By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
ESTERO, Fla. – A perfect road game, a perfect ending.
The Titans put together one final, gritty 60-minute effort worthy of a championship team, defeating the Florida Everblades, 4-1, to win the first ECHL Kelly Cup title in franchise history Wednesday night at Germain Arena in front of a record crowd of 7,805.
They made sure there would be no drama on this night until after the final buzzer, taking the lead in the first period and playing their usual smothering defense while goalie Andrew Allen stood tall, making 23 saves.
A tentative plan has a victory parade scheduled for Saturday, though no details were available following the game.
Allen allowed only a Keith Anderson goal that went off his own defender early in the second period.
Allen could savor the final seconds, soaking in the Titans’ celebration.
“I don’t look at the clock very often,” Allen said. “The last two minutes I looked up a lot. I wanted to feel it. It is the most unbelievable feeling in my professional life. These guys mean the world to me.”
The Titans never trailed after Leon Hayward gave them a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal with 6:51 left in the first period. They had blown leads twice in this series, but to a man the team was determined not to let it happen Wednesday night.
“It was great,” said Hayward, who was named the Kelly Cup MVP. “We talked about getting a goal early. We knew tonight if we got the lead we were not going to lose it.”
The Titans never lost their poise against a desperate Everblades team. They took a 2-0 lead with nine seconds left in the first period when Bryce Cockburn stuffed the puck past Tyler MacKay.
Even when Anderson sent his ricochet shot into the net to cut the Titans’ lead to 2-1 with 16:53 left in the second period, they never lost their focus or determination to take the ultimate prize.
“I can’t be any prouder of everyone in that room,” said Titans coach Mike Haviland, who has won two Kelly Cup Championships in three seasons after taking the title with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies in 2003. “I kept saying to them keep working. I wanted them to stay disciplined and not give them any momentum at all. Right now it is kind of surreal.”
The Titans were not about to give the Everblades any hope of a comeback or their first home victory of the finals. Michael Schutte and Nick Deschenes added goals to ensure the Titans would earn three road wins to claim the title.
“From the cage (goalie) out, we played a great road game,” Haviland said. “Now they can finally rest. Now they have won it. They are the last team standing. When you can say that, it is a feat. This year, of all years, with the (NHL) lockout. I don’t think it has sunk in yet.”
The Titans could start to taste the champagne when Deschenes stole the puck at the Everblades’ blue line, raced in alone and beat MacKay with a forehand move with 9:06 left in the third period to give the visitors a 4-1 lead.
The Titans took a 3-1 lead early in the third period when Schutte sent a wrist shot from the point past a screened MacKay with 17:09 left in the period.
“I thought we came out really well tonight,” Allen said. “The second goal was a big, big goal. We played well all the way through. We took it to the end.”
Many of the Titans were at a loss for words in a locker room that was filled with cigar smoke and soaked with champagne.
“It has not hit me yet,” said Titans forward Scott Bertoli, the only player to be with the team for all six years of its existence. “It will take some time to settle in. It has been a long time. It is something I dreamed about.
“It seemed like the start of the year the pieces were assembled to make a heck of a run for it. The guys worked so hard. We deserved this. I am proud of every guy in this room.
“I thank Haviland for the opportunity. He believed in me.”
The Titans played the perfect first period, limiting the Everblades to seven shots on goal and getting a favorable call to claim a 2-0 advantage.
They had taken a 1-0 lead on a Hayward power-play goal with 6:51 left in the first period. Deschenes slid a pass to a wide-open Hayward in the slot and the Titans forward sent a quick wrist shot past MacKay.
Bryce Cockburn gave the Titans that 2-0 lead with nine seconds left in the first period after a lengthy review. The play started with defenseman Steve Munn trying to stuff on the puck past MacKay, during the ensuing scramble lineseman David Jones signaled a goal.
Referee Terry Koharski discussed the play with both linesman and then the goal judge before finally signaling a goal for the Titans.