Fourth Straight Captures Southern Division Crown
Jason Cohen ITC Staff Writer
El Paso, TX -
So long, Mudbugs. Take a hike, Buzzards. For the first
time in the trophy's six-year life, there will be a
new President's Cup champion.
The Austin Ice
Bats beat El Paso Monday, 4-3, winning the best-of-seven
Southern Conference Finals, 4-2. Brent Hughes' club
is the first team in CHL history to come back from a
2-0 deficit. They'll now face Memphis in the final round.
could have put our tails between our legs [after trailing
in the series]," Hughes said. "But we've got
pride on our team. We worked hard all season long to
get this far. Our guys weren't letting up."
a little bit better than us," Buzzards defenseman
Jason Tessier said. "Our goal was to win at least
one out of three [in Austin]. We didn't get lucky there"
On Monday, it
was almost too easy, as Austin lit the first three lamps.
They may have been the quietest goals in hockey history:
Willers, carrying a defender with him all the way up
the slot, 3:37 of the first.
hitting the top shelf with authority when a puck bounced
off a skate to his stick at the right circle, 6:27 of
a point shot at 8:21 of the first.
were a carcass to be picked at. If the Bats had made
it out of the first period leading 3-0, the game might
have been over. If referee Guy Pellerin hadn't waved
off a Jeff Greenlaw goal for being kicked, the game
would have been over. Later, when news broke that El
Paso head coach Trent Eigner had been arrested earlier
Monday for possession of marijuana, you had to wonder
if the Buzzards were distracted.
But no. At 16:45
of the first period, John Hanson's pass off a Dory Tisdale
interception freed Van Burgess, squirting between two
d-men at the neutral zone. Burgess shot before McMullen
could even get ready for a deke, and it was 3-1.
was quiet no more. The crowd may as well have chanted,
"Remember the Jackalopes!" After all, the
last time El Paso faced playoff elimination, they erased
a three-goal lead to shock the Jacks. The last time
El Paso needed two straight wins to take a series. well,
you didn't see Odessa in this round, did ya?
At 4:03 of the
second, Hanson took a purposeful slap shot far to McMullen's
right. The puck caromed off the boards to Derrel Upton,
who put it in the net. 3-2.
Bats coach Brent
Hughes was not happy about the four-on-three power play
that allowed the Buzzards to tie the game late in the
second period, but Larocque's goal had come during a
lengthy advantage that included 82 seconds of five-on-three,
so these things happen. The only shame of it was how
good McMullen was during the kill, stopping Tessier
twice, then a third time when he couldn't cover the
puck and it went back to the point. The Austin goalie
then stacked his pads perfectly to shut down Aaron Phillips,
wide open at the back door. But the puck went to Burgess
at what used to be the front door, and the Buzzards
captain put it in the empty net. 3-3 at 16:50 of the
The crowd got
their money's worth from there. There was so much back
and forth action that Jeremy Vanin, in the box for a
10-minute misconduct, spent another six minutes of the
second period waiting for a stoppage. McMullen and Jeff
Levy both were on their game. Pellerin's whistle disappeared.
Dan Price bulled all over the offensive zone. Justin
Van Parys left CHL Most Outstanding Defenseman Daniel
Tetrault half-dazed from a hit.
It was time for
the unlikely hero.
So who would
you prefer? The part-time IHL player and CHL all-star,
a brilliant sniper who's done everything but snipe?
Bobby Brown kills penalties, forechecks like a mutha
and doesn't shirk on defense, but his scoring is down
this season, even more so in the playoffs.
Or how 'bout
the rookie defenseman who already has more goals this
season than four years in junior combined? Brent Hughes
is still wondering how Dominic Periard was the second
man in on an offensive rush
But so he was,
led by Brown after a neutral zone turnover. Brown put
a move on the guy in front of him, a forward, and the
duo had Levy to themselves.
luck shooting the puck this series I figured, may as
well try a dish," Brown said.
me a perfect pass," Periard offered. "I had
an empty net."
made it 4-3 at 11:05 of the third.
a pretty poor second period," Hughes said. "Give
credit to the El Paso Buzzards. They don't stop. They
had us going for a while, but we regrouped."
After a half-hour
or so to absorb the shock, the Buzzards were in good
spirits in the locker room, bonding one last time.
just a good group," Tessier said. "We're a
band of brothers. With the best teams, it's not only
the skills, it's heart, and how hard the players work
reaction is to be very upset," Kelly Riou, who
filled El Paso' s assistant coach role in the series
due to injury, said. "But you gotta pick your head
up and realize there's only four teams playing at this
time, and we were one of them. We went on quite a run
at the end of the season, we battled back against Odessa
and we made it to Game 6 [of the semifinals].
You can't ask
for a much better effort than that."
in Austin's room. "We know we've got a championship
team in here, and we're playing like it right now,"
McMullen said. "It took a lot of heart to come
back. Four more wins and we'll start celebrating."