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This year's Stanley Stick Champions celebrate their emotional victory. L-R: Living Legend; Guy Called Mike; Lak Attack; Lobsterboy; Philderama; Bird; Wendel.

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Mini-game meltdown

Underdogs send series to mini-game, but then roll over

by Jay Suburb

A week after Philderama's violent outburst cast a pall over this season's Stanley Stick series, it was a meltdown of a different sort that decided this year's championship.

After a dramatic, emotional 20-18 win by the underdogs evened the series, they weren't able to sustain their momentum, succumbing 5-2 in the decisive mini-game.

"The first game was so emotional, that we actually ended up with a bit of a letdown in the mini-game," says the Colonel, whose 11 goals led his team to their series-evening stunner.

"We were just so drained after winning the 20-goal game, we were just kinda spent," says notorious gameshow host gone bad, Wink.

And it only took a few moments for the eventual victors to take advantage, as the Living Legend scored on his first shift, then again on a scramble, to reestablish his team's dominance.

"I think after we scored the first couple of goals, those guys just weren't in the game," says the Legend's teammate, the Guy Called Mike, who won his third consecutive Stanley Stick trophy.

"We knew we had to come out hard and give it everything we had," says Wendel, who was inserted into the lineup to replace Philderama after the tempestuous veteran took a voluntary suspension for his antics in last week's series' opener.

They also knew they had to avoid an emotional letdown of their own, after battling from behind all morning in Game Two, only to lose their chance at a series' sweep after having taken their first lead, 17-16, late in the match.

"It was tough to come out for the mini-game, but we knew we had to dig deeper to find a way to win," says Wendel.

With a lineup long on skilled veterans, it was only a matter of time for them to find the net, says GCM. "We had people who'd been there before, and they knew how to react to these things. I knew we were gonna do okay."

But for most of the morning, and well into the afternoon, they had been anything but okay. After dominating last week's controversial series' opener, GCM and his teammates found themselves down 5-1 only ten minutes into Sunday's second game and the defense seemed to be in disarray.

"We weren't backchecking, and that's what we had to do," says GCM of his side's struggles against their fired-up opponents. "We weren't communicating."

"They were really working on a lot of counterpunching, turning the ball around real quick and trying to set up two-on-ones," says Wendel. "When we slowed down and didn't turn around and run back quick enough, that's when they scored most of their goals."

And that was just the way they planned it, says the Colonel. "We had to keep the pressure up the whole game. We just came out hard and kept on going."

"We wanted to get lots of shots, and maybe get Lobsterboy rattled early," says Wink.

It seemed their plan was working as time and again the beleaguered goalie yelled at his defense when they failed to clear a rebound or let their check slip by them to score another goal. Once, he threw his stick at the fence and stormed off the court to sit out the second intermission break stewing in silence far away from his teammates.

At the other end, the offense also struggled. Lak Attack would run circles around the court, but couldn't keep his shot below the crossbar. GCM would get in close, only to have his rapier shots blocked by a fearless Hired Gun, whose legs and arms were a moonscape of welts and bruises by the end of the game.

"It was tough to open it up and get some players loose," says GCM.

It was the Living Legend, with seven goals, including a natural hattrick, who stepped in to spark the first of a series of comebacks, keeping the game close enough long enough to allow his side's offensive stars to get back on track.

"The Legend is a clutch guy," says Wink, who's played against and alongside his fellow founding father since Sunday Morning Road Hockey's first game at the old tennis courts. "He can step it up when he needs to."

But just as the game got close, the underdogs would open it up again, stringing together a series of quick goals to forge their second five goal advantage of the game, 11-6.

Then, Lak Attack started to take control. With his shot still sailing over the net, he started to move the not quite so evil pink plastic ball up the side boards, peeling into the resulting gap up the middle.

"I think the biggest thing was to try to spread out the play a little bit," says GCM.

"It's always harder to play from behind," says Wendel. "You know you've gotta fight that extra bit just to even the playing field."

And fight they did, eventually tying the game at 15, then slipping behind again by a goal before scoring two straight to take their first lead of the day.

But they couldn't make it stick. The underdogs were too fired up to let their own courageous comeback slip away from them.

"I think we were playing scared the whole day," says Wink whose rapier shot from just outside the slot eluded Lobsterboy and evened the series, setting up the climactic mini-game.

 


Lak Attack was voted the series' Most Valuable Player, the first time in Stanley Stick history a goaltender hasn't been awarded the Conn Stick trophy.

Sunday's Stanley Stick victory was the third in a row for the Guy Called Mike and the Living Legend, but the first for Bird and Wendel.
"It was very sweet," said Wendel of his initial opportunity to sip champagne from the championship chalice. "It was a moment I'll never forget."
Especially after almost missing out on his chance to play, after his extraordinary efforts to make himself available between international assignments for his exploitative employer fell apart at the last minute, causing him to miss last week's opener. But, having already proven himself through the regular season as one of the game's most committed stalwarts, turning out consistently in even the most inclement weather, and strapping on the pads to avert the occasional goalie crisis, the roadsters agreed a roster spot would be opened up for him in the second week.

That spot became available when Philderama voluntarily suspended himself for his violent attack on notorious gameshow host gone bad, Wink, in last week's series' opener. He arrived at the courts in his street clothes, apologized to the target of his wrath in a tense pre-game meeting, and then stuck around to cheer his mates to their victory.
It seemed to go a long way to smoothing over some of the bad feelings that lingered through his week-long silence on the incident.
But most importantly, said Wink, the roadsters were able to play a hard, clean game to send the season out on a high note.
"I think it was important for us to come out of the year on a strong note, and I think we did that" said the belligerent backchecker. "As sad as I am that we lost, I'm happy the year ended with 25 goals of great road hockey."
"Last week was ugly, we just had to put that behind us and just play the game," said the Guy Called Mike. "(This week) was intense, it was emotional, but that's what we're there for."

Where Lobsterboy struggled to cover up for the deficiencies of his own defense, occasionally to the point of losing his own cool, at the other end, Gump played one of the steadiest, most consistent games of his career. His persistent pursuit of loose balls along the end boards, and his aggressive headmanning of the ball allowed his team to overcome some of the relentless forechecking in their own end.
"You can't ask for more than we got from him today," said the Colonel of his sure-footed shotstopper.
"He gave us a lot of confidence," said Wink. "He gave us the chance to press in the offensive zone."

Unlike past Stanley Sticks, which have often been played in the kind of hot, sunny weather that makes the evil orange plastic ball soft and hard to control, this year's series took place in a cool overcast. And that may have benefited the quick playmaking style of GCM and Lak Attack.
"If it had been a lot hotter out there, maybe both games would have gone differently," said GCM, who's often struggled with the accuracy of his thundering shot when it's hot. "The weather didn't affect the ball, we were able to move it around."

When Paul One walked away from the courts dejected after Sunday's mini-game meltdown, it was the first time in Stanley Stick history he didn't get the chance to hoist the coveted trophy.

That wasn't champagne the champions were pouring over each other's heads during their victory celebration; it was sparkling nonalcoholic cider, after the Living Legend forgot to buy the traditional bottle of bubbly prior to Sunday's finale. But Wendel was able to kick the alcohol content up a notch, when he produced a bottle of chilled sake, acquired during his recent international travels in the service of his exploitative employer.

Wendel is expected to become a part-time player next season, as he will be moving to a distant city to pursue an educational opportunity. But he will be maintaining his roots in the area, and he expects to be able to play occasional games during visits to home.
Other roadsters with question marks surrounding their career include the Whirling Dervish, who only played once in the last two months of the season, and Lumberjack, who hasn't been heard from since he stormed off the court at the end of a brief one-game comeback from a mid-season injury.

This season's Stanley Stick Champions are: Bird; Guy Called Mike; Lak Attack; Living Legend; Lobsterboy; and Wendel.

This is the last regular issue of Road Hockey Illustrated for this season, but the Ticker will be updated as news breaks through the off-season.