As the regular season winds to a close, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Seattle Sailors will make the postseason for the first time in their existence (and, ironically, in their last season in Seattle). It also looks increasingly likely that the Kansas City Smoke will finish with the league’s worst record, which means that they’ll get the top pick in the draft.
On paper, Sunday’s game was a mismatch. But anything can happen in a single game, and the contest turned out to be a wild see-saw affair, culminating in a frenzied third period in which the teams combined to score seven goals. In the end, Seattle emerged with a razor-thin 8-7 victory that allowed them to hold onto first place in the West for another day.
“This was like playing shinny as a kid,” said Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent. “Just firewagon action back and forth, all offense. It was crazy.”
The game started with a bang, as Argent fired a shot that beat Kansas City netminder Gus Parrish just 26 seconds into the contest. Smoke RW Tyler Cloude answered a couple minutes with a low shot that went five-hole on Sailors goalie Rocky Goldmire. Just over five minutes after that, Seattle RW Vince Mango tucked a slapper just under the crossbar to give his team a 2-1 edge, which it maintained for the rest of the period.
In the first minute of the second period, C Darien Picard got Kansas City back even by beating Goldmire on a breakaway. After that, though, Seattle went on a run, aided by some bad Smoke penalties. First, C Mike Rivera went to the box for elbowing. Kansas City killed off the penalty, but couldn’t get the puck out of their own end, allowing RW Rodney McElvern to tip a shot home and put the Sailors back in front. A minute after McElvern’s goal, D T.K. O’Neill hit Argent in the mouth with his stick, drawing blood and earning a double minor. Mango made the Smoke pay, hitting pay dirt on a shot from the right faceoff circle. A couple minutes later, RW Zachary Merula took a cheap slashing penalty in the offensive zone. This time, it took only 36 seconds for Mango to overwhelm the exhausted KC penalty kill, scoring again to complete his hat trick. It was now a 5-2 Seattle lead, and it seemed like the rout was on.
The plucky Smoke refused to give up, however. With 49 seconds left in the second stanza, LW Veikko Sikanen gathered up a rebound and stuffed it home, closing the gap to two. Then in the first couple of minutes of the third, Rivera and Merula made up for their penalties by scoring just 14 seconds apart, tying the game and stunning the crowd at Century 21 Arena.
“We couldn’t believe that it was a game again,” said Mango. “We were sure we’d put them away, but they came back on us.”
Seattle answered back just 24 seconds after Merula’s score, as C Napoleon Beasley beat Parrish on the short side to give the Sailors the lead again. But KC wasn’t ready to give up. LW Tadeusz Adamczyk scored to tie it yet again, and exactly a minute later, Cloude found the back of the net to give Kansas City its first lead of the game.
“[The Smoke] were like the Black Knight in Monty Python; we cut their limbs off and they just kept coming,” said Mango. “’It’s just a flesh wound!’”
Fortunately for the Sailors, they had one more good push left, which they deployed in the final five minutes of the game. C Marco Venezio got behind the defense and scored on a breakway to tie it up one more time. A mere twelve seconds later, RW Elliott Pepper stormed down the ice on an odd-man rush and scored what provide to be the winning goal. A pair of late penalties erased whatever chance Kansas City had for a comeback.
Sailors coach Harold Engellund praised his team for its resilience. “One of the things I appreciate about this team is the way they can take a punch and keep going,” said Engellund. “[The Smoke] didn’t make this one easy on us, but we hung in there and got the W. That says something about the competitive character around here.”
Critics of the Sailors often argue that their lackluster defense will prevent them from succeeding in the playoffs, and giving up seven goals to the league’s worst team certainly argues in that direction. Engellund, however, brushed off those concerns: “The bottom line is that we did what it took to win. Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but so what? You don’t get points for style, just for winning.”