Explosive first period sets tone
The Last Steep entered the post season of town league hockey the number three seed and emerged the 2008 champions defeating the Eldo 5-1 in the finals Saturday night, February 23 at Big Mine Ice Arena.
It was a fantastic end to what has been a phenomenal town league hockey season, probably the best season to date. The goaltending was tremendous. The play was stellar and the officiating was as good as one could ask for all season long.
Furthermore, the Parks and Recreation crew that maintained the rink took everything that Mother Nature threw at them and more, battling biblical snowstorms, sub-Arctic temperatures and finally a warming trend to maintain a solid sheet of ice all the way through to the final game.
The stage was set for the finals last week when the Eldo defeated the Bacchanale and the Last Steep destroyed the number one seeded Troutfitter in the semi-finals.
In fact, the Last Steep’s play in their semi-final win was so impressive that following the game members of the Eldo squad called for an impromptu strategy and carbo-loading session that night at their sponsor’s watering hole.
Still, nothing could have prepared the Eldo for what the Last Steep brought to the opening period of the championship game.
The Last Steep was explosive from the first face off with stout fore-checking at the blue line creating odd man rushes down the ice.
As the Eldo scrambled to find its offense, the Last Steep skated through the neutral zone unencumbered and onto the Eldo net without remorse.
Eldo goalie Tom Brother opened the game, stopping speedster Jeff Ryba in close in the opening minute but could do nothing against a slap shot from Matt Whiting at the blue line.
With the Eldo defense collapsed in front of their net, the Last Steep kicked the puck out to Whiting who fired a knuckler that dropped at the last second below Brother’s glove and into the bottom corner of the net for a 1-0 Last Steep lead.
Eldo skater Niki Schroer looked to spank her team out of its first period funk, hustling after a loose puck to feed it to the slot but Last Steep goalie Josh Bock denied the strike in close.
The Eldo pressed again but Bock was there with the save, laying the foundation for what would be a MVP performance by the Last Steep net minder that night.
One minute later, Ryba did the same as Whiting, squirting free and scoring on another one-on-one, giving the Last Steep a 3-0 lead in the first period.
The work of Last Steep defenders such as Gesa Michel, Tim Seifert and Steve Banks continued to disrupt the work of Eldo players Guy Ciulla and Milo Wynne in the second period.
Additional hustle from the likes of Dave Daumit, Ben Diem and Steve Curtiss played a huge supporting role as well matching up against the Eldo’s stronger players, leaving the ice open for Pete Cook, Ryba and Whiting to shine.
But the Eldo kept pressing, turning more to a team strategy than looking for the one guy the lead the charge. The new play resulted in several chances for the Eldo in close but Bock proved to tough in net for even the likes of Ciulla, Paul O’Connor and Bob Piccaro.
Bock turned away several shots, as the Eldo looked low and shot high only to find Bock’s chest, helmet and everything else in the way.
Brother had his share of great saves in the second period as well in an effort to keep the Last Steep within striking distance.
A face-off in the Last Steep zone offered up the Eldo’s only goal of the night as the puck slipped into a crowd in front of Bock and Pete Curvin poked the puck past Bock before he could close off the angle.
No lead is safe, though, in town league hockey and Eldo players Hank Deroche, John Hickey, Brigid Piccaro and Steve Melenick hustled to offer up openings for their teammates in the third period.
The Eldo killed a penalty in the opening minutes of the third period and were poised to mount a comeback, but the Last Steep defense continued to handcuff players at the blue line.
Following the penalty kill, the Eldo had two great opportunities in close but Bock closed the door on the top shelf both times to hold the Last Steep’s lead.
The Last Steep team shuffled lines in and out quickly to keep fresh legs on the ice in the third period, and with three minutes left, the Eldo called a time-out to regroup for one last surge.
The Eldo had one more opportunity following the break but came up with nothing and pulled the goalie in one last attempt at a comeback.
Whiting took the opportunity to finish his hat trick for the night with an empty net goal, and Banks sealed the deal, scoring the final second for a 5-1 Last Steep win and the 2007-2008 town league hockey title.
The Last Steep exploited the Eldo on another surge as Whiting broke loose out of his zone to go the distance and beat Brother one-on-one for a 2-0 Last Steep lead eight minutes into the game.