By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
ESTERO, Fla. – Titans owner Geoffrey Berman never liked the sight of Mike Haviland wearing the Kelly Cup ring he earned as coach of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies in 2003.
Berman promised Haviland that if he brought the Titans a title, Berman would buy a big ring for him to wear instead of his Bullies jewelry.
Berman emphatically said he would be true to his word on Wednesday night in a jubilant locker room at Germain Arena following the Titans’ series-clinching, 4-1 victory over the Everblades, bringing the Titans their first championship and Trenton its first pro title since 1949.
The belief that Haviland could lead a team to a title went far beyond Berman, down to every player on the Titans’ roster.
It was the faith and dedication to Haviland that helped the Titans bond into a team with a seemingly unbreakable will.
As the team’s celebration went deep into the night and slipped into the morning hours yesterday, the common theme among the players was that they would follow Haviland anywhere.
No coach before gave them the combination of being totally prepared for an opponent while making the team feel like a family.
There is a reason players and personnel from the Bullies were frequent visitors to the Titans’ locker room during their run to the Kelly Cup.
The connection Haviland makes with people is permanent. It creates life-long relationships after season-long battles in the hockey world.
It probably didn’t matter if the Titans defeated the Florida Everblades; the players always would cherish their time playing for Haviland.
The Titans, however, were determined to seize the opportunity their coach had so painstakingly prepared them for: A chance to become champions together. A moment that could live with them forever, and forever keep them connected to Haviland.
The Titans know all too well Haviland’s time in the ECHL is short.
No one can deny his coaching talents and he should be rewarded with a position in the American Hockey League in the very near future.
The Titans were not about to waste a chance to win a Kelly Cup under his guidance.
The Titans were willing to do anything for their coach and everything for each other. The Titans defeated the Everblades because of their desire to do the little things right for their coach and their teammates.
No one stood above anyone else in Haviland’s system. Everyone was accountable. Everyone knew his role. They played selfless hockey.
The Titans’ defensemen dove to block shots, took hits to make safe clearing passes, and would take cheap shots and walk away.
Steve Munn was one example of a player paying the price. Munn had several cuts high on his arm from high sticks delivered from Everblades forward Brad Church. The cuts eventually turned into a huge, nasty bruise.
Munn didn’t retaliate for those slashes throughout the playoffs, knowing any extra penalty could hurt the team.
The Titans didn’t care who scored, but everyone was expected to skate and work.
Bryce Cockburn never was credited for the Titans’ second goal in Game 6. It was the biggest goal of his career and gave the Titans a 2-0 advantage in the final seconds of the first period. The goal that propelled the Titans to the title was credited to Rick Kowalsky, who wasn’t on the ice.
Cockburn didn’t think about it for a second. No Titans player bothered to alert anyone of the scoring mistake. The players had bigger things on their minds.
“It doesn’t matter,” Cockburn said. “We won the Kelly Cup.”