Backlund Scores Twice As Rockets Eliminate Americans
KELOWNA, BC - Battered and bruised, the Americans gave it one more try on Sunday night, looking to extend their 2009 WHL Playoff run. But, in the end, the red hot Kelowna Rockets proved to be too much, bringing Tri-City's season to a close.
Mikael Backlund notched two goals and an assist to lead the Kelowna Rockets (8-2-0, 16 pts) past the visiting Tri-City Americans (6-4-1, 12 pts) 6-2 in front of a sold out crowd of 6,136 fans at Prospera Place. With the win, the Rockets clinched the best-of-seven series with Tri-City 4 games to 2 and will advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2005. It will be their third trip to the conference finals in the last six seasons. Meanwhile, the Americans' 21st season comes to a close after they celebrated their second straight U.S. Division crown.
The series had taken its toll on the Tri-City line-up, as several players either missed time or were playing through injuries. Most notably were leading scorers Jason Reese and Mitch Fadden. But, with their season on the line, the Americans saw both players return to the line-up in Game 6, despite not being 100%.
For the first time in this series, the Americans managed to get the game's first goal. Fittingly, it was Tri-City's three 20-year-olds who worked together to take the early lead. With only eight seconds remaining on their first power play and after passes by Reese and Fadden, Taylor Procyshen beat Mark Guggenberger, placing a wrist shot in at the far post. Unfortunately, it would also prove to be the final points of the trio's WHL careers.
With 4:17 remaining in the first period, Backlund knotted the game at 1 while extending his goal-scoring streak to four games. The game remained tied after the first period of play, but all that would change in the second.
The Rockets connected five times on the Americans' Chet Pickard, as Kelowna finally took control of the contest. Just 4:45 into the period, Jamie Benn buried a backhander after he broke into the Americans' zone all alone. Then, at the 8:13 mark and during a scramble in front of the net, defenseman Curt Gogol tucked the puck in after Pickard had just moved his skate off the post.
Tri-City's Brooks Macek responded 1:06 later, as he and Mason Wilgosh took off as part of a 2-on-1 breakaway. Macek let a wrist shot go, beating Guggenberger shortside to pick-up his third goal of the post-season, making it a 3-2 game.
But, the back-breaker came with 7:40 remaining, as a sloppy power play turned into a short-handed opportunity for the Rockets. Backlund intercepted a pass at the point and went in all alone on Pickard, using a backhander to beat him over his glove.
The flood gates opened after that, as Ian Duval connected on a breakaway with 5:01 remaining, followed by Evan Bloodoff's breakaway marker with 1:10 left in the period. Kelowna outshot the Americans 20 to 6 in the period, as Tri-City managed just one shot on goal over the final half period.
The final period of play was relatively uneventful, as the Rockets cruised to the victory and a third round date with either the Vancouver Giants or Spokane Chiefs. Pickard, who was replaced by Brett Martyniuk for the final 7:30, finished with 26 saves on 32 shots, while Martyniuk stopped both shots he faced. Meanwhile, Guggenberger collected 12 saves to pick-up his eighth win of the post-season. Tri-City finished the night 1-for-2 on the power play and was a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill. It was the first time in the series that Kelowna had been held scoreless on the power play.
The loss wrapped up the WHL careers of three of the more dynamic players to don a Tri-City uniform. Team captain Taylor Procyshen, who played his entire career with Tri-City (259 games), finishes 11th on the Americans' all-time games played list. He also cemented his name inside the top-15 on their all-time points list. The former list player has appeared in more post-season games (38) than any other player in the franchise's history and will finish among the top-5 in playoff points (25), goals (10) and assists (15).
Reese, a former Tri-City Jr. Americans player, put together an impressive two-year stint with the club. He amassed 163 points (21st all-time) in 137 games for the Americans, missing just seven games over the past two years. The Gresham, Oregon-native also will wind up sixth on the Americans' all-time lists in both post-season goals and points.
Although he spent just 54 games with the club, Fadden will undoubtedly be remembered for his uncanny skill on the ice. The forward racked up 71 points in those games to finish inside the top-50 on the franchise's all-time points and goals scored lists. He led all Americans' in scoring this post-season, registering three goals and 16 points.
And, although still eligible to play for Tri-City next season, Americans fans have likely seen the last of goaltender Chet Pickard. A first-round pick by Nashville in last year's draft, Pickard will seemingly move on within the organization, leaving quite a legacy behind him. The Americans' all-time wins leader (107), also finished his career with a franchise-best 2.48 goals against average and a 0.914 save percentage. Pickard will also go down as playing more post-season minutes than any other Tri-City goaltender, while collecting franchise-high's in post-season wins (17), shutouts (3) and goals against (2.43).
But, as quickly as the Americans will say so long to their fellow teammates, they will prepare to welcome new ones, as the WHL will hold its Bantam Draft on Thursday, April 30th. Fans can follow all of the Americans' draft day highlights online at www.AmsHockey.com.
U.S. Cellular Three Stars:
1, Mikael Backlund, Kelowna
2, Evan Bloodoff, Kelowna
3, Curt Gogol, Kelowna
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Western Hockey League Stories from April 13, 2009
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- Giants Earn Double OT Win - Force Game Seven - Spokane Chiefs
- Giants Win 3-2 in Double OT - Vancouver Giants
- Backlund Scores Twice As Rockets Eliminate Americans - Tri-City Americans
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