Whitley said of the Americans’ bad luck, “a scramble at the side of the net and I obviously wasn’t on the post and their guy kind of banged it by the side of me, so that kind of set the tone, I think. It wasn’t what we wanted.”
Reaney struck again at 7:32 on a play that Whitley would undoubtedly love to have back, putting the Rush up 2-0. Whitley appeared to make a glove save on Brendan Cook’s slap shot from the top of the right face-off circle, but unbeknownst to him, the puck dropped behind him. It sat on the goal line for an excruciating moment before Reaney dove into the crease and poked it over the line and in.
“Hockey’s a funny sport, that’s why we play, you never can predict what’s going to happen,” Lukin said. “I think if you look at the first goal that went in tonight, you look at yourself, even the second one, it’s like, ‘What do you do?’ Whitley has been the best goalie in the league and those things happen. Lucky for us, it’s not an eliminating game, and I know that he will be ready to play his best when we go to Rapid City.”
Allen responded well, getting one goal back just 1:38 later on Bowers’ 12th goal of the post-season, a pretty individual effort as he carried the puck into the Rapid City zone and unleashed a blazing wrist shot from the high slot that whipped over Rush goaltender Danny Battochio’s shoulder and in.
The Americans continued to press and Yellow Horn tied it up on a power play with 3:57 left in the period. Bowers controlled the puck at the top of the left circle and fed a short pass into the slot to Yellow Horn, who let go a somewhat soft wrist shot that slipped through Battochio and in.
Allen ended up outshooting the Rush 14-5 in the first period, which, amazingly enough, was the first time in the series they held an edge in shots on goal for an individual period.
The Americans now face the task of putting this disappointing loss behind them and having to win two games in South Dakota, where they won Game 1 and lost Game 2 in overtime, in order to claim the title. They have already rebounded from a 3-2 series deficit in this post-season, rallying to defeat Laredo in the first round, although Games 6 and 7 were at home. Allen did win Game 7 in Odessa to triumph in the Southern Conference Finals, however, and they feel they can draw on that big-game experience.
“For us to put ourselves in that situation, we’re going to have to put a lot of work in,” Lukin said. “It’s a tough building to play in, I think all the games we’ve had there this year, we’ve had a chance to win. We’re confident in that building, which is nice, and we have experience. We’ve gained a ton through the games we’ve played, like Game 7s, and hopefully, we can use that to our advantage.”
“I think we have to be positive,” added Whitley. “We went up there and beat them in their own rink and were 40 seconds away from going up 2-0, so we know we can win in that rink, which is big for us. We just got to be ready, so we can just focus and be ready for Game 6.”
Watch Game 6 on CHL TV by linking through www.centralhockeyleague.com
or listen to play-by-play man Tommy Daniels for free on www.sportsjuice.com
and see if the Americans can bring home the CHL title to the Metroplex for the second consecutive season, after the Texas Brahmas, who play out of North Richland Hills, won it last year.STARGAZING
- Bowers extended his point streak to 11 games, a stretch in which he has compiled 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists). He now has 30 points in the post-season, just two shy of the CHL record, initially set in 2007 by Colorado’s Greg Pankewicz.
- Yellow Horn’s goal gives him an impressive seven goals in his last six games, including a hat trick in Game 3 of this series. He now has 10 playoff goals, giving the Americans three players with double-digit goals in the post-season, while only one other player in the league, Odessa’s Jeff Pearce, has hit that plateau.