UCF Wins 5 Straight to Take Home Championship
Bethel wins DII championship in first yearSECRHL March 2nd, 2011 at 5:56PM March 6th, 2011 2:44PM
After losing the first game in a double elimination playoff, UCF goes on to win 5 straight, the last two in OT, to win the SECRHL DI Championship. Bethel holds off ECU to bring home the DII championship in their first year with the SECRHL.
Last weekend at the SECRHL Regional Championships in Snellville, GA, UCF showed what it takes to take home hardware year in and year out. After losing their first game against Kennesaw 7-4 in a double elimination playoff, UCF won 5 straight games in 24 hours to pull off one of the biggest comebacks in SECRHL history.
As they have in the past UCF, came into the weekend as an underdog. When they took home the championship in 2007-2008, they finished the regular season at 8-8, but were able to string together a hot streak not only through the regional championship, but all the way to the final four at nationals where they eventually lost to UMSL. This year UCF came into the weekend with an 8-5-3 regular season record and the #4 seed.
Coming into the weekend everyone was anticipating a finals match-up that would include the two newcomers to SECRHL DI, GMU and Tampa. Both teams came into the weekend with very strong regular season efforts and it seemed inevitable that they would see each other on Sunday.
The weekend in DI started with the #4 UCF vs #5 Kennesaw going head-to-head to see who would go up against the #1 seeded Tampa. Kennesaw came out strong against UCF and took an early 3-0 lead before UCF could get on the board. KSU continued to outplay UCF and eventually won the game 7-4. This loss automatically put UCF against the elimination wall. UCF would now have to win 5 games in order to take home the championship. UCF's next two opponents would be NCSU and Kennesaw and they rolled through the games handedly, 6-3 and 7-0. The big opponent came late Saturday night, Tampa, who just came off a lost to GMU 7-4. The game was very competitive through the first two periods, but after UCF capitalized on two power plays late in the 2nd period, the goal flood gates opened for UCF and they easily won 11-4.
The win against Tampa Saturday night led UCF up against a well rested GMU. GMU came through Saturday in dominating fashion with wins against NCSU (6-1) and Tampa (7-4) to wait for its opponent Sunday morning. GMU Coach Eric Hardman felt differently, "We felt very fortunate on Saturday. Entering the tournament I truly felt we would lose to NC State, without some of our best defensemen Donavan Williams and Ryan Ellis. Compounding the problem was GMU's #18 Harrison Murdoch had been diagnosed with Mono two weeks before Regionals and even missed the Chantilly tournament." Little did everyone know that Sunday's games would be some of the best and competitive roller hockey played in SECRHL history.
GMU started off the game with a goal by Cam Lensing only 17 second into the 1st, but UCF fought back to end the period at 2-2. The 2nd period saw a goal by each team and would lead up to one of the best 3rd periods in regionals history. UCF jumped out to a 5-3 lead early in the 3rd with two goals from Colin Lasater. With less than 4 minutes left in the game, it looked that UCF would hand GMU its first loss of the weekend and move forward to a rematch at 11:30 am, but GMU was not done yet. After UCF took two penalties late in the 3rd, GMU capitalized and with only 38 seconds left in the game, tied it at 6-6. Both teams went into OT with a very cautious pace and each had solid opportunities only to see both goaltenders stand strong in net. The 2nd overtime started off the same as the 1st, but with each minute counting down, UCF started to find openings in the GMU defense. Then after 5 minutes into the 2nd overtime, UCF's Connor Cafferty put away a backhander into the top shelf to end the game with a 7-6 victory.
The rematch started at 11:30 am and saw UCF jump out to an early 1-0 lead with a goal from David Dillon. GMU fought back, to make it a 1-1 game early in the 2nd period on a power play goal by Cam Lensing, but UCF answered back with two goals before the break to take 3-1 lead into the 3rd. The 3rd period was back and forth with each team and UCF could see the championship in site, but GMU never gave up and tied the game at 4-4 with less than 5 minutes left. Then as everyone was planning to witness another OT game, Joseph LaRocco netted a shot from the point with only 45 seconds left to put UCF up 5-4. Once again GMU didn't give up. After obtaining possession and pulling their goalie, Andrew Lensing tied the game with only 2.9 seconds left in GMU's season.
Once again UCF and GMU would face off in OT. This time, the fans didn't have to wait until the 2nd OT period. Game-winning goal scorer, Mike Yannuzzi, best describes the moment. "It all started with Dave Dillon working hard in their corner. He really wore them out with a great fore check. They eventually broke out, but ended up turning the puck over to Rich Reimuller. Rich and I skated down the rink on a 2 on 1. Rich took the shot, which hit the post, and squirted into the corner. The lone defenseman followed him into the corner, leaving me alone in front. Rich was able to send a great pass from the corner to me in front, and I was able to bury it. It was a great feeling being able to score the championship winning goal, but that opportunity never would have presented itself if not for the superb goaltending from Dan Moon, and the effort every single person on this team put in after losing our first game. We battled through some tremendous adversity, having to win out after losing our first game, but we pulled together as a unit, and got the job done."
Each team in DI had an outstanding weekend and this was one of the best championship weekends in SECRHL history. With the victory, UCF wins the SECRHL automatic bid to the NCRHA National tournament in Madison, WI on April 6-10. Additional bids to nationals will be released next Monday.
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