When it comes to championship-winning drama, it’s going to be difficult to top the 2015 AIHL final.
The league’s championship tournament took place this past weekend with the Newcastle North Stars facing off against the Melbourne Ice in a game that pitted the league’s top two teams against each other in a one-game, winner-take-all match for the Goodall Cup. And the heroics came from one of the most unlikely sources. In overtime of the Grand Final, Newcastle center Brian Bales was given the opportunity of a lifetime.
Bales, who scored 10 goals and 30 points during the regular season, was on a partial breakaway when he was hauled down from behind, resulting in a penalty shot less than three minutes into the first overtime. On his attempt, Bales took the straight-line approach before making a quick juke and burying the puck past the Melbourne’s Alex Leclerc.
As incredible as it is that Bales scored the Goodall Cup-winning goal on a penalty shot in overtime, it’s even more remarkable considering the admission from North Stars coach Andrew Petrie following the contest: Bales hates taking part in the shootout.
“It’s a sudden death game and it was a definite penalty shot,” Petrie told the AIHL's official website. “But an interesting story about Brian Bales, he’s refused all year to participate in shootouts because he doesn’t like doing it.”
Thankfully for Bales and the North Stars, the overtime shot wasn’t his choice. He had to take it. Were it not for Melbourne’s late-game tally, though, Bales would have never had the game on his stick.
Heading into the third period, the score was tied 1-1, but Newcastle defenseman Jan Safar broke the tie with only 1:43 on the clock. But shorthanded with less than two minutes remaining, Melbourne pushed back and, with the net empty, Mitch Humphries deflected home a Matt Armstrong shot with 31 seconds remaining in the third.
Melbourne’s late push ended in heartbreak, however, as they fell short of the championship for the second consecutive year.
For the North Stars, the Goodall Cup victory is their first in seven seasons, though they have been to five of the past seven grand finals. Newcastle’s win comes after a two-day tournament in which the North Stars and Ice made it to the grand final on the backs of one-goal, semi-final victories.
Following the tournament, North Stars first-year winger Geordie Wudrick was named the AIHL regular season and playoffs MVP. In 28 regular season games, Wudrick scored 44 goals and 91 points, adding another four goals and five points in the post-season. Safar, who nearly had the game-winning goal with his late tally, was named the league’s best defenseman.
“I feel happy for [Jan Safar and Geordie Wudrick],” said assistant coach Ray Sheffield. “I was talking to Jan out there on the ice and he said that was the first award he’s ever won; kind of brought me to tears. The guy is a special player; it’s hard to believe that that’s the first award he’s ever won.”
The Goodall Cup is steeped in history. First awarded in 1909, the Goodall Cup is the fifth oldest major trophy in hockey. Only the Stanley Cup (1892), the Queen's Cup (1903; Ontario University), the Boyle Cup (1904; Newfoundland High School) and the Allan Cup (1908; Canadian Senior Men’s) are older.
(All videos courtesy AIHL via Facebook)