May 11, 2008

Underdogs steal stunner

The media was getting into position to capture the moment of victory. Colonel was packing up his equipment in frustration, and resignation. Elvis, sidelined for a number of shifts with vision problems, girded himself for his first Stanley Stick loss in his Sunday Morning career. With the score 19-13 for the winners of last week's Stanley Stick opener, the championship was only one defensive miscue, one chip shot through the five hole or lucky deflection away.

But the underdogs weren't buried yet. Unabomber and Doo scored four quick goals in one shift to ignite an incredible 18-4 run, earning their team a comeback win in the decisive mini game after they had tied the series with a 21-19 thriller in overtime.

It was as incredible and incredulous rebound the league has ever seen. Even as they sipped cheap champagne from the silver trophy, the winners grasped to comprehend what they'd just achieved.

"I'm still pretty stunned and amazed that our team had the resilience to pull it off," said Elvis, who scored the championship-winning goal in his team's 10-4 win in the decisive mini game to extend his personal Stanley Stick streak to seven titles. "It was the most amazing comeback I've ever been a part of."

"There's never been anything like this, ever," said Unabomber, whose pad-piercing slapshot and timely goals earned him MVP honors. "This was absolutely the most unbelievable game that I've ever been a part of. I actually still can't believe it."

"They thought they had it in the bag, they thought it was over, but our guys just went out hard, there was no quit in this team," said Gump, who took over netminding duties from Game One starter Nibs. "We wanted it more."

For Sunday's losers, who squandered their series advantage and their six-goal lead just when the championship was within their grasp, their collapse was confounding.

"I don't quite know what happened," said Beetle Boy. "Once we got up 19-13, for whatever reason we just stopped playing defense, we weren't getting any shots on net; whether we thought we had it in the bag or not, I don't know. We just fell apart."

"It was a bitter loss because we were inches away," said Lak Attack, whose addition to the lineup of the series' leaders after he missed the opener seemed to give them the firepower to propel them to a championship sweep. "That one last goal was just eluding us and that was our nemesis in the end, we just couldn't finish off the game."

In fact, the script for the championship sweep seemed to be going according to plan in Sunday's finale. Coming off their dominating 20-12 win in last week's opener, the addition of Lak's speed, scoring touch and defensive prowess gave his team two formidable lines that overwhelmed their overmatched opponents.

"We were just getting into a groove," said Beetle Boy.

But an injury to their shotstopping stalwart, Billy Idol, derailed their destiny. With the game well in control, he was felled by a Unabomber slapshot that caught him flush on the goal mask, caving in the protective wire mesh and making a mess of his right eye. The backup's backup, Lak Attack, was pressed to put on the pads, changing the dynamics of his team's offensive attack, and of the game.

"I think there was a momentum shift when Billy got injured," said Lak Attack.

"We were getting into a groove and when we lost Lak, the offensive power in our lines just fell apart," said Beetle Boy.

"It was tough on them because they lost a pretty skilled player on offense," said Gump. "I think that opened up some space for us."

Enough to find the goal scoring touch that had eluded them for most of the series. Suddenly rebounds that had skipped harmlessly out of reach found their way past the beleaguered backup's outstretched pads and into the back of the net.

That's when Unabomber and Doo turned the series on its ear.

"That was a shift to remember, to be sure," said the sinister slapshooter of the dynamic duo's four straight goals. "It was like divine intervention, all the bounces went our way, everything seemed to go in."

"Unabomber and Doo took the team onto their shoulders," said Elvis. "When they put in those goals, we sorta started to realize that maybe it wasn't impossible after all."

And when a team is playing desperate hockey, hope can be a powerful tonic. Colonel unpacked his gear to follow his mates' heroics with two quick goals, sending the game into overtime, then added another to give them their first lead since its earliest moments. The team doomed to be swept had become a team of destiny.

"I think at that point we had found our groove," said Unabomber. "We had the other team back on their heels. We didn't get cocky. We didn't sit back. We just kept going."

"The fact we came back and tied it up gave us so much adrenaline and the other team looked like they were in quicksand," said Gump. "They were stuck."

"Scoring eight straight goals to win is pretty inspiring," said Elvis. "We knew if we kept doing the same things we were doing that got us back into the series, we felt we could win it."

That's just what they did. Relentless forechecking and tight defense shut down opposing snipers like Kid, Paul One and Scooby, giving them little room to move and even less opportunity to get their sticks on the ball. In fact, Kid later admitted he didn't get a single shot on goal in the decisive mini game.

"Clearly on paper we were outskilled, so we had to win it on heart and hard work," said Unabomber.

"It was all about not letting them take the game to us," said Gump.

"We really got the forecheck working and we shut them down before they could get anything going," said Elvis. "We capitalized on everything we could."

At the other end, their opponents couldn't overcome their shell shock. Their will to win had abandoned them.

"We were definitely deflated," said Beetle Boy. "We thought we could do it, but the other team was just rolling. They had that spark, they were outhustling us. They put the pedal down and it cost us."

"They had the desire to win," said Lak Attack. "Every year it comes down to one simple ingredient in the Stick; it doesn't matter who you have on your team, it's the team that desires the most to win."


Sunday's finale got off to a controversial start when Gump replaced last week's starting goalie for the underdogs, Nibs. Some players on the leading team protested; they said it was their understanding Billy Idol and Nibs would be the starters for both games.
But the underdogs were adamant they could make their own decisions about their starting goalie and with Gump in their lineup after missing the series' opener, they'd be crazy not to use him at his best, and most familiar, position.
"I think it was pretty obvious after the first game that we had to make a goalie change if we wanted to have a competitive team," said Elvis. "He gave us confidence and we knew when a key save had to be made, he could do it."
Gump responded, shaking off the cobwebs from last week's inaction to make some key saves late in the game that allowed his mates to forge their miracle comeback.
"I think there were some timely saves by Gump and we just decided to stay focused," said Unabomber.
"It's do or die," said Gump. "I knew if I let in one more goal, it's over, it's done."

The four-and-a-half hour marathon was as much a battle of attrition, as each team had to overcome injuries. Aside from Billy Idol's ugly purple and red shiner, Smith missed most of the decisive mini game when a deflection caught him in the left eye, sending him to the sidelines with blurred vision.
The underdogs also lost Elvis for a number of shifts when he was stricken with a migraine. But his respite paid off, as his rested legs injected newfound speed and tenacity into his side's exhausted roster.

Unabomber was awarded the Conn Stick trophy as the series' Most Valuable Player by his side's vanquished opponents, who recognized his steady, inspiring defensive play all series, and ability to score timely goals in the finale with his big slapshot. But it was a close vote with his linemate, Doo, who elevated his game to unprecedented levels on Sunday.
"Doo played really tough for them," said Lak Attack. "He was the biggest difference, he was making plays happen and that got their team inspired."

The underdogs' victory ended Living Legend's Stanley Stick drought after seven years and continued Elvis' unblemished string of championship success.
"I was pretty resigned to the fact the streak was gonna end," said the feisty forward who's never lost a championship series.
But as his team fought its way back to tie the series, then win in it in the mini game, he admitted the road hockey gods may have been smiling on him.
"I felt more like a rabbit's foot this year."

Sunday's stunning comeback was only the second time a team had managed to battle their way back from a loss in Game One to win the championship in the decisive mini game. Last year, Kid used his superior sliding skills to lead his team to a mini game win on a rain-slicked court after tying the series earlier the same day.

Unlike the last two seasons, when rain dampened the court for the season finale, Sundays games were played in perfect conditions with cool temperatures and a dry surface that presented no advantage to either side.

Posted by jaysuburb at 10:13 PM | Comments (21)

May 04, 2008

Half game effort enough to win

The Stanley Stick will be won by the first team to play a complete game. Well, one team is going to have to play two complete games.

Sunday, neither side seemed so inclined. It almost cost one team their advantage, while the other paid a steep price. Smith and his mates overcame a mid-game lull, during which they squandered their five-goal advantage, by outscoring their opponents 9-1 through the game's second half en route to a 20-12 win and the upper hand in the two week championship series.

After spotting their feisty foes a quick 1-0 lead on a seeing-eye shot by the Living Legend that found the gap between Billy Idol's leg pads, Smith's side of speedsters took control of the neutral zone, and the game, opening an advantage that grew to five goals at one point.

"We tried to create some good intensity on each line," said Smith of his side's balanced attack that utilized their speed advantage to weave past sluggish defenders and create scoring opportunities on their defensive miscues.

"It's an intensity game that you've got to play from beginning to end," said Paul One. "If you try to float, you're going to pay the price."

They almost did.

With the game going their way, they started to get sloppy as rebounds off Billy Idol's pads found their way back to the point where Unabomber was able to tee up his fearsome slap shot and spark a run of four straight goals. Suddenly, the romp was an 11-11 nailbiter.

"I think we committed that cardinal sin that when you have a bit of a lead you think you can ease off a little bit," said Paul One. "I think we got a bit lazy, we started challenging for the ball a little less, and we stopped hustling."

"We stopped finishing," said Smith. "We lost a bit of intensity and they came out hard."

Energized by their unlikely comeback, the underdogs pressed to take their first lead since the game's earliest moments. But Billy Idol closed the door, and his pads, repelling shot after shot, smothering rebounds from prowling opportunists, and when he was caught out of position, teammates joined the fray to clear the ball.

"Idol had a little more help at times clearing the ball away from the net," said Elvis of his team's mid game frustration. "He had a lot of guys in front of his net taking away the rebounds."

Unable to cap their comeback by wresting the lead, the Colonel and his mates seemed to sag as the tie dragged on. A gargantuan goal by Beetle Boy, who carried the ball out the corner, crashed two defenders and then stuck with the rebound to knock it past Nibs broke them.

"I think we were really really into the game emotionally up until we got it tied 11-11," said the Colonel. "After a couple of balls went in the other way, we seemed to lose a little bit of pride in what we were doing out there and quite a bit of aggressiveness, and they took advantage."

"They kind of blew their load when they scored four straight to get back to us," said Smith. "After that, we came out hard and buried them."

"Sometimes the battle to tie it takes too much out of you, and you can't take it home," said Paul One. "You fight so hard to get it back to even and that seems like the end of the road until you realize you've got to keep going."

And play a full game, said Elvis. "We're not out of it yet, but we do need to come up bigger next week."


Each team will have their lineups next week bolstered by additional players; Lak Attack, who missed Sunday's opener to run a marathon, will join the leaders as determined by a pre-game card pull, while Cowboy Bill and Gump are expected to join the underdogs.
The roster changes could change the dynamics of the series, said the Colonel.
"We're adding a couple of big bodies who can bang and crash, and the more you're banging and crashing, the more you're wearing down the other team."
"It gives us Gump, who's a tenacious defenseman and he does have a scoring touch," said the power forward. "It gives us more defense, it gives us another big shot."
Meanwhile, Paul One and his mates are looking forward to Lak Attack's two-way skills.
"The style of play we had today will suit him perfectly."

Sunday's Stanley Stick opener lived up to its billing as a battle between back-up goalies as second string shotstoppers Nibs and Billy Idol struggled with consistency.
"It's what you get when you have two goalies who aren't Luongo and Brodeur out there," said Smith. "Billy started out great but he struggled in the middle and Nibs hit a great streak through the middle of the game when he shut down everything on us."

The underdogs endured a bit of a scare late in Sunday's game when the Colonel crumpled to the concrete after wrenching his knee while battling Smith for the ball along the side boards. After much writhing and genuflecting, the battling forward hobbled off the court to assess the damage. He didn't miss a shift.

If the underdogs come back next week to tie the series, the championship will be decided by a 10-goal mini game.

Posted by jaysuburb at 06:23 PM | Comments (44)