By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Early in the second period of Game 3 of their Kelly Cup playoff series with Augusta, South Carolina Stingrays coach Jared Bednar wondered out loud if Lynx goalie Bobby Goepfert had a “lucky horseshoe stuck in his pants” somewhere.
The South Carolina Stingrays had thrown everything but the Zamboni driver at Goepfert in the first two games of the playoff series and the rookie had stopped nearly every shot. The Rays had dominated the play on the ice, combining for 74 shots through the first two games, and somehow found themselves trailing, 2-0, in the best-of-five playoff series to the upstart Lynx.
The rookie goalie was beating the Stingrays almost by himself.
“Against just about any other goalie, we would probably have been up 2-0 or at least gotten a split out of the first two games,” Bednar said. “Don’t get me wrong, Augusta had a solid, hard-working team and they had given us trouble all season, but if Bobby’s not playing the way he was playing, I’m confident we wouldn’t have been fighting for our lives in Game 3.
“In my mind, Bobby won Game 2 by himself. I think we had something like 45 shots on him in Game 2 and plenty of quality scoring chances. He made a couple of saves that there were just ridiculous early in the series. As a coach, it was frustrating to watch because we were getting chance after chance and coming away empty.”
When the series switched back to the North Charleston Coliseum, for Game 3, the Stingrays barrage continued on Goepfert, pounding the former St. Cloud State star with nearly 90 shots. Despite losing Game 3 and Game 4 in overtime, Goepfert stopped 81 of the 87 shots he faced.
“Things were definitely going my way during the playoffs last year,” Goepfert said. “Don’t get me wrong, I had to work for everything I got against them, but I felt good. It was just one of those things where everything seems to hit you. I was lucky a couple of times, but that’s part of it. I know I felt big and I felt quick, and usually good things happen when I feel like that.”
Goepfert’s luck finally ran out in Game 4 when Stingrays defenseman Rory Rawlyk collided with the Augusta goalie just outside the crease in the second overtime period. Suffering from a concussion that he didn’t know about at the time, Goepfert gave up the game-winning goal on a shot from Trent Campbell.
“I knew something was wrong,” Goepfert said. “I was having trouble focusing. There was a shot in the second overtime from the blue line that kind of caught me by surprise and I just got my pad down in time to stop it. Normally, I could have stopped Trent’s shot in my sleep. I couldn’t believe it went in.
“A lot of guys on the team were pretty upset at (Rawlyk). I didn’t really think it was all that bad. It’s playoff hockey and they were just trying to get in my head.”
After the game, Goepfert knew his chances of playing in the decisive Game 5 were 50-50 at best.
“I thought after I got to sleep I would be OK,” Goepfert said.
During warm-ups it became pretty apparent that Goepfert wouldn’t be playing.
“I was OK when I was facing the puck,” Goepfert said. “But as soon as I turned my head, my vision would start to get blurring and I’d feel dizzy. I wanted to play, but I knew that in the end I was only going to hurt the team.”
The Stingrays went on to beat the Lynx, 3-1, in Game 5 with J.P. Lavasseur in net for the Lynx. For the series, Goepfert was 2-0-2 with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. He never lost a game in regulation to the Stingrays during the series.
“It was a frustrating ending to the season,” Goepfert said. “I would have liked to have had one more game against (South Carolina).”
In June, Bednar learned that Stingrays goalie Davis Parley, who had been 55-28-9 for the Stingrays over the last two seasons, was leaving for Europe.
It didn’t take long for him to make Goepfert an offer.
“I wanted to get a guy that was in the upper echelon of the league, and looking at all the guys that were available, Bobby was my at the top of my list,” Bednar said. “I was sold on Bobby long before the playoffs. He played well against us during the regular season and made all the saves he had to, plus some big saves. He’s one of the best big-game goalies around and that’s what you’re looking for in the playoffs.”
Goepfert jumped at the chance to play for the team that had beaten him in the playoffs.
“I guess if you can’t beat them, join them,” Goepfert said with a chuckle. “I know what kind of organization they’ve got here. I like the style they play. I like the team (Bednar) has put together.”
More than anyone, Bednar understands how important a “hot” goalie can be in the playoffs. A defenseman on both of the Stingrays’ Kelly Cup championship teams (1997 and 2001), Bednar watched Jason Fitzsimmons and Kirk Daubenspeck roll during the playoffs.
“(Fitzsimmons) was the MVP of the playoffs in ’97 and Dauber was phenomenal as well,” Bednar said. “I think Bobby has some of those same ‘big game’ characteristics that (Fitzsimmons) and (Daubenspeck) both had. You can’t win in the playoffs without great goalie play.”
Of course, that hasn’t stopped some of the Stingrays from getting in a dig every once in a while about last year’s playoff series.
“They don’t bring it up much, but every once in a while someone will say something,” Goepfert said. “It’s all in good fun.”
When asked about his game-winning shot in Game 3, Campbell just grinned and said “that rocket, (Goepfert) didn’t have a chance.”
The Stingrays have welcomed their former rival with open arms.
“The guy nearly single-handedly beat us last year in that series, so I love having him on our team this year,” said Stingrays defenseman Nate Kiser. “He’s the kind of goalie that seems to play better the bigger the game, and that’s the kind of goalie you want around in the playoffs.”