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Trevor Gerling was the extra-time hero as the CBR Brave defeated the Sydney Bears 4-3 in overtime to claim the team’s first Goodall Cup as Australian Ice Hockey League champions.
The regular-season champions Brave, who hail from Canberra, were pushed all the way by the Bears at the O’Brien Group Arena in Melbourne. After taking a 2-0 lead after the first period, the Bears fought back to grab a 3-2 advantage heading into the third period.
The Brave then tied the game at 3-3 in the third period before a dominant overtime saw Gerling snipe the championship-winning goal.
Gerling’s goal meant the Brave were finally crowned champions, after losing back-to-back grand finals in 2016 and 2017.
Tyler Kubara, Joseph Hughes and Chris Leveille also scored for CBR, while Wehebe Darge recorded three assists on the night. Darge was also named Local Player of the Year for his regular season scoring efforts.
Goaltender Matt Hewitt stopped 34 shots in the win as the teams ended the contest with 37 shots on goal each.
For Mark Rummukainen, the Canberra-born long-time Brave defenceman of Finnish roots, the AIHL championship capped off a tumultuous five years for the club, which was rebuilt from the defunct Canberra Knights.
“We said five years ago when the Knights were done we could put something together,” Rummukainen said.
“We had to believe in ourselves. Thank you to everybody.”
Bears captain Michael Schlamp opened Sydney’s account, with Tyerell Clare and Ryan Lough also scoring. Lough starred, adding two assists in the losing effort.
The first period started with plenty of end-to-end hockey, as the Brave came closest to opening the scoring. Regular season points leader Gerling had the best chance early, cutting in from the wall off the rush, but Bears’ goalie Anthony Kimlin stood tall.
Both defences forced long shots as the attack was stunted down low.
But just five minutes in, Kubara broke the deadlock. The speedy winger made a similar play to Gerling’s earlier attempt, but this time his wrist shot beat Kimlin on his glove side.
Schlamp came close to tying the game, with a neat spin-o-rama backhand that was heading for Hewitt’s five hole, but the netminder shut his pads well.
A bad break saw the Bears concede a second goal. Defenceman Clare cleared the puck out of play and was handed a delay of game penalty.
On the ensuing powerplay, the Brave went to work, cycling the puck down low before feeding Darge on the point for the wrist shot. His effort was saved by Kimlin but the Australian national goaltender couldn’t control the puck which bounced in off Hughes, giving the Brave a 2-0 advantage.
The second period saw a complete reversal of fortune for the Bears. An early slashing penalty to CBR’s Hayden Dawes handed the Bears a man advantage – and they were quick to cash in.
Lough fed Graeme Strukoff on the point whose wrist shot was saved, but the rebound fell kindly to Schlamp on the doorstep. The captain made no mistake in halving the deficit.
That goal and some heavy hitting saw the Bears wrestle back momentum and were on the charge.
The Sydneysiders then tied the game thanks to a booming slapshot from Clare and took a shock lead with a great individual effort with a minute to go in the period.
Speedy centre Lough won a draw in the neutral zone and raced down the left wing. He deked around Bayley Kubara and sent a shot past Hewitt, who was handcuffed as the puck beat him on the low glove side.
The momentum didn’t last long however, as the third period started with a flurry of chances for both sides. Pressure in the offensive zone from the Brave forced a bad clearing attempt and defenceman Channing Breciani held the puck in at the point. It then ricocheted to Leveille in the slot who maintained his composure to fire a wrist shot past Kimlin.
The physicality then stepped up with both sides dishing punishing hits.
The Brave thought they’d scored the go-ahead tally but had the goal waved off. Gerling fed Darge on the wrap-around and he fanned on his shot and a scramble ensued. Leveille then slotted in the rebound but the referee immediately blew his whistle as he lost sight of the puck.
The sides couldn’t be separated towards the end of the period and teams headed to overtime.
Both goalies were solid to start the sudden-death period with shots mainly coming from the perimeter.
The Brave wore down the Bears defence but were unable to beat Kimlin, who made a string of sensational saves, first on Darge in the slot, then a sliding pad save to deny Gerling on the goal line.
But Gerling would have the final say, as he and Darge combined for the game-winning goal. Darge entered the zone from the left before dropping a pass to Gerling, who wristed the puck over the shoulder of Kimlin.
“We had a great team this year,” said Gerling.
“This is the first overtime game we’ve had all year and the guys really stepped up.”
The win was also special for Joseph Hughes, who has now won six Goodall Cup championships with three different clubs.
“Every cup I’ve won has significance. But watching these guys lift the cup and having that memory and sharing it with the fans is so great,” said Hughes.
Brave head coach Rob Starke said the win capped off a remarkable season in which the club recorded 24 wins in 28 games.
“I’m really happy for the guys and it was an unbelievable end to the season and we can’t be happier,” said Starke.
“The Bears put up a terrific effort and they really came to play. It could have gone either way but we got that bounce.”
SEMI-FINAL 1: CBR Brave defeated Melbourne Mustangs 5-1
SEMI-FINAL 2: Sydney Bears defeated Perth Thunder 2-0
1. CBR Brave 72
2. Sydney Bears 54
3. Perth Thunder 46
4. Melbourne Mustangs 42
5. Newcastle Northstars 39
6. Sydney Ice Dogs 38
7. Melbourne Ice 29
8. Adelaide Adrenaline 16