By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
ESTERO, Fla. – Rick Kowalsky completed the Titans’ puzzle, so Wednesday night in the visitors’ locker room at Germain Arena – which was filled by the smoke of victory cigars – he provided a classic moment.
All during the playoffs after each Titans victory, one player would take a part of a picture of the Kelly Cup and put it together as part of a 14-part puzzle, representing the number of games needed to win the ECHL title.
Wednesday night, Kowalsky did the honors.
There might be no better way for the 12-year veteran to end his Titans’ career.
Kowalsky would not confirm it to reporters, but in an emotional speech to his teammates the ultimate leader and competitor said he could not think of a better way to end his career.
“It has been a while,” Kowalsky said. “I told these guys when you win a championship at any level, it is an unbelievable feeling. These guys are so fortunate. I hope they cherish every moment.”
As captain, Kowalsky received the Kelly Cup from its namesake, ECHL commissioner Emeritus Patrick J. Kelly, and flew around the ice at Germain Arena.
Kowalsky’s last title was as a Junior player, when he won the Memorial Cup with the Sault. St. Marie Greyhounds.
In typical Kowalsky fashion, he shrugged off some tough shots from a desperate and frustrated Everblades team in the final moments of the game, with his eyes firmly on the ultimate goal.
“I think I got five welts from slashes in the last 10 minutes, but I won’t be feeling that,” Kowalsky said. “We have been playing hockey for so long then it happened. We are done. You set out in August and September for this to be your goal and now to be here. It is an unbelievable feeling.”
Kowalsky was superb during the entire playoffs, scoring 10 goals and 13 assists, which was second only to the Everblades’ David Lundbohm for the playoff scoring title. Lundbohm is seven years younger than the 33-year-old Kowalsky.
“Rick Kowalsky is a true professional,” said Titans coach Mike Haviland. “I knew if I got him on my side, he and I together could do some magical things.”
There was nothing more magical than Kowalsky putting together the final piece of the Titans’ puzzle.