The CBR Brave have won their first ever Goodall Cup after a thrilling 4:3 OT win in the AIHL Grand Final, over a gallant Sydney Bears at the O’Brien Group Arena on Sunday night.
In one of the all-time classic AIHL Grand Finals, the Brave and Bears stood toe-to-toe for 4 periods of hockey until Trevor Gerling proved the overtime hero, 11:39 into the first OT.
It was a case of third time lucky for the Brave, after their previous two Grand Final trips in 2016 and 2017 came up short against the Northstars and Ice. The Brave also had to overcome a goaltending masterclass from 2018 AIHL Goaltender of the year Anthony Kimlin, who made a string of superb saves throughout the game.
The game begun at a frenetic pace and did not let up for its entirety.
CBR would open the scoring first through Tyler Kubara. Channing Bresciani raced up ice on a 2-on-2 and off-loaded to Kubara, who cut across the high slot and unloaded a wrist shot to make it 1:0 in favour of the Brave with 9:52 to go in the first.
The Brave would add to their total on the power play 4 minutes later, when Joey Hughes tallied from the low slot. Bears’ players appealed that Hughes batted the puck in with his glove, but the officials held a different opinion and the goal stood to make it 2:0 Brave.
Sydney had a couple of chances towards the end of the first to Charlie Adams and Ryan Lough but they could not convert and it finished 2:0 after the first period.
The Brave piled on 13 shots to 8 in the first frame.
The second period was one of the best periods of hockey witnessed all season. The Brave and Bears traded chances but could not break the superb goaltending of Hewitt or Kimlin at either end.
That was until Bears’ captain Michael Schlamp, one of only three active players remaining from the Bears’ last Goodall Cup win in 2007, answered on the power play.
After Hayden Dawes was shown the door for tripping, Graeme Strukoff let a wrist shot go from the point that was initially saved by Hewitt. Schlamp was poised on the doorstep for the rebound and buried it, to make it 2-1 and give the Bears a sniff of a comeback with 9:59 left in the second.
The comeback continued with some immense Sydney pressure, and then three minutes later Lough found Tyerell Clare open at the point who let a one-timer go. The puck found its way through a screened Hewitt and the Bears had tied the game 2:2 with 6:10 left in the second. It was only Clare’s second goal all year.
The next few minutes proved to be exhilarating end-to-end hockey with very few stoppages. It also proved to be increasingly physical, with both Strukoff and Dawes exchanging big hits on their opposition.
It devolved into an arm wrestle until Lough managed to break the tie. Lough took his own face-off win from the neutral zone and skated into the offensive zone, cutting through three Brave players and put a wrist shot past Hewitt, to send the Bears 3:2 ahead with 1:12 remaining in the period and the travelling Brave fans into stunned silence.
It was a 3:2 Bears lead going into the second intermission and Brave fans had that feeling of deja vu.
The frantic tone of the game continued out of the gate for the start of the third but the Bears held on to their lead.
That was until Chris Leveille tied the game for the Brave, when he pounced on a loose puck in the high slot and beat Kimlin to make it 3:3 with 15:51 to go in regulation.
The Bears were then handed a power play seconds later when Dawes slashed Strukoff, but they could not capitalise on the man-advantage despite the best efforts of Lough and Ryan Annesley.
The high intensity of the first two periods wavered slightly during the third as fatigue set in and the possibility of overtime loomed. The Brave thought they had the winner when Wehebe Darge poked the puck into the net after a scramble in front with 4 minutes to go, however the play had already been blown dead by the referee and the goal waved off.
For the first time since 2015, the Goodall Cup would be decided in overtime.
Schlamp and Adams had golden opportunities to seal it for the Bears in the extra period but were both denied. Darge also almost proved to be the game winner when his effort sliced wide of Kimlin. Kimlin then stoned Leveille point blank as the wall went up in the Bears goal.
With the tension mounting and neither team able to score, it looked as though the game was destined for double OT. That was until Gerling found a feed from Darge and let a wrist shot go from the top of the face-off circle, that beat Kimlin top-shelf on the glove side to send the Brave into raptures and the Goodall Cup to the ACT for the first time in AIHL history.
It also marked the first Goodall Cup for long-time Brave and Canberra Knights’ players Mark Rummukainen, Jordie Gavin and Dave Lewis. Rummukainen had previously won it as a 16-year-old for the ACT in 1998, when the Goodall Cup was still awarded in a state-based competition format.
It further marked a record 6th Goodall Cup for Joey Hughes, who added to his previous 4 cups with the Melbourne Ice and 2014 Goodall Cup with the Melbourne Mustangs.
The Goodall Cup win caps a Brave season that saw them set the record for most wins and most points in an AIHL season.
Brave coach Rob Starke was very happy with his team’s performance despite the nail-biting finish to the record-setting season.
“It was a real heart stopper. Both teams played a good brand of hard, honest hockey but I’m super happy to win the last and most important game of the season,” Starke said.
“Full credit to the Bears as they gave us absolutely everything, but I’m very proud of everyone at the Brave organisation for finding a way to get it done.”
It was Starke’s 5th Goodall Cup after his previous 4 wins as a player with the Newcastle Northstars, but the first time winning it as a coach.
“To win it as a player is something special, but to win it as a coach is a different kind of special.”