The Heartland Red Liners came into this championship game as the underdog as did their opponents, the Whalers. Both teams defeated their higher rank opponents in the semi-finals to move onto this game. Both teams had proven themselves and not faced off in an epic rematch. But in would be the Red Liners would forge a new strategy of controlling the neutral zone and taking advantage of breakaways and rack up a 4 goal lead that would prove to be insurmountable by the Whalers and eventually lead to a Red Liners victory.
Bleech would rally the guys in red with the first of three consecutive goals midway through the first period. With the help of Toby-kun in the slot, Bleech skating deep into the far circle and fired a cross ice pass to the slot where the puck deflected off a Whaler skate and into the net. Minutes later, Bleech would go on a breakaway and beat the Whaler goalie over the left leg pad. The Whalers did have a chance to get back in the game on a powerplay but they failed to capitalize.
The second period was played in a similar fashion as the first by the Liners. Once again, Bleech would start off the scoring on a breakaway after the Liners just killed a penalty. Sobo found a streaking Bleech who skated unhindered and beat the goalie on the left side again. Later in the period, Justino passed the puck to an all alone Shake-n-Jake just over the blue line. He froze the Whaler goalie and fired it over the right blocker. The Whalers did manage to find the back of the Liners net minutes later. They did have one more chance to shrink their goal differential but they again failed to score with the man advantage.
The Red Liners played classic neutral zone trap in the third period. The Whalers had little chance of reaching Rocket who already made several key saves in the game. Justino would ice the victory with popping in a rebound off Sobo’s shot on net. In the final minutes, the trap was tightened more even with the Whalers pulling their goalie for a 6-5 man advantage. As the final seconds ticked off, the Heartland Red Liners, seeded 4th, would grab their first championship.
What more could be said about this season. Every player seemed to have grown this season. From skating, to puck handling, to positioning, everything seemed to improve. Only a minimal supplementary defensive core was needed to compliment Rocket’s goaltending to stifle the rest of the Heartland league. The players will have some time to celebrate their championship before it all starts up again in September.
Justin London – Morty- Jacob Richard
Kevin Schmitz – Brian Cashin – Thom Moran
Sam Claver – Michael Turchin – Murono
Andrew Sobotka – Brian Power
Mike Bleecher – Matt Brayley-Berger
Kris Stengy – Javi Index
Goalie: Chris Smith