"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!

Austin Wins Series
IceBats Face Rematch Against Memphis for Title
By Jason Cohen

CHL Goaltender of the Year Matt Barnes saved his best for last, and that means the Austin Ice Bats will rejoin Memphis in the President's Cup Final.

Not long after the defending champion RiverKings completed its sweep of Indy for the Northern Conference crown, Austin, the league's best regular season squad, took out the Laredo Bucks in six to win the South.

Barnes made 35 saves in the 3-2 victory, completing a streak of three wins in three nights for Brent Hughes' squad, which had trailed the series 2-1 before Game 4.

The Bats did it just like you're supposed to in the playoffs, with goaltending, defense and special teams. Austin had two power-play goals in each of the last three games, while over the course of the series, the highly skilled Bucks lit the lamp just once in 25 chances with the extra man.

Offensively, the Bats were keyed by the "STP Line" of Brett Seguin, Gerald Tallaire and Dan Price. The trio teamed up for eight points tonight, including Price's winner.

But Laredo gave them all they had, with Andy Lundbohm and Morten Ask stepping up offensively as the Bats focused on stars Eric Schneider and Chris Grenville. The Bucks got nearly interchangeable goaltending from veteran Lance Leslie and rookie Marc-Andre LeClerc and strong performances from underated defensemen Rob Stanfield and Serge Dube.

In Game 4, Laredo scored its first goal 48 seconds after Austin did. In Game 5, the two teams' initial tallies were separated by just 18 ticks. Tonight, Gerald Tallaire's power-play goal at 5:55 of the first period was answered by Schneider 21 seconds later, an unmolested follow-up from the slot after Barnes slapped away Grenville's backhand.

The Bats took a 2-1 lead into the locker room on Pat Brownlee's power-play goal at 19:05 of the first, assisted -- as was Tallaire's goal -- by Seguin and Price.

The Bucks had a good power-play chance early in the second period, working the puck around the zone for a long time with Bats forward Tab Lardner caught without a stick. But the shift's only shot was an easy save for Barnes.

Laredo's Jonah LeRoux, the OT hero of Game 3, beat Barnes with a rocket from the right circle at 9:29 of the middle period, making it 2-2.

But 42 seconds later, the Bats were back on top, with Price taking off on an unassisted breakway. He put a backhander around Leslie, who had flopped forward for the poke-check.

LeRoux had a mirror-image scoring chance from the left circle early in the third, but this time Barnes made a tough falling-backwards stop.

Despite playing the game shorthanded -- forwards Andy Lundbohm, Morten Ask and David Myson were all unavailable, with the previously injured Dion Hyman returning to the blue line, and Stefan Keski-Kungas moving up to forward -- the Bucks outshot the Bats 37-20, including an outrageous 33-9 edge over the final two periods.

Laredo may have missed its last best chance on a Matt Sharuga obstruction penalty at 9:04 of the third. During that sequence, Bucks coach Terry Ruskowski sent LeClerc in for Leslie to rest his PP unit, but the the Austin PK was up to the task, with Barnes making three or four big saves.

The expansion Bucks, second in the CHL with an average attendance of 6683, named its wildly enthusiastic fans first star of the game.



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