Chiefs Escape In Ot Cote’s Heroics Knot Kelowna Series At 1
In the normally elevated language of play-off hockey, Tuesday night’s first period was a whisper.
But by the end of a long night, after three periods and 13:50 of overtime, after coming from two goals down, Brandin Cote had turned this Western Hockey League quarterfinal series into a mad shout.
Cote’s soft shot into the far corner, just under the crossbar, from about 25 feet away, was the difference in the Spokane Chiefs’ 4-3 win over the Kelowna Rockets.
The series is tied 1-1 heading into tonight’s 7:30 rematch in Kelowna.
“At first, I was thinking pass,” said Cote. The precocious 16-year-old rookie took a pass from Perry Johnson and was off on a 2-on-1 break with Rick Berry when he ended it. “I had Berry open, but when I looked over to pass, he was kind of covered. Coaches had been telling us all night long to get it on net, and hopefully something would go in.
“I think I caught him (goaltender Chris Noble) off-guard a little bit. I think he thought I was going to pass. It wasn’t a very hard shot but luckily it went right under the crossbar.”
As for what Noble gave him, Cote said, “There’s wasn’t much (of an angle) there. Just the corner. I just shot and whatever happened, happened.”
What happened is nothing short of a turnaround.
The Rockets jumped all over the emotionally bereft Chiefs early, hoping to go home up 2-0 in this best-of-7 playoff. They were up 2-0 on goals by Luke Curtin and Karel Betik, with Betik’s goal especially tough to swallow, coming with Spokane on the power play.
Betik picked off a Brad Ference neutral-zone pass and skated in alone on goaltender Aren Miller to put the Chiefs in a two-goal hole after 20 minutes.
The Chiefs climbed back into it in the second period on the strength of a couple of Zenith Komarniski blue-line slap shots. The first came off the faceoff. Komarniski’s shot caromed off Noble’s stick and through the goaltender’s legs. The second was a one-timer from the point, Spokane’s first power-play goal of the series.
But a key interference call that went against Cote put the Rockets on the power play with 1:48 left in the second. Twenty-eight seconds later, Scott Hannan scored on the power play with Ryan Wade parked in front of Miller, effectively cutting off the goaltender’s vision.
The Rockets were 26-7-2 in regular-season games - and 5-1 against Spokane - they led after two periods. They sat on the lead through most of the third period with the typically cautious, take-the-icing style of a road team with a one-goal lead.
It worked, until a great penalty-kill 7 minutes into the period led to the tying goal. Berry, breaking out of the penalty box, passed to Leeb coming from behind the net. Leeb’s backhander at 8:11 of the third went in and gave Cote the chance to be the hero in OT.
“Leeb’s a great player,” Rockets coach Pete Anholt said. “He’s going to make those kinds of things happen.”
The Rockets had two golden chances in overtime, the first on a 2-on-1 rush with Luke Curtin setting up Jason Deleurme 2 minutes into overtime. The shot went wide.
Rory McDade had a chance to end in 5 minutes later, walking in alone on Miller with big Scott Parker in ahead of him. Miller made the game-saving stop.
“The Cote-Derek Schutz-Kris Graf line was our best by 10 miles tonight,” Chiefs coach Mike Babcock said. “We didn’t have anybody else out there early. Our first and second lines didn’t come to the game, in the first period. “Without that Cote-Schutz-Graf line we’d be … ”
Babcock hesitated, looking for the word.
How about nowhere?
“We were absolutely unbelievably awful in the first period,” Babcock affirmed. “I can’t believe how tight we seem to be. Yet I thought we showed some character, battling back when we easily could have been toast.”
Anholt said “Spokane showed a lot of desperation. They certainly didn’t want to go back to Kelowna down two games. They really competed hard. Their third period was really good, and yet we had some chances.
“Cote did a good job. He just threw it at the net. (Jan) Dusanek took the pass away, so there was no doubt that there was going to be a shot. It wasn’t a hard shot but it was the position it went into the net. It made it a tough shot for Nobes to handle.” , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CHIEFS-ROCKETS Game 1: Kelowna 6, Spokane 4 Game 2: Kelowna 4, Spokane 3 (OT) Game 3: Tonight at Kelowna, 7:30 Game 4: Friday at Spokane, 7 Game 5: Sunday at Spokane, 6 Game 6: March 31 at Kelowna, 7:30* Game 7: April 1 at Spokane, 7* * if necessary
This sidebar appeared with the story: CHIEFS-ROCKETS Game 1: Kelowna 6, Spokane 4 Game 2: Kelowna 4, Spokane 3 (OT) Game 3: Tonight at Kelowna, 7:30 Game 4: Friday at Spokane, 7 Game 5: Sunday at Spokane, 6 Game 6: March 31 at Kelowna, 7:30* Game 7: April 1 at Spokane, 7* * if necessary