In a brilliant display of the New Zealand product, the Canterbury Red Devils have won a dramatic NZIHL Final which went all the way as they took the Southern Stampede to a shootout. Andrew Hewitt reports.
Queenstown may have been the venue for the event but the audience for the NZIHL Final stretched much further than the limits of the southern resort. Thanks to the generosity of the wider hockey community, the NZIHL were able to stream their showcase event live which saw audiences from all over New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA and Europe.
The noise from the packed Queenstown Ice Arena was tremendous when both teams entered the ice for their warmups despite only being able to hold 600 fans.
The Canterbury Red Devils welcomed back Maxim Fokin for the game, coming back into the country just days before the Final while the Southern Stampede would start the game as mild favourites having twice beaten the Red Devils in Christchurch just a fortnight ago.
After a beautiful rendition of God Defend New Zealand the Final that everyone had been waiting for finally got underway. Getting the better starts of the two, the Stampede pushed forward peppering the Red Devils net in the first few minutes.
With just a handful of games under his belt, the starting goalie for the Devils Michael Coleman was doing a great job stopping shots form the likes of Brett Speirs and Tommy Zizian.
Down the other end, Aston Brookes was in the cage for the Stampede and looked equally up to the task and despite seeing less shots than his counterpart, once Chris Eaden started getting the puck on the left wing, the game started to swing.
Eaden, who finished the season as the top scorer in the league was starting to cause some trouble for the Stampede defence with his superior speed and stick work.
With growing pressure on the Stampede goal, Canterbury defender James Kirkwood scored for the Red Devils stunning the Queenstown crowd that was primarily made up of Stampede fans. Soon after, Ryan Chramtchenko doubled the Devils lead with assists from Eaden and Dale Harrop.
Knowing that something needed to be done for the Stampede to get back in the game, Bert Haines took matters into his own hands by scoring, sending the crowd into raptures.
The 2 goal Red Devils lead was restored when Fokin nipped one past Brookes but just before the end of the period, Brian Horwitz scored a crucial powerplay goal for the Stampede taking the scoreline 3-2 as the players went into the locker rooms.
The second period saw both teams tighten up their defences and much more end to end hockey. With it however, came frustration and it was starting to show in the actions of some players, most notably Canterbury’s Gabe Yeung who was seeing more time in the box than Head Coach Anatoly Khorozov would have liked.
With just 2 minutes left in the period for the next the scoreless drought was broken and the game was tied as Michael Weber scored and at the final change the teams would be locked at 3 goals a piece.
The first half of the final period was filled with tension as neither team would budge.
Adding his second goal for the game Horwitz put the Stampede up 4-3 with just over 7 minutes to go, however soon after it was back to level pegging as the Red Devils scored their fourth for the game.
Fans all across the world were sitting on the edges of their seats, holding their breath hoping in anticipation for the next attack. The deadlock was again broken, this time by the Red Devils as they drove a knife through the hearts of the Stampede faithful scoring with 2 minutes left on the clock.
With time quickly running out and just when the hope of the Stampede was about to run out, the hosts again tied the game up, this time with 24 seconds remaining. There was some discussion between the officials about whether or not to allow the goal but it was confirmed and the score would stand at 5-5
Despite the players’ efforts, neither team could hold a strong enough advantage and the siren sounded sending the game to a five minute sudden death 4-on-4 overtime period.
With both net minders making crucial saves, the overtime period ended without score and it would be a shootout that would decide the winner of the Birgel Cup for 2012.
The Devils won the coin toss and shot first with Pavel Novak to get the shootout underway but he couldn’t find a way past Brookes. Brett Speirs was first up for the Stampede however an ever confident Coleman was up to the task and kept the shootout level.
Chris Eaden was next up and with speed he stormed in towards Brookes from the left, scoring through the five hole giving his side the upper hand. Twice a scorer in the game thus far, Horwitz stepped up to the line for the Stampede and went the same way as Eaden before him. Horwitz went in with less speed and this transferred into his shot as Coleman made the save.
This put all the pressure on Brookes who would have to make the save if the hopes of the Stampede would remain. Up next for the Devils was Valery Konev, one of the most potent attackers in the league.
Konev came in wide from the right, across the crease of Brookes, spun and slotted home the goal. Konev immediately went into celebration where he was quickly joined by team mates with gloves and helmets flying into the air.
On the other bench however, there was little reaction as they, along with the majority of the crowd and commentary team believed the goal to be illegal. It was suggested that Konev had come to a stop in his spin move and one of the linesman had signalled ‘no goal’ because of it. On another part of the ice the other official had signalled a goal, thus the confusion.
The goal was eventually awarded and the Red Devils could celebrate to the fullest.
Winning their second NZIHL title, the Red Devils proudly lifted the Birgel Cup in what was one of the most exciting finals, regardless of sport for some time.
by Andrew Hewitt
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