It’s been a long month for the TriCity Americans, but that’s not Mike Hurley’s fault. Hurley has scored and scored often through his team’s horrible start.
Hurley struck again Friday night in the Arena, but this time not in vain. His Western Hockey Leagueleading 15th and 16th goals of the year rallied the last-place Ams to a 4-3 win over the Spokane Chiefs before 9,807.
It was a rare night for smiles in the Americans’ dressing quarters.
“It’s nice to leave Spokane with two points for once,” said Hurley, the 20-year-old right wing, who in four seasons has had his share of disappointments in Spokane. “It’s hard to come from behind and win in here. A lot of different things go through your mind when you’re playing in front of nine or 10 thousand people.”
The Chiefs led 2-1 after 20 minutes, but with three points, Hurley was the difference playing on a line with Scott Gomez and Dylan Gyori.
“The three of them the last little while, especially on the power play, have been devastating,” Tri-City coach Rick Lanz said. “Mike and Dylan are playing with more confidence now. Gomez has always been confident.”
Tri-City goaltender Aaron Baker, who stopped 33 of Spokane’s 36 shots, toughened up as the game wore on.
“Their goaltender was excellent,” Chiefs coach Mike Babcock said. “He gave them every opportunity to win.”
The two clubs are back at it tonight in Kennewick with the Americans sitting at 2-8-1. The Chiefs, who’ve taken two of three from their division neighbor, remained tied for the lead in the WHL West at 7-4-1.
“Our (lack of) discipline hurt us,” Babcock said. “I also thought the referee (John Potter) was brutal.”
The critical breakdown started midway in the third period when Spokane’s Dan Vandermeer was sent off for roughing. Brad Ference joined him in the box 42 seconds later.
That put the Ams on a 5-on-3 power play.
“On a 5-on-3, I’m just trying to get the puck on net,” Hurley said. “I saw Darrell Hay with it on the point. He took the shot, I just tried to get a piece of it. I think I deflected it. (Chiefs goaltender Aren) Miller stopped it, the rebound came out and I think I put it in the five hole (through the goaltender’s pads). I’m not sure. I just shot it.”
It put Tri-City up 4-2.
The call that set Babcock off came earlier, in the second period, when Potter hit Miller for delay of game. That triggered another 5-on-3 power play for the Ams.
Spokane killed the first half of the penalty, but with the Ams skating with a 5-on-4 advantage a Zenith Komarniski poke check and an opportune bounce put Hurley on the move coming off the left wall. Hurley stuffed the puck between Miller’s pads to tie the game at 2.
“A goaltender gets hit in the face with a shot and he smothers it because he’s trying to re-group, and we end up short-handed,” Babcock said. “That is the worst call, maybe, I’ve seen of all-time.”
The Americans were up a goal just 1:22 into the game when Gyori scored his sixth of the year.
But Spokane’s Ty Jones extended his club-record scoring streak to 12 games with his ninth - and strangest - goal of the year.
The puck was resting on top of the net when Jones popped it loose. The puck hit the ice and bounced right for Jones.
Spokane took a 2-1 lead when Trent Whitfield, on the forecheck, stripped Josef Melichar and drilled the puck through goaltender Baker’s legs with 2:41 left in the first period.
The Ams tied it at 2 on Hurley’s goal on the power play, then took the lead when veteran Craig Stahl, from the left wall, left Chiefs rookie Cole Fisher in the slot and beat Miller with a shot through the pads.
Baker did his part from there, robbing Greg Leeb on a power-play goal with a kick save with 9:12 left in the second. Six minutes later, at 15:02, Stahl broke through and the Ams were up by one after two periods.
Down 4-2 and desperate, the Chiefs scored with 43 seconds left after pulling Miller for the extra attacker. Whitfield notched his second of the game on a shot from the right circle.
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