By Deron Snyder
ESTERO, Fla. – There was only one thing I wanted to see in the Florida Everblades’ crucial Game 2 against the Dayton Bombers, and it really didn’t matter whether it was Craig Kowalski or Adam Berkhoel.
I wanted to see a goalie stand on his head.
Among sports’ catchiest expressions, “standing on his head” has to rank with the best of them. But my first thought isn’t of a really hot goalie; I see a break dancer, sliding around on his back and shoulders before pirouetting on his dome.
Considering how Berkhoel had played against the Blades lately, no one at Germain Arena would’ve been shocked if he stood on his head and spelled out the Village People’s “YMCA” with his legs. Berkhoel knocked Florida out of the playoffs last season with a pair of victories for Gwinnett, including a 27-save gem in Game 4, and put the Blades into a 0-1 series hole Tuesday night in the American Conference finals’ opening game.
But the 2006-07 ECHL Goaltender of the Year and MVP of the All-Star Game barely stood on his skates Thursday night, let alone his cranium, as Florida evened the series with a 5-3 victory. Instead it was Kowalski who shined, stopping 33 of the Bombers’ 36 shots on goal, earning No. 1 Star of the Game for his efforts.
The Blades didn’t test Berkhoel nearly as much, mustering just 20 shots. Kowalski faced 15 in the first period alone, allowing two to slip past in a 49-second span. The latter gave Dayton a 2-1 lead after trailing 1-0, and one couldn’t help wondering if Berkhoel would make it hold.
“I just couldn’t come up with the critical saves, and then we let them get some easy goals,” Berkhoel said. “The way we play, we can’t let that happen. We have to make teams work for their goals.”
Bombers coach Don MacAdam said standing on one’s head means a goalie is “making saves that logic dictates he shouldn’t be making. He said forcing your netminder into superhero duty is begging for trouble.
“If you put your goalie in that position it’s like a jump ball,” he said. “Good luck.”
Sometimes the best work in goal goes unrewarded. The Bombers were down 3-1 in the previous series and MacAdam said “not in one game could you say that goaltending let us down.”
He wasn’t pointing the finger at Berkhoel after Game 2, even with the goalie’s pitiful .750 save percentage on the evening, compared to .930 entering the evening. MacAdam said though the Blades didn’t have many shots, the quality of those attempts was too high for his liking.
Part of that was good old- fashioned luck, like a shot bouncing off the boards behind the net and coming directly to Dustin Johner in front, who beat Berkhoel to tie the game at 2-2.
The Blades had only seven shots at that point. When Florida extended its lead to 4-2, it was being outshot, 22-11. Berkhoel said the lack of action can work against a goalie.
“It was one of those games where you don’t get tested a lot, and when you do it’s in the back of the net,” he said.
Neither goalie did the head-standing thing. But Berkhoel warned that he still feels like a hot goalie.
“This won’t change anything,” he said.
Unless the Blades win one in Dayton, he’s correct. Kowalski might need to get inverted out there to force a Game 6 back at Germain.