A Tri-City squad with a lot of local connections rolled into Cranbrook and melted the Ice with a 4-2 victory in the third game of a road trip that includes five different stops in WHL cities.
Led by local product and head coach Jim Hiller on the bench, the Americans snapped a 2-2 tie late in the third period, and added an empty netter for the win.
Standing in goal for Tri-City was Eric Comrie, who turned away 30 shots for the win, while younger brother Ty Comrie added some scoring with a goal up front. The two are younger siblings to former Kootenay Ice sniper Mike Comrie, who joined the team for half a season in 2001 before turning pro with the Edmonton Oilers.
It was former Ice general manager Bob Tory who brought the elder Comrie from university hockey into the WHL and the man who has held the same job with the Tri-City Americans for the last dozen years.
It was also the first and only chance all season that Ryan Chynoweth would get to face his former team. Chynoweth was property of the Everett Silvertips before being dealt to Tri-City for most of the season last year.
After dismantling the Lethbridge Hurricanes 8-1 on Saturday night, the Americans invaded Western Financial Place and generated a 2-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes.
Ty Comrie scored first, sneaking a shot under a sprawled Mackenzie Skapski on a play that started with a turnover in the Ice defensive zone. Team captain Mitch Topping doubled the lead 10 minutes later, snapping a shot from the point that redirected off a Kootenay stick into the net.
“It’s tough, they got an unfortunate bounce on the second one there, but you can’t get down, you just gotta keep going,” said Ice forward Luke Philp. “We had a good couple first shifts there, so you just got to build off that and forget that the score is 2-0.”
The two teams were equal in shots after the first frame, but Comrie was still unbeaten, and one of the main reasons why the Kootenay squad was still scoreless.
Comrie was a second-round pick by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2013 NHL Draft, and will likely challenge for a job at the World Junior Championships with Team Canada.
The Americans goaltender proved to be a tough puzzle for the Kootenay offence to solve.
“You got to drive to the net,” said Philp. “If he can see it, he’s probably going to stop it, so you got to get in his face a little, you got to work hard for those second and third chances, because that’s how you beat a goalie of his calibre and we didn’t do enough of that tonight.”
The tide turned a bit in the second period, as the Ice got on the board with a little help from special teams. After two minutes of solitary confinement in the penalty box, Ice defenceman Jagger Dirk busted out and jumped in on the play, rushing the puck into the offensive and firing a cross-crease pass to Austin Vetterl, who tipped home his third goal of the season.
Kootenay’s special teams went to work in the third period again, and Philp capitalized with a bomb from the blue line to even up the game at 2-2.
However, it wouldn’t stay knotted for too long.
Four minutes later, Brian Williams trailed the play all alone into the Kootenay zone and wired a high wrister past Skapski on a feed from Connor Rankin in the corner.
Marcus Messier added an empty net goal in the final minute as Kootenay searched for the equalizer with six attackers on the ice.
Eric Comrie said Tri-City’s plan was to keep up a high-paced tempo and key in on Kootenay’s offensive weapons in Sam Reinhart, Jaedon Descheneau and Tim Bozon.
“You got to be careful, they’re a dangerous team,” said Comrie, “and they’re going to be a dangerous team in the league this year.”
Kootenay has faced two other U.S. Division teams so far this year, losing to the Seattle Thunderbirds and Portland Winterhawks. All five division teams are above 0.500 and in the Western Conference playoff race.
“It seems like every year the U.S. Division is really good and Everett and Seattle are really doing good this year after a couple down years—now they’re doing really good and coming back really strong,” said Comrie.
“It’s really good to see for our division that every single game’s a battle for us and we got to make sure that we compete every single game.”
The game was played in front of the smallest crowd of the season, with an announced attendance of 1,987.
Kootenay now occupies sixth place in the Eastern Conference, tied up at 18 points with the Regina Pats and Brandon Wheat Kings, with a game in hand.
NOTES: The Ice have a one-day break on Monday, but return to Western Financial Place on Tuesday to host the Calgary Hitmen, which are battling for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Team Alberta won the Western Canada U-16 Challenge Cup in Calgary, a tournament that features WHL prospects from across the four western provinces. Ice prospects Connor Barley and Vince Loschiavo won bronze with Team Manitoba, while fellow Kootenay prospects Declan Hobbs and Drew Warkentine suited up for Team Saskatchewan.