It took less than three minutes for the Tri-City Americans to spoil a solid effort for the Kamloops Blazers on Tuesday.
The Blazers lost 3-2 to the Americans in a WHL game at Interior Savings Centre. The loss dropped Kamloops to 2-5-0, while Tri-City improved to 3-5-1.
This one turned on a dime late in the second period, when Tri-City's Philip Tot found himself alone in front of Kamloops goaltender Taran Kozun. Tot buried the puck to break a 1-1 tie. Two-and-a-half minutes later, the Americans were ahead 3-1, enough of a cushion to hold off the hard-charging Blazers.
The sad part for the Blazers is that they carried the play for much of the second period, starting with an efficient kill of a long Tri-City power play at the start.
"We did a lot of great things tonight," said Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak. "I can't fault our effort, I can't fault a lot of the things we did - we just did not get it done tonight."
In contrast to Saturday's 3-0 loss to the visiting Prince George Cougars, the Blazers worked their tails off against the Americans, a rebuilding team in the same situation as Kamloops.
For the first time this season, the Blazers managed 30 shots on goal - they got 32, two more than the Americans. Even then, Kamloops didn't generate enough scoring opportunities.
"We're right in games, we need to find ways to get over the hump," Hunchak said. "I think it's really important that we continue to stay the path. . . . We need to generate more and we need to generate secondary opportunities."
The quality chances the Blazers got, for the most part, were stymied by Americans goaltender Eric Comrie. The 18-year-old native of Newport Beach, Calif., was the biggest reason the Blazers didn't collect two points, playing an excellent game.
"You could say that every night he plays," said Americans head coach Jim Hiller. "He really is an elite goalie, and he's consistent. He often makes difficult saves look easy, so he probably played even better than we all believe."
Lucas Nickles, a 19-year-old Salmon Arm native, had a goal and an assist for the Americans. He spent a season with the Thompson Blazers, often playing home games at ISC.
He had a mini cheering section in the stands, comprising his immediate family, which drove the 108 kilometres from Salmon Arm.
And his goal came on a play that was almost contrary to the scoring woes of the Americans, who came into the game having scored a total of five goals in their past four games, and only one on the first two games of this road trip.
Skating on a 2-on-2 rush early in the first period, Nickles fired a low shot from the top of the circle that managed to get under Kozun.
"It was nice to see that one go in," Nickles said. "Sometimes the bounces go your way."
The Blazers controlled the rest of the first period, with Chase Souto tying things up, before keeping up the pressure in the first 17 minutes of the second.
Then Tot scored, the Blazers took a penalty, and Marcus Messier made it 3-1 with 18 seconds left in the second period.
It was game over from there, despite the Blazers rallying in the third period.
Souto made it 3-2 with 7:43 remaining, but Comrie shut the door.
"The one thing that is disheartening . . . we (gave) up a limited amount of scoring chances, but we didn't generate enough tonight," Hunchak said. "We have to find ways to generate offence."
The Blazers will hit the road for their next two games, with a rematch against the Americans in Kennewick on Friday, before a Saturday game against the host Portland Winterhawks. Kamloops' next home game is Monday, 2 p.m., against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 3,626. . . . The Blazers were 0-for-2 on the power play, and now are 2-for-26 on the season. . . . Tri-City was 1-for-6 with the man advantage. . . . The Daily News' Three Stars: 1. Comrie: Stole the show; 2. Nickles: Rewarded for a lot of hard work; 3. Blazers F Cole Ully: two assists in return from suspension. . . . Craig Berube, a former Kamloops junior, made his NHL head-coaching debut Tuesday as the Philadelphia Flyers beat the visiting Florida Panthers 2-1. Berube, 47, played four games with the junior Oilers in 1982-83, and played 32 more with the Blazers in 1985-86. In his 36 games in Kamloops, Berube scored 17 goals, assisted on 14 others and picked up 119 penalty minutes.