May 07, 2007

Rainy rebound

Sunday's surprise rain may have ruined the plans of weekend gardeners and picnickers, but Kid couldn't have been happier.

The speedy centerman confidently slipped and slid past flatfooted defenders in the slippery conditions to lead his team to a stunning Stanley Stick upset victory, winning the decisive mini-game 11-9 in overtime after earlier tying the series with a 20-16 triumph.

It was, perhaps, a fitting climax to Sunday Morning Road Hockey's wettest season in which only three games were played in dry, ideal conditions.. Earlier in the week, the weather forecast had called for a sunny, dry day. Instead, the finale was soaked by persistent, cold drizzle.

As other roadsters stumbled and tumbled on the rain-slicked concrete courts, Kid never let the challenging conditions slow him down. Using his superior balance, he fearlessly streaked and skidded around, over and through supine opponents who just couldn't keep up, or stay upright.

"I think I'm probably the only one who enjoys the rain," said a smiling Kid, who was awarded the Conn Stick trophy as the series' Most Valuable Player. "i've got the slide move that basically nobody has an answer to."

Using that slide move, he was able to command his team's transition game, leading the offense upcourt while bewildered defenders were still struggling to turn around on the slippery surface.

"They couldn't turn because it was too wet," said Kid. "We had all the speedy guys and we could run right by the other team."

"It helped us with our breakout speed," said one of those speedy guys, Scooby, who, when teamed with Kid and fellow speedster, Doo, formed an almost unstoppable scoring combination. "We got more two-one-ones and we had more space to make plays."

"I think our team was moving around a whole lot," said Bird, who often trailed the play to take advantage of scoring opportunities created by his lithe linemates. "We were beating the other team to the ball and getting open a bit more."

Heading into Sunday's Stanley Stick finale, Kid and his mates faced a tall order after losing last week's opener 20-14; never before had a team rebounded to win the decisive mini-game after tying the series. But while they had struggled in the opener to establish their speed game against bigger, tougher defenders who could crash the corners with confidence on a dry court, their fleet feet proved an advantage in the wet.

"We knew we had to work harder than last week, and we just had to bury our chances," said Kid.

"Using our speed was a big part of our game," said Elvis, who won his sixth consecutive Stick on Sunday. "We knew the slick conditions would make them a little less mobile. We knew we had to play a dump and chase."

"I think we just had to simplify it," said Scooby. "Last game, we all started out really strong defensively and we had no offense, we were just complicating it. This time we started off with a lot more offense."

As it turned out, they needed every measure of that offense, as the teams matched up evenly on the scoreboard over the course of the three-game series, each of them scoring 45 goals.

In Sunday's first game, Kid and his mates jumped to an early lead and seemed well on their way to tying the series, especially after two of their most formidable foes, Lak Attack and the Colonel, each crumpled to the court with injuries suffered in the slick conditions; Lak Attack pulled a hamstring while making a desperate sliding defensive play and the Colonel wrenched his already-fragile knee when he slipped running back to the defensive zone. Both players returned after missing several shifts, but their teammates were undaunted, battling back gamely to take their first lead into the third period.

"Regardless of who went down, the team knew they had to play a certain way and it didn't matter who was in, they were going to continue playing that way," said Lak Attack.
"We played as a team throughout."

But that team just didn't have the horses to compete against the relentless sliding and skidding attacks of their younger, more surefooted foes.

"We had young legs on our team that just kept going all game long," said Elvis. "We kept our heads in the game."

With the series tied, forcing the decisive mini-game to ten, their challenge was to keep their heads in the game. In the only previous Stanley Stick championship series that had been forced to a mini-game after a team had fought back to tie the series, the underdogs had collapsed like a house of cards, mentally and physically exhausted from their comeback battle.

This time would be different, said Kid. "We didn't want to go home after this with a loss, it would have been too devastating. We just had to keep going."

Their opponents, meanwhile, were equally determined to recapture the series' momentum. They almost succeeded.

Taking advantage of a suddenly shakey Lobsterboy, who had been battered and bruised by a number of in-tight battles for position at the edge of his goal crease, including a thundering hit by Unabomber as he charged by the net that bashed his head into the goalpost, Lak Attack and his mates jumped to a quick lead in the mini-game.

"We were ready to go, we thought we had a chance to win," said the veteran centerman.

Despite faltering to put them behind at the end of the first period, 5-4, they rallied for four straight goals and seemed poised to salvage the series when they were on the cusp of the win, 9-7. They never scored again.

Their speedy opponents shortened their bench and flooded the already rain-slicked offensive zone, cycling the evil orange plastic ball around the boards with precision, sending bewildered defenders reeling.

"There were some guys we kept out there longer and it was all towards the win," said Paul One. "We were willing to sacrifice some court time for the win."

"We put out a line of clutch players who we knew had some finish at the other end of the court," said Elvis. "We knew we had to keep pressuring, keep pressuring, and take advantage."

"We had them pinned in their own end for five minutes, that was really the turning point," said Scooby. "They just couldn't get out of their own end and we got more confidence."

"We were rolling alright, and I was pretty confident we could come back," said Bird.

They did just that. When Nibs ripped a thigh-high laser over a sprawling Living Legend and past a stunned Gump, it capped a four-goal run that ignited a wild celebration around the veteran slapshooter.

"It feels awesome," said Scooby of his first championship.

"It never gets old," said Bird.

"It gets better every year," said Elvis, who's never lost a Stanley Stick in his six seasons in the league.





After coming within a goal of winning the Stanley Stick championship, Lak Attack and his mates couldn't help but wonder what might have been had they had they had power forward Smith in the lineup. The rookie winger played a pivotal role in his team's victory in Game One, but he was unavailable for the finale.
"If you take a look at the overall picture, we were short Smith, we had a couple of injuries," said Lak Attack. "It's unfortunate, but I think today the better team won."
"Missing Smith was huge," said Elvis.
But Gump wasn't about to use Smith's absence as an excuse.
"Excuses are like assholes, everyone's got one," said the garrulous goaltender. "We knew what we had, we lost by a goal. I've got no shame for the guys, they battled hard, it could have gone either way."

Sunday's games exacted a huge toll on both teams, as it took almost five hours to decide the winner. But nobody may have felt the fatigue as much as Paul One, who missed most of the regular season due to familial and work commitments.
"If you want to come to the Stick, you've got to put the time into the regular season as well," said the veteran forward. "Endurance wise it didn't hurt me that much, but skill wise, half the time I didn't feel like I knew what I was doing."
"We were a little fatigued," said Lak Attack. "We just had the mental breakdowns."

Billy Idol, who missed the first game of the series as he continued his holiday travels in a faraway country, took Smith's place in the lineup, while Doo, who also missed the opener, ended up with the champions after a random card draw before Sunday's first game.
Cowboy Bill, who missed the entire series, was a surprise visitor during the climactic showdown, as he stopped by after running a half marathon to serve as a cheerleader and ball fetcher.

Kid's MVP award was the first of his career. Amongst teammates and opponents, there was little doubt the diminutive forward was the driving offensive force in his side's stunning comeback victory.
"Kid coming off the cycle made him pretty dangerous," said Scooby.
"Kid was unbelieveable," said Bird. "He's able to keep his footing, he's running the offense."
"He wasn't slowing down, he wasn't getting caught out of position," said Elvis.

Posted by jaysuburb at 02:29 PM | Comments (16)