(Hamilton wins, 4-2)
In the locker room before the third period of today’s Game 6, Hamilton Pistols coach Keith Shields looked for the right words to inspire his struggling team. After forty minutes of play, the defending champions Anchorage Igloos led the Pistols 3-1. The Igloos were just a period away from erasing Hamilton’s 3-1 series lead in the SHL Finals, setting up a winner-take-all Game 7 in Anchorage tomorrow. The momentum was firmly on the side of the champs, and the Pistols’ hopes for the Vandy were rapidly slipping away.
“I knew I didn’t want it to go to seven,” said Shields. “I knew our best chance to win was today, even having to come from behind.”
And so the coach, who is a devout Christian, talked to his players about the story of David and Goliath. “The Israelites were saved because one man was brave enough to take on this giant on the other side,” the coach said. “And with God’s strength behind him, David killed Goliath. Who among you is brave enough to defeat our enemy? If that’s you, step forward like David did.”
One by one, the Pistols stepped forward. Then they went out and staged the biggest comeback in Finals history, scoring four unanswered goals to take a 5-3 win and clinch their first-ever SHL title.
The first player to answer Shields’ challenge was, unsurprisingly, LW Steven Alexander. The winger has been Hamilton’s unquestioned leader since the beginning, a brave and ambitious player who discovered a new level to his game after tying the knot in mid-season. He got the team going in the right direction right from the opening faceoff of the third, marching down the ice and scoring just 16 seconds into the frame.
“Coach Shields had gotten us fired up with his speech, but someone needed to get our comeback started,” said D Hercules Mulligan. “And of course it was Alex. That guy knows no fear.”
Alexander got things rolling, but Hamilton needed another hero. Up stepped one of their oldest players. 33-year-old RW Kenny Patterson considered retiring after last season, before signing an extension with the Pistols to fill a hole on the second line. And when his team needed him most today, he came through with the tying and (ultimately) winning goals.
The tying tally came on a power play, as Igloos D Tony Citrone was penalized for tripping. Patterson stationed himself in front of the Anchorage net, absorbing hacks and slashes from defenders. And when D Raymond Smyth fired a shot toward the net, Patterson deflected it just beyond the reach of Igloos goalie Ty Worthington and just under the crossbar.
The go-ahead goal came on a similar tip play on 5-on-5 just over two minutes after the previous one. This time, it was D Clayton Risch firing from the blue line while Patterson stood in the slot. The puck bounced off Patterson’s stick and knuckled past a stunned Worthington. The Igloos protested, arguing that Patterson’s stick had been above the crossbar when it struck the puck. Upon review, though, it was deemed a good goal. The fans at Arctic Circle Arena booed, while the Igloos sagged on the bench.
“They couldn’t believe it,” Patterson said. “They’d been so sure they had this one in the bag, and then we came back and they didn’t know what to do.”
RW Claude Lafayette has been a close friend of Alexander’s since childhood and shares a line with the star. So it only seems fitting that he gave Hamilton an insurance goal with less than seven minutes left, finishing off an odd-man rush that Alexander started. The old friends wrapped each other in an embrace and screamed in celebration, while the crowd fell into a stunned silence.
The Igloos tried to mount a rally, but the fired-up Pistols overwhelmed them. Anchorage’s final push was thwarted when LW Jerry Koons took an ill-timed tripping penalty with three minutes remaining. A frustrated Koons slammed his stick against the glass and buried his head in his hands as he sat in the sin bin.
“I feel like I cost us the championship,” said Koons. “I took a stupid, stupid penalty at the worst possible time.”
As the final horn sounded, the Pistols raced toward their blue line to celebrate. They pounded each other on the back and shouted, “We won, we won, we won! We won!” When Commissioner Perry Mitchell presented them with the Vandy, Alexander took a long lap around the ice, tears streaming down his cheeks as he contemplated the team’s accomplishment.
“I have lived to see our glory!” said Alexander in the locker room, as his teammates poured beer and champagne over his head. “It’s been an amazing year for me, getting married and winning the title, and this is a new high. When our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.”
Shields ran around the locker room, hugging his players and doing his best to dodge the beer showers. “Goliath is dead!” shouted the coach. “With our faith and our bravery, we stood up against our mightiest opponent and we took him down. All hail the heroes!”
A somber Sam Castor, coach of the Igloos, congratulated the victorious Pistols. “Make no mistake, they earned this title,” said Castor. “It was a hard-fought series, but they were the better team in the end. They deserve this.”