By Mark Simon
Special to NHL.com
May 19, 2003
Coaches always say that the true mark of a championship team is seen in the way in which it handles adversity. It didn’t look like there would be much difficulty for the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies in their Kelly Cup Finals matchup with the Columbia Inferno, but one quick jolt came along unexpectedly.
Atlantic City won the first two games, both by shutout, at Columbia, and led Game 3 at home by a goal with five minutes remaining. The Inferno scored a pair of shorthanded goals in those final five minutes to win the game and cut the best-of-7 series lead to 2-1. The shock to the system that came with that defeat didn’t carry over at all. The turning point of the series came in the first period of Game 4.
“I don’t usually talk to the team much after games,” said Bullies head coach Mike Haviland. “But after Game 3 I told them that we couldn’t let this fester. It couldn’t occupy our minds. If it did, we would never recover. Our guys were so businesslike all season. They knew what they had to do. We got two quick goals from Kevin Colley and the momentum swung right away. The Bullies won Game 4 and Game 5 by identical, 3-1 scores. Colley also scored a goal in Game 5 and was named Kelly Cup Finals MVP, finishing the playoffs with 13 goals and 20 points.
“Kevin can score big-time at this level,” Haviland said. “He could go to the AHL right now and play on a fourth line. That’s because he can hit too. He has the versatility to do both.”
The other key for the Bullies was the play of Scott Stirling, who allowed only six goals in the five-game series. It was the second Kelly Cup Finals appearance for Stirling in his three-year career, as he was on the short end with the Trenton Titans of a 4-1 defeat against the South Carolina Stingrays in 2001. Stirling has a regular season record of 78-26-10 in his ECHL career, not too shabby for a guy who was 15 games under .500 during his collegiate career at Brown University. Haviland said that if there’s any justice in the hockey world, Stirling will get a full-time look in the AHL next season.
“Any way you want to cut it, he’s a winner,” Haviland said of his top goalie, who did go 9-2 in AHL stints with Worcester and Bridgeport. “He’s been a rookie of the year, a goalie of the year, and now he’s won a championship. Somebody should take a good, hard look at him.
“Stirling was good in this series, for sure. I think the key for us though was that we played so well defensively, it gave us chances at the offensive end. We didn’t give them any second chances the whole series.”
That was true in more ways then one, based on what transpired in Game 3 and Game 4. What came through in those games may help to push some players down the road.