Playoff hockey is in season at Kings Sports Centre.
Last Tuesday began the first round and required any preempted result thoughts to be left at the door. Playoff hockey, no matter where the league or venue, brings about a charisma that goes against most established season patterns and Cayman’s established inline representation would bode no different.
Game one between league top finishers Burger King Gamebirds and fourth place Cayman Hot Sauces Flames began differently from meetings before. A robust enthusiasm emanated from the rink and Flames’ Jagger Hope appeared to be the most influenced. Stealing the puck in the first minute for a creative chance Hope once again set the tone for others around him.
Team-mate Norm Klein, in his first season playoffs, always displaying good vision found hands to compliment early on sending a puck to Rob Seward for a worthwhile effort of a raised deflection and Hot Sauces Flames continued to apply the pressure through additional work by Chris Anton and Gordie Mattison.
GameBirds Pete Holowchuk deciding to reverse the trend picked the puck up in his own end, dangling his way through a Flames roster before finishing with the puck going off a post. The game had developed into an end-to-end structure with Hot Sauces Flames perhaps creating the better opportunities until the Birds’ Curtis Appleyard opened the scoring keeping the displaying puck magic following a Holowchuk assist.
With a no goal called on Flames’ Jagger Hope skate deflection into the net, and shortly after Jean Louis Beaudet receiving a minor penalty, the momentum could be seen shifting the Gamebirds way.
Hot Sauces’ Tyler Irwin for the most part of his season appears to display a lethargic presence on the ice inter-spaced with flashes of brilliance leaving one to wonder the potential when fully ignited. Perhaps it may or may not be the playoffs but Irwin was inspired. Chasing pucks into the offensive zone with options limited, Irwin’s presence of mind would send the puck back to his defensive players to set up for other opportunities.
Together with a shot carrying pace and accuracy, Irwin was creating problems for Gamebirds players and goalie Randy Cannon. Cannon, unable to keep the puck in his glove following an Irwin shot, found it in the back of the net when dropping to the rink for Hope to tap it in. Two minutes later, Flames’ Rob Seward was presented with a similar situation but just couldn’t convert with the puck evading the end of his stick.
The Flames were being rewarded bringing heavy pressure to the Gamebirds puck carriers, forcing turnovers with opportune chances but remained tied at the half due in part to great efforts by Birds goalie Randy Cannon.
The second half as seen in all great playoff games became an exhibition of goalies. Hot Sauces Flames’ Jeremy Olynik took to preventative task stopping double efforts by Birds’ Colin Wilson and Jeremy Hadley. Olynik had brought a ‘never let die’ aura, retrieving pucks destined for the net behind him. Burger King’s Curtis Appleyard, usually in the right place at the right time, became witness to Olynik’s heroics.
With the puck lost in the crease and Appleyard sensing glory, Olynik somehow realized where it was turning and pouncing on it denying Appleyard the opportunity. Gamebirds’ Cannon had his moments too snatching pucks in his glove with an air of calmness making it look much less difficult than it actually was. Both goalies were dazzling and needed to be with the shots being presented.
Despite the well-respected display going on, both teams managed to find three more to finish 4-4 at the buzzer, bringing an extra five minutes of overtime with everything at stake with the winning team being the next to score.
Sudden death overtime hockey is a different game. Be too hesitant and reduce the opportunities to score; too aggressive and risk being scored on. Both teams entered somewhat hesitantly until Burger King’s Pete Holowchuk presented a cross crease pass to Rich Hastings just missing and then desperation hockey took over.
Bodies were flying, pucks were flying and anything that could fly was given the chance to hopefully steal the game. With 10 seconds remaining, Gamebirds’ Jeremy Hadley grew his own wings making a dash with a breakaway fending off a Flames defenceman all the way to the crease.
Hadley, strong on his skates, cut towards the goal and released a shot beating Olynik, only to see it bounce off the inside of the post and out right behind Olynik forcing the best of five shoot-out.
Gamebirds’ Rich Hastings was up first but losing control of the puck at the crease was forced wide. Next Flames’ Jean Louis Beaudet broke wide with speed before cutting to the middle slotting the puck by Cannon. The next four in line to try their luck all displayed great efforts with back hand dekes being a favourite however the goalies were up to the task.
Gamebirds’ Holowchuk was next, starting from centre closing in slow and calculated down the middle without moves went top shelf scoring over Olynik well out in his crease. The last three didn’t convert and so the next tie relieving chapter ensued, sudden death shoot-out with teams permitted to recycle players.
Both teams had given their all and the intensity heightened. All season, Hot Sauces Flames have struggled with favourable results and the next few minutes could show them reprieve. The playoff gods must have appeared against them seeing Holowchuk up once more at centre. This time, Holowchuk came with a bit more speed and with a convincing weight shift sold Olynik a deke. Olynik, half bitten, dived to his side in desperation with paddle down, denying Holowchuk an almost certain goal.
Back up again for the Flames was Beaudet, also a scorer in the previous round. This time, Beaudet came in a little slower, showing a wait to Cannon, then snapping a shot that forced it’s way through his pads. Beaudet clinched the game for the Flames and their next stop to the finals. Flames 5, Gamebirds 4 in a dramatic shoot-out. Three Stars: Jean Louis Beaudet, Jagger Hope, Jeremy Olynik.
Semifinal number two with Mepco High Rollers and Deloitte Sharks, on paper, looked to be more game of balance. Both teams had found good results during the regular season and when on either could produce favourable outcomes.
It was no surprise following the puck drop that Deloitte took charge maintaining pressure in Mepco’s zone and equally less surprising was Mepco’s Mark Missal, with a burst of speed and drive from within his zone, went end to end to score top shelf to open the scoring. Both teams recognized what was at stake and were determined to give what was needed to go progress further.
It wasn’t until five minutes into the game that Mepco began finding their chemistry, playing tight brisk hockey with a focused purpose. Good hard low shots were directed to Sharks goalie Scott Hughes, who was making neat work of managing any potential rebounds with both teams now finding themselves on a level playing field with hard skating, good passing and all around good hockey being presented.
Deloitte’s seemingly unimpressive Tim Derksen always brings a solid game but continually flies under opponents’ defensive radar. It could be suggested Derksen likes it that way, allowing him to create stealthy opportunities leading to threatening goal scoring chances and his goal halfway through the first fit that model.
Seeing team-mates Claude Plamondon and Dave Champoux win the puck in their own corner, Derksen set like a rocket calling for the stretch pass. Champoux got it to him and Derksen was away with speed, scoring an authoritative goal. Scoring would tally back and forth to end up 3-3 at the half.
No one really understands how momentum shifts occur but when they do they’re obvious. For the first five minutes of the second half, Deloitte drove hard, getting two more goals. One from Simon Craig, with a little move then laser shot and the other from Derksen, roofing the puck from a Plamondon pass.
Momentum had favoured the Sharks and they were taking full advantage of it with Paul Peene getting another following up on Derksen shot. Mepco needed to ebb the flow against them and were given an opportunity when Deloitte’s Derksen received a two minute roughing penalty; almost giving him his Gordie Howe hat-trick.
The High Rollers needed to convert on the power play, but with the Sharks playing a strong penalty kill, it would leave Mepco frustrated with limited shots on goal and more desperation setting in. Mepco were given a ray of hope when Brad Kirby scored short handed, following a Jeff Danter penalty, but all would be quashed when Deloitte’s Peene scored with only five minutes left.
Mepco gave their last big effort, pulling goalie Andrew Finlason early, but all would be a little too late to send Deloitte to the finals 7-4. Three Stars: Tim Derksen, Claude Plamondon, Paul Peene.