Jim Hiller came out on top of the Nelson-connection WHL series that saw his Tri-City Americans win in seven games over former Nelson Junior Leafs sniper Dylan Walchuk and the Spokane Chiefs.
The Americans came into the second round series as the favourites, but it took the Washington state club seven games to dispose of the pesky Chiefs.
The seventh and deciding game went Wednesday night at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
It was the Chiefs who got on the board first when Walchuk assisted on a powerplay marker by Dominik Uher late in the opening frame. The Americans fought back in the second with a goal by Brian Williams.
Early in the third period the Chiefs went ahead with a Mitch Holmberg goal and an upset was in the making. With just over five minutes left in regulation time Tri-City’s Malte Stromwall scored to tie the game and a minute after that Brendan Shinnimin put the Americans ahead.
The game ended 3-2 and sent the Americans to the Western Conference finals where they will take on the Portland Winterhawks. That series opens tonight in Kennewick.
Hiller grew up playing minor hockey in Nelson. He went onto win an NCAA national championship with Northern Michigan University and played 63 NHL games before moving to Europe where he had a lengthy and successful career.
Since getting behind the bench, Hiller has enjoyed plenty of success including guiding the Americans to a first place Western Conference finish in the regular season this year. He is up for WHL coach of the year honours.
Walchuk was a member of the 2008-09 Nelson Junior Leafs that won a KIJHL championship. He then moved onto to play for the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers.