May 08, 2006

Colonel leads his troops

The Colonel talks loud. Sunday, he also carried a big stick.

The controversial centreman capped a week of trash talking, online sparring and counterpunching cajoles by scoring seven goals, including the game winner, to lead his team to a hard-fought 20-17 win and a two-game sweep of the Stanley Stick Championship series. It was a Most Valuable Performance that earned him his first victory sip of champagne in his long and sometimes rocky career.

"You can't talk and not show up," said the Colonel, who spent most of the week between games trading online jabs with his arch-rival, Paul One. "If you're gonna talk, you better bring your "A" game."

Sunday, the Colonel brought leadership and a knack for scoring timely goals as his team trailed the game only once, but nevertheless found themselves in a life-and-death struggle late when their feisty foes stormed back from a 17-11 deficit with five straight goals. One of those goals was even scored by the Colonel, when he accidentally banked a clearing shot off Scooby's ankle and past a bewildered Pig Farming Goalie.

But while the old Colonel might have collapsed into a fit of self-loathing and stick smashing, Sunday he used his error as a motivator.

"I knew we needed some goals and banking it off Scooby's foot into our own net was just totally deflating," said the Colonel. "But this game, at this time of year, is a mental game, you need to push through it, get your emotion back into the game and get some goals."

He did just that, finally ending the nearly four-hour marathon game when he took a pass in the slot from Lak Attack and banked it in off Gump's pad and glove.

"I was kinda hoping it would be a feeling of total joy, but it's more relief than anything," said the Colonel of finally getting the Stanley Stick monkey off his back.

He also got Paul One off his back. After nearly coming to blows with his rival late in last week's opener, the two combatants duked it out online, ratcheting the tension and the stakes.

"It's always fun to play against the Colonel because you know he's going to give 100 percent," said the voiciferous veteran. "He's definitely got skills for sure, he's got nice hands in front of the net and he showed today that he can lead a team."

"I said before the game the two keys were we just have to stay positive and we just had to try not to think abaout the bashing on the website, especially for the Colonel," said Pig Farming Goalie, who's steady play in the series earned him a share of the Conn Stick Award as his squad's Most Valuable Player.

"He was scoring big goals for us all day," said Bird.

He needed to. Despite trailing only once all day, 8-7, the Colonel and his mates couldn't afford to let up for a moment as their opponents used the advantage of their speedy youngsters, Kid and Scooby, and the feisty forechecking of Paul One and the Living Legend to keep the pressure on and battle back from five and six goal deficits.

"I think they had slightly better legs than we did," said Pig Farming Goalie. "We ran pretty well today but they had very very strong attack."

"We absolutely knew we were in a battle," said Bird. "To only win by five goals over the entire series, it was tough."

But playing from behind almost the entire series exacted a toll the underdogs couldn't overcome, as time and again they'd see their hard work negated by another two or three goal hole.

"In a game like this, when there's not a lot to choose between the teams, when you're constantly playing from behind, it wears you down," said the Living Legend. "It's really tough to make that leap to get a lead and hang on to it."

"In your mind you're playing to get yourself back into the game and then you have to make an adjustment in your head to suddenly play to win the game," said Paul One. "A couple of times during the series we'd fight our way back into it and they you kinda ease off a little bit at that point and it cost us."

As the Colonel and his mates opened their six-goal lead, the biggest in the series, the championship seemed to be playing right into their hands.

"I thought it was going to be a romp at that point," said the Colonel. "I think it's a definite advantage, but you have to be careful because when you get up a bit, you can get complacent as well."

That's just what happened, said the Colonel, and as the underdogs reunited Kid, Scooby and Nibs to weave the offensive magic of last week's opener, they found themselves gripping their sticks a little tighter, making lapses in the defensive zone and the bounces that had been going their way suddenly defied them.

"We were up 17-11 and suddenly we turned around and it was 17-16 and that was downright scary," said the Colonel. "I think we broke down defensively a little bit, I think there was heightened effort from the other team. They were just a little bit better than us at that point in the game."

"I think we were a little bit worried," said Bird. "We couldn't score because Gump was coming up big and they closed it all down. We were a little frustrated that all the bounces were going against us. But you've got to fight through it."

Disorganized and discordant, the leaders gathered around their goalie for a time out to recoup their focus and make some subtle changes to their line matchups.

"I was just trying to stay focused," said Pig Farming Goalie. "Some of those last goals that went in were just weird bounces and I was caught off guard. There were some bad goals for sure. It was tough to hold on."

"You've just got to keep working, keep throwing it at the net, take advantage of a lucky bounce now and then," said Bird. "You know you're going to beat them eventually."

The strategy worked. The underdogs' momentum sputtered and the champs took advantage.

"I think it was the big goals we ended up scoring," said Pig Farming Goalie. "The Colonel scored some big goals for us today."

"I think we were all relieved when he finally potted the winner," said Bird.

Despite being one of Sunday Morning Road Hockey's senior players, the Colonel's Stanley Stick victory on Sunday was his first in only two appearances, as work commitments, familial obligations and injuries conspired to keep him from previous championship series'.
Lak Attack appears on the Stanley Stick trophy seven times, the most of any roadster.
Paul One failed to sip from the coveted chalice for the second consecutive year, after a run of five straight victories, while the Living Legend hasn't played for a Stick winner since 2001.

After the game, the Legend refuted speculation that this season was his last.
"I don't see any reason to retire," said the fellow founding father and the league's oldest active player. "As long as I can walk after the game, I hope there will be a place in the game for me."

Sunday's game lasted just short of four hours, making this year's Stanley Stick final one of the closest, evenly-matched series in Sunday Morning Road Hockey history.
"We played for seven plus hours (over two games) and it came down to a matter of five goals," said Paul One. "To come that close and come away without anything is devastating."
"They were with us all the way," said Bird of his tenacious rivals. "To have two teams separated by so few goals, I just think it was one of the best Sticks I've been in."
"I think both teams measured up to their strengths well," said the Legend.
"The teams were pretty evenly matched," said the Colonel. "I guess the difference was we were able to turn it up when it mattered at the end of the game."

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May 01, 2006

Battle lines drawn in Stick

The faces may change, but the game plans will likely remain the same for next week's Stanley Stick finale after neither team gave a quarter in Sunday's hard-fought 20-18 squeaker.

"We just have to do the same things," said Gump, who will strap on the pads for the decisive battle after Lobsterboy's heroic effort in Sunday's championship opener fell just a little short when Elvis cracked home a rebound from the top of the crease.

"I think it bodes well for next week," said Paul One, whose underdog team will also be bolstered by the addition of journeyman forward Billy Idol.

"We just need to put it in the back of the net, play good defense, play a good transition game and take it to them as much as we can," said the Colonel, visibly relieved after his side was able to salvage their narrow victory from a lead that had been as large as five goals.

"Everyone has just got to bury their chances when they get them, because there just aren't going to too many," said Bird.

Indeed, Sunday's opener stretched beyond three hours as goals were hard to come by at both ends of the court. Barely an inch of Lobsterboy's shell was left unbruised by the evil orange plastic ball or the flailing limbs of hard-charging forwards; at least two shots rang off his athletic supporter, two others off his goalie mask as well as a stick and, most devastatingly, Unabomber's knee as he was knocked into the helpless shotstopper by Kid, lunging desperately to break up a scoring attempt. At the other end, Pig Farming Goalie had to come up big time and again as his defencemen floundered against the speedy, pinpoint passing plays of Kid, Scooby and Nibs.

"We just had massive defensive breakdowns," said the agrarian goaltender. "They had good ball movement, they ran on the ball, and we didn't put enough pressure on them. They were just a total force."

Using their speed, youth, grit and Nibs' newfound ability to mix up his shot repetoire from his usual roundhouse slapshots, the underdogs jumped to an early lead, 2-1. But their senior line, Paul One, Gump and the Living Legend, had trouble contributing to the tally sheet and their slim advantage became a 5-2 deficit at the end of the first period. By the middle part of the game, the margin grew to five.

"I think we all thought from the very beginning that it was going to be a tough tough game," said Bird. "We would get a lead, but they would always claw back."

And it was that senior line that sparked the biggest comeback, eventually tying the game at 15.

"When we started picking ourselves up and playing with some passion, we were able to work our way back into the game," said Paul One.

"We were getting them into the corners, we were dumping it in deep, we were getting rebounds and pouncing on them," said Gump. "I think we were just outworking them."

"It's like we kinda took a bit of a breather," said the Colonel of his side's swoon. "We were playing hard, but the other team just came back and scored a bunch of goals."

"I thought by the middle part of the game we had it going away," said Pig Farming Goalie. "But their team just started running our team into the ground. They started getting more bounces going their way, but they also wanted it more."

But when the going gets tough, the tough get desperate. The floundering leaders went back to basics, feeding passes to Unabomber or Lak Attack at the point, who then unleashed a barrage of big shots to soften Lobsterboy's shotstopping shell. Or at least create rebounds for opportunistic forwards.

"In the end, we had the bigger shots," said Pig Farming Goalie.

And when one of those big shots popped back out onto Elvis' stick as he rambled across the top of the slot, he didn't miss, giving his team a scrappy win. But not much of an advantage, heading into next week's finale.

"Teams don't fold in the Stanley Stick," said the Colonel.

"It's the Stick, you can't quit," said Gump. "I thought we showed a lot of heart today."

With Lobsterboy out of town next week, Gump will move from the senior line to step between the pipes to try to backstop his team into a mini-game showdown. And while the senior shotstopper may be strapping on the pads cold, he's confident his one-game foray into the forward line will serve him well.
"It was really good to be out actually because I got a good idea of what kind of shots I'll be facing," said Gump.
The change will also create a new challenge for their opponents.
"Lobsterboy is a little more floppy but Gump is a bit more of a positional standup goalie so he'll be strong up high," said Pig Farming Goalie.

Lobsterboy's departure also opens up a roster spot for Billy Idol, who was unavailable for the championship opener. He's expected to take Gump's place on the underdogs' senior line.
"He'll shake things up a little bit," said Paul One of his future forward. "Billy always brings a whole bunch of energy and some passion to the game."

Hoss was a late addition to the underdogs' lineup, but he didn't last long as his knee gave out and he spent most of the game's second half on the sidelines, a bag of ice cooling the junked joint. His status for the finale is still unknown.

A pair of potential gamebreaking roadsters never even got the chance to play. Shakey Walton was a late scratch on the eve of his first Stanley Stick appearance when he was felled by a faulty fence, breaking his wrist. And veteran defensive stalwart, Wink, was called away at the last minute to service the onerous demands of his exploitative employer.

Two controversial calls in Sunday's game canceled each other out and didn't mar the outcome of an otherwise perfect day. In the first, Elvis was denied a goal when Lobsterboy may or may not have scooped a rebound from midair above the goalline, and he was unable to score on a penalty shot awarded during the same play after his initial scoring attempt was upset by the goaltender's tossed stick. At the other end of the court, another apparent goal was negated when Pig Farming Goalie protested the loose ball that dropped between his legs and over the goalline had actually been frozen in his equipment.

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