By Andrew Sodergren
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – It would have been easy for Adam Berkhoel to fold during Game 1 of the American Conference finals against the Florida Everblades. The standout Dayton goaltender had seen a three-goal lead evaporate on his watch, with Vince Bellissimo tying the score with just over two minutes remaining in regulation.
Many goalies would have lost their composure, but Berkhoel showed why he is regarded as one of the top goaltenders of the ECHL.
With Florida riding all that momentum in making its comeback, Berkhoel buckled down in the three overtimes and stopped all 25 shots he faced, helping his team pull off a 4-3 win to grab a 1-0 series lead. In all, Berkhoel finished with a whopping 59 saves.
“It was the longest game I’ve ever played,” Berkhoel said. “What you want to do in those games after blowing a lead like that is just keep it even, make the saves you have to and hopefully you can pull one out. You know it’s a situation where the next goal wins and you have to play it like that. You know any mistake can lead to a loss, so you have to be at your best.”
Berkhoel is no stranger to the Everblades, as he was the winning goaltender for Gwinnett last season when they eliminated the Blades from the playoffs.
After coughing up the lead, he was able to hold down the fort while Florida was dominating the first two overtime periods. The Everblades outshot the Bombers 25-10 in the first two extra sessions.
“The Blades are certainly a momentum team,” Bombers head coach/GM Don MacAdam said. “When they get rolling, they’re really quite something to watch. Unfortunately, we did a little too much watching for awhile. Adam Berkhoel has been the man all year, he really has. He was MVP of the All-Star game and voted as the top goalie in the league. Tonight’s one of the reasons why.”
Florida goaltender Craig Kowalski was outstanding as well, stopping 43 shots.
“Anytime you have a game run this long, both goaltenders have to be at their best and both were tonight,” MacAdam said. “We didn’t have as many chances on Kowalski but we certainly had a lot of quality chances.”
The Bombers got the break they were looking for in the closing moments of the second overtime. Florida’s Dustin Johner was called for a boarding penalty, and the Bombers capitalized during the final seconds of the power play, early in the third overtime. Brad Farynuk found the back of the net, giving Dayton the victory and making it a satisfying night’s work for Berkhoel.
“Luckily, we got a break there at the end, and that’s what it was going to take in a game like that,” Berkhoel said. “We had a couple chances inside there, the puck squirted around and luckily (Farynuk) got it to go in. It was a great all-around game. Both teams fought hard and I’m just glad we pulled it out.”
Berkhoel knows his work is far from done.
“I know a lot of the guys on that team. They were up in Rochester when I was up there,” Berkhoel said. “I know they have a lot of talent. I didn’t realize they’d be this talented. They have a lot of offensive weapons who can hurt you. We need to work hard and play smart defensively.”