"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!

Memphis 5 Austin 4
Memphis leads series 1-0
By Jason Cohen

Every prediction Ice Bats coach Brent Hughes made about the President's Cup Finals has already come true.

Granted, you don't have to be the Amazing Kreskin to say things like "in the finals you've got to have a dominant goaltender," "defense wins championships" and "it's going to be tight whether the scores are high or low."

But RiverKings netminder Mark Richards and several Austin own-zone lapses were indeed the difference in Game 1, which goes down in the books as a 5-4 Memphis win.

Richards stopped 42 shots and was under pressure every period, while Bryan McMullen faced 24, stopping 19. Four of Memphis' goals came in the second and third frames. Neither club ever led by more than one, and there were five lead changes.

"Mark outplayed McMullen, and every time they scored a goal we came back," Kings coach Doug Shedden said. "We capitalized on good chances. I feel fortunate we got a win."

"I thought we played great offensively tonight," Ice Bats coach Brent Hughes said. "We threw everything at them but the kitchen sink. But their goalie outdid our guy and we gave up chances we don't usually give up. Defense wins hockey games, and we didn't play it tonight."

Michal Stastny got the one that counted most at 16:12 of the third, assisted by Luch Nasato and Jay Neal. It was his second of the night. The Slovakian winger has three winners and one go-ahead goal in Memphis' last five playoff triumphs.

The Bats took a 1-0 lead on a Dan Price shot from the left circle at 1:27 of the first period, assisted by Brett Seguin after they curled and criss-crossed into the Memphis zone.

Prior to tonight, Austin was undefeated when scoring first. The advantage didn't last long anyway, as Kahlil Thomas notched a power-play tally at 3:54. But Austin got one with the extra man as well, taking a 2-1 lead on Brett Seguin's chip shot from the post, assisted by point men Daniel Tetrault and Bobby Brown, at 17:39 of the first period.

Richards owned the second. While the Bats hit iron twice, he made at least three gigantic stops - a close-the-pads squeaker on Gerald Tallaire from the left circle, a frantic cover-up that he initially misplayed on Seguin in close and a falling-backwards stuff of Price, who broke up the middle all alone. All told, Richards stopped 15 shots in the second.

His teammates mustered eight, and only needed two: a Stastny wraparound on an almost-empty net at 13:51, with McMullen out of position and the Kings' power play unit buzzing all around the crease, and Anthony DiPalma's goal at 18:34, which made it 3-2 That came on an odd man rush, with DiPalma batting Don Martin's centering pass into the net from mid-air.

"We'd control the play for five minutes, they'd come down, get a chance and score," Bobby Brown said. "They're a great offensive team."

At 0:29 of the third, Kelly Smart took advantage of a bad bounce on a Richards' clearing pass, as the puck caromed off the glass and right to the slot. Smart shot top-shelf before Richards could get back in position. That made it 3-3.

The seesaw continued with a Brad Mueller goal at 5:09, with Mueller and Parsons both unmolested at close range.

"We only gave up 24 shots, but some of them were point blank," Smart said. "We had guys left alone in front of our net. At playoff time you can't give a team goals."

"We had some timely goals tonight," Richards said. "Every time they tied it up we came right back and got a huge goal."

Brown helped re-tie the game at 10:20 of the third period, intercepting a pass in the slot which he then shot wild and high. The snakebit sniper went after his own rebound and fed Tab Lardner from behind.the net. That made it 4-4.

A little less than six minutes later, Stastny had the final word.

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