Blades String Of Comebacks Ends

By Andy Kent
Copyright © 2005 Naples Daily News

ESTERO, Fla. — Falling behind early in games finally caught up to the Florida Everblades on Wednesday, and as a result they were forced to watch the Trenton Titans hoist the Kelly Cup on their home ice.

Trenton ended Florida’s dream if winning its first ECHL championship with a 4-1 victory in Game 6 in front of a record crowd of 7,805 at Germain Arena, making sure not to let up until the final horn sounded this time. And Florida dropped to 0-5 all-time at home in the Kelly Cup Finals.

The Titans, who hadn’t won a title in their six years in the league, had blown two-goal leads in Games 3 and 4 back in Trenton and watched their 2-0 lead in the series evaporate.

Leon Hayward, the hero of Monday night’s come-from-behind 5-2 win, had a goal and two assists and earned Finals MVP honors. Titans goaltender Andrew Allen returned to his unstoppable form of earlier in the playoffs with a stellar second period to give head coach Mike Haviland his second Kelly Cup in three years. He won in 2003 as head coach of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies.

“It’s unbelievable right now,” a smiling Haviland said. “To beat a team like that over there with the depth that they have and the personnel that they have, I’ve got to take my hat off to every guy that we have here. I can’t be anymore proud of everybody in that room and what we did with the ups and downs of this series.”

The Everblades had made a habit all season of coming back against teams with their high-powered offense, and after turning things around with a dramatic 5-4 overtime win in Game 3 last Friday, there was no deficit that they felt was too big.

However, when Bryce Cockburn was credited with a goal past Everblades goalie Tyler MacKay with nine seconds left in the first period to make it a 2-0 game, things started to take a different turn, especially because of the controversial nature of the goal.

Hayward had scored on the power play at the 13:09 mark and it looked like the one-goal deficit was all Florida would have to deal with. But with the clock running down, Trenton pressured hard and crashed the net after Hayward’s shot hit MacKay in the chest, leading to a scrum in front. The puck eventually crossed the line and linesman David Jones pointed to the net signaling a goal, apparently before referee Terry Koharski blew the whistle.

“It was a debated call I guess and he made the call and we had our doubts about it,” said MacKay, who made 21 saves on the night. “Koharski didn’t even have position and I thought the whistle went, so did everybody else. Koharski even said he thought the whistle went and he’s the one with the whistle in his hand. Who knows? It was a goal, it’s done, it’s over with. The sun will still come up in the morning.”

Koharski never saw it and the goal light never came on, so Koharski conferred with Jones and the other linesman, Paul Carnathan, then went over and spoke with the goal judge before confirming it as a goal. That drew a chorus of boos from the fans and the ire of Everblades head coach Gerry Fleming, who yelled at the linesman and Koharski then flipped his hand in disgust.

Bryan Graham is the ECHL’s vice president and director of officiating and he spoke with the officials after the game to hear their side. He was satisfied at the end of the discussion that the right call was made and proper procedure was followed.

“Procedurally, in the last 10 seconds of the period the linesman’s responsibility when the play’s at the net is to go down as a backup for the exact same reason of what the play was there,” Graham said. “So Jones went into cover and as he was approaching the bottom of the circle he saw the puck in the left side of the net, so he came around the net and pointed. At this time the whistle hadn’t been blown, he already identified the puck was in the net and pointed twice that it was in the net.”

Graham went on to point out that Koharski conferred with Jones and then consulted with the goal judge, Mickey Mathias, who also said the puck was in the net. Mathias said the reason the goal light didn’t go on was because the light had malfunctioned.

Fleming didn’t want to dwell on that goal as the reason for the loss, choosing instead to tip his cap to Haviland and the Titans and to his own players for fighting as hard as they did all season and in the series. He pointed to a few defensive lapses as the difference.

“I was proud of my guys. We challenged them,” Fleming said. “We’ve asked them to do a lot and step outside of themselves at times, a lot of sacrifices. All I can say is ‘thank you,’ they’re a fantastic group of guys. They made it a fun year to work with, it’s just unfortunate. I feel bad for them, they came up a little short but it wasn’t from lack of effort.”

Whatever Fleming said to his players during the intermission yielded immediate results in the second period as Keith Anderson scored at the 2:07 mark to cut the deficit in half at 2-1. His shot from the right circle deflected off the back of Titans defenseman Jerramie Domish.

“I felt like the ice was tilting our way after that,” Anderson said. “I just threw it at the net, a lucky bounce went in off their guy, I thought that was what we needed to get over the hump and break Allen. I thought we were rolling. I think we had a great second period and things were going well. We just couldn’t get the bounces tonight. The boys played their hearts out and it’s too bad we couldn’t come out on top. It’s just a sick feeling.”

MacKay came up with two big saves just past the midway point on the penalty kill, one diving save on a shot by Hayward and then trapping the puck between his knees on a slapshot from the right point by Michael Schutte. The rest of the penalty killing unit took over from there and kept it a one-goal game.

Allen answered on the other end in a flurry with just over seven minutes left as he kept the bouncing puck out of the net. Then he managed to stop Damian Surma from point-blank moments later and saw his rebound land just out of the reach of the Blades.

The Everblades put relentless pressure on Trenton’s net over the next three minutes and evened up the shots at 15-15 with 4:25 to go in the period but could not get one more to fall behind Allen.

After Trenton killed off the remaining 1:45 of Florida’s power play, a minute later the Titans made it a 3-1 game when Schutte’s slapshot from the point got deflected low and wound up going through MacKay’s legs.

And with the Everblades clinging to life, looking for that goal to make cut it back to one, Trenton’s Nick Deschenes got loose on a breakaway 10:54 into the third after taking the feed from B.J. Abel and beat MacKay to silence the Germain Arena crowd for the last time and make it 4-1.