Titans Head To Alaska, Finals Showdown With Aces

By Len Bardsley
Staff Writer
The Times of Trenton

TRENTON, N.J. – The way Titans coach Mike Haviland looks at things, his team has about 13 hours or so today to put their dramatic, series-clinching Game 4 victory against the Reading Royals behind them.

At some point over the Rocky Mountains, the Titans should start focusing on their next destination, Anchorage, and the National Conference finals against the Aces.

The Titans depart for North Country Sunday, leaving from Philadelphia on four different flights and arriving in Anchorage between 10 p.m. and midnight Alaska time (between 2 and 4 a.m. Eastern).

They will have one full day of practice Monday to get acclimated to Anchorage and Sullivan Arena before facing the Aces in Game 1, which will 11:15 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday. The Aces will host Game 2, also at 11:15 p.m., on Wednesday before the series moves back east to Sovereign Bank Arena for Games 3 and 4, 7 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday.

“We could not get everybody on the same flight, but we will all arrive within an hour of each other,” said Haviland. “Sunday is normally a day off anyway, so it should not be too bad.”

Haviland wants to make sure his team is not satisfied with claiming the North Division by defeating the Royals in four games, especially in the manner they did on Friday night, when they had to mount a three-goal third-period comeback to win 4-3.

“We can’t use any excuse or say it was nice to get by Reading,” said Haviland.

Haviland will continue his theme of the Titans making the most of their playoff chances.

“Some of my speech (before Game 4) was about opportunities that come along in your career,” said Haviland. “I used Rick Kowalsky as an example. He has played 12 years and only been to the finals twice. You can’t say, `I am a first or second-year guy, I will get another chance.’ Those opportunities may not come up again.”

The Titans do have the advantage of having traveled to Anchorage previously. They played two preseason games against the Aces before the 2003-04 season, splitting the games with the hosts.

Titans’ goalie Andrew Allen is looking forward to playing at Sullivan Arena, which will be sold out for both games. The Titans will have to adjust to the larger ice surface there. Sullivan Arena is an Olympic-sized 200×100, compared to Sovereign Bank Arena, which is an NHL-sized 200×85.

“Going up there will be great to play on that huge ice surface,” said Allen. “I am happy I got a chance to play there last year. I still remember it a little bit. They are getting great crowds, so it should be an excellent environment.”

Allen and his teammates are looking forward to getting to practice tomorrow to get a feel for Sullivan. Haviland knows the Titans will have to make some changes against a more wide-open Aces team, but he mainly is focusing on his team.

“We will have a full practice and a morning skate to get acclimated,” said Haviland. “We will make adjustments in the second and third period of Game 1. We want to take care of our own business first.”

One of the biggest challenges is coming back to Trenton after the two games in Alaska. The Titans looked jet-lagged when they opened the 2003-04 regular season after their Alaska trip, losing their first three games.

Allen feels the fact that the Aces have to make the same trip east and the possibility of another vocal and passionate crowd at Sovereign Bank Arena could offset the effects of the long trip home.

“There is a lot of travel there,” said Allen, “but both teams are doing the same thing. It gets to this point (in the season), you play the game on the ice. It will be great to come back here. The crowd (Friday) was awesome. It was electric in there.”

The Titans will take a 1:30 a.m. flight out of Anchorage following Game 2 and arrive in Philadelphia around 5 p.m. Thursday. Haviland plans on having a normal morning practice Friday to get his team readjusted to Eastern time before Game 3 on Saturday. The ECHL will provide the Titans a $5,000 travel subsidy for their trip to Alaska and the Aces $5,000 for their trip to Trenton. The Titans would get another $5,000 if a second trip is needed for Games 6 and 7.