"Slap Shot" meets "A Season on the Brink" in this twisted tale of minor league hockey in the place with more pro teams than any place in North America: TEXAS!

by Jason Cohen

SAN ANTONIO -- "Game Zero" of the playoffs didn't disappoint.

With first place in the Central Hockey League Southeast division at stake and a best-of-five postseason series looming, the Austin Ice Bats and San Antonio Iguanas continued a rivalry that has seen five of 10 games decided by one goal. The Bats won in overtime, 6-5, erasing San Antonio leads of 3-1 and 5-3 to do it.

With nearly 200 Austin fans cheering "Let's Go Bats" and the San Antonio crowd attempting to silence that with boos, Gerald Tallaire got the winner 84 seconds into the extra frame. The stage was set for that by Kelly Smart, who made it 5-4 with less than three minutes remaining, and Bobby Brown, who scored with Austin goalie Bryan McMullen pulled for the extra man with 19 seconds left.

"Chalk it up to lucky breaks, but we never quit," Brown said. "It gives us confidence to know that no matter what time of the game it is we can always find a way to score. That's a good feeling going into the playoffs."

With the win, Austin (42-15-5, 89 points) ties a ribbon on the Southeast crown, the first division title in franchise history.

"We got a banner," Ryan Anderson, the only member of all six Ice Bats teams, said. "It's a pretty nice feeling. I don't think any of us thought we'd do it at the end of the third there, but we've been pulling out games like that all year. It's hard to come back once in a game, let alone twice. We found the character to do it."

It was a 1-1 game when the Iguanas seized control on Scott Green's breakaway at 7:16 of the second period, followed by Johnny Brdarovic's backhander at from inside the right circle at 9:39.

But when referee Paul DePuydt called an interference minor on Clay Awe, Tallaire golfed one off Brent Belecki's right pad at 12:38 of the second.

50 seconds later, Austin defenseman Greg Willers fired a wide shot that bounced off the boards and right back to his stick blade for an unassisted goal from the left circle.

But with the game tied 3-3, San Antonio's Matt Van Horlick and Scott Green scored 16 seconds apart early in the third.

"When we get down, we seem to get better," Austin head coach Brent Hughes said. "Now I just need to create that atmosphere before the games."

Note: The playoff series will follow a 1-2-1-1 format, with Game 1 at San Antonio Friday, March 22rd, Game 2 in Austin Saturday, March 23rd. and Game 3 in Austin Friday March 29th. Game 4, if necessary, would be in San Antonio on the 30th, with Game 5 in Austin the 31st. Tickets for Games 2 and 3 go on sale at all Star Ticket outlets at 10am this morning.

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