Gamebirds flock to league crown

The Burger King Gamebirds went into December crowing about a new honour.

The Gamebirds would end up regular season champions of the local inline hockey league at Kings Sports Centre. Burger King secured the feat with a scintillating 4-3 victory over the Mepco High Rollers.

Heading into the contest, first place was from a foregone conclusion for Burger King. Both the High Rollers and Gamebirds had identical 8-3 records. Both prided themselves on defence, allowing 60 and 63 goals respectively.

Understandably, the game began with both feeling each other out, wanting to stray from potential errors. Five minutes into the game, Gamebirds’ Pete Holowchuk dazzled going end to end with a shot but was denied. A few minutes later, Holowchuk linked up with Fareed Hosein and Curtis Appleyard for a quick goal.

After Mepco’s Mark Missal tallied just a minute later, roofing a backhand shot in close from Ryan Pull, the play returned to slow and deliberate methodology. It would take a while for the tempo to quicken. One chance well executed by Gamebirds’ Rich Hastings was followed by another from Holowchuk, receiving a pass from a dancing Eric Mildenberger behind Mepco’s net.

The two in quick succession fuelled a Mepco team not wanting the gap to widen, especially when attempting to solve Gamebirds goalie Randy Cannon in net. Pull would receive a reversed puck up the boards from Patrick Agemian, then fight diagonally through the Gamebirds defence into the crease before roofing it slightly off balance.

Mepco, starting the second half on the power play courtesy of a two-minute Mildenberger tripping penalty, wouldn’t capitalize on their man advantage due to an aggressive Gamebirds penalty kill. Leaving the penalty box, Mildenberger was rewarded four minutes in from a pass by Devon Malice to make it 4-3 in favour of the Gamebirds.

With Mepco goalie Andrew Finlason and his big saves pulled for the remaining 30 seconds, the High Rollers just couldn’t get the puck to find it’s way into the Gamebirds net, leaving Burger King to enjoy a 4-3 win. Three stars: Eric Mildenberger (game-winning goal), Pete Holowchuk and Randy Cannon (.914 save percentage).

From there, the Deloitte Sharks and Cayman Hot Sauce Flames battled it out. With a short bench, perhaps expecting the worst, the Flames must have been somewhat staggered when Jagger Hope opened the scoring for them. Even with the Sharks on the rebound, Hope would try again but this time be denied by the hot hand of new Sharks goalie Dylan Bostock. It would take ten minutes before the Sharks equalized through Dave Champoux shooting from behind the goal with the puck rebounding back into the net off goalie Jeremy Olynik’s stick.

No one could say at what point it was decided, perhaps it was after his second goal or his assist on Champoux’s goal, but something was ignited within Rob Rintoul and his team to chase league leader Curtis Appleyard’s firm holding on individual stats. Only his second season in Cayman inline hockey, Appleyard has set the bar all season long by separating himself from the rest in goals scored and total points.

According to Rintoul postgame, he needed nine points to surge to the lead and overtake Appleyard. With three game points already and 25 minutes remaining, Rintoul went to work. In spite of the Flames’ Gordon Mattison playing inspired, the Sharks took control. Deloitte’s Dan Etherington engineered the assault as Rintoul, Tim Derksen and even Paul Peene getting in on the act with the goals and assists racking up faster than a slot machine. It’s easy with such a display to oversee efforts by Hope, who was holding the Flames’ hot stick with creative plays and ambition to try things pushing him to record his first hat-trick. The undiluted determination gave him his third right at the final buzzer and a reason for the Flames to smile about their prodigy.

Four, five, six points…Rintoul was getting close and with Sharks’ bench gave instructions not to shoot unless Rintoul had governed the pass. The full team commitment to their team-mate’s potential titles was in full effect. The shooting gallery continued as the Flames goalie saw 56 shots on net.

An Etherington goal from a Rintoul assist, point number seven and then with 40 seconds left, another Etherington goal with a Rintoul second assist and point number eight. A top accountant in his mind, Rintoul hadn’t done it as he fell one point short and the friendly rivalry with Appleyard effectively soured.

Rintoul, however, would take some solace the next day when the final league standings were revealed and he had in fact tied Appleyard for goals scored, evened top assists with Pete Holowchuk and claimed the total points title by a margin of two. Perhaps it was a hard day of numbers the day before Rintoul entered his game, a game of true testament to team ambition reaping the results. Three Stars: Dan Etherington, Rob Rintoul, Jagger Hope.

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