Thunderbirds Claim Commissioner's Cup
By Zak DeBeaussaert
Elmira, NY - The season is over and the year of the Thunderbird is complete. Jan Salak's goal 35 seconds into overtime of Game 4 solidified Carolina's dream season which ended in complete victory. The atmosphere was heightened by the return of Elmira's Captain Ahmed Mahfouz, who served a one-game suspension during Game 3 in which the Enforcers won 7-2 to force Saturday's contest.
The scoring started less than six minutes in when Beau Walker had a puck knock off his leg and deflect into the net for the game's opening goal. Half-hearted protests by Elmira would be in vain and Carolina's 1-0 lead would hold throughout the remainder of the period. Elmira goalie Nick Niedert was strong in the opening 20 minutes of play despite the deflection goal, as the Thunderbirds held a 12-2 lead in shots.
Elmira was the one pushing the play early in the second period, and scored twice in a span of 3:23 to take the lead. First, it was Kyle Stevens on the power play, taking a beauty of a centering feed from Brandon Vuic for the tying goal. Then, Nathan Pelligra skated an incredible end-to-end run and then centered to Mitch Atkins, whose backhand went past a sprawling Christian Pavlas. The Enforcers' 2-1 lead would hold despite the shot totals for the frame reading 15-9 in favor of Carolina, for a 40 minute total of 27-11.
The one-goal deficit would only last 14 seconds into the third period, as Salak banged home a rebound coughed up by Niedert in the crease, and it was a tie hockey game with nearly a full period left to play. The Thunderbirds struck with a power play goal when Petr Panacek let one rip into the top netting at 10:18 and celebrated his goal in front of a large contingent of Carolina fans at First Arena. Elmira wouldn't be silenced though, as Pelligra was credited with a goal that was disputed between referee and goal judge. While the referee was adamant on his signal into the goal, the goal judge behind Pavlas was indicating it did not go in, as the red light never came on. After a conversation that took about a minute, the referee's call of goal stood and we were tied 3-3 with less than five minutes left. At 19:40, the Enforcers gave Carolina the ultimate boost when Stepan Timofeyev ran into Ray Boudiette from behind and was assessed a boarding minor. Elmira would kill off the third period and took 1:40 of the penalty kill to overtime.
Beau Walker carried the puck up ice on the opening shift of overtime, spun from the left wing side to the high slot, and fired a shot that Niedert saved but coughed up to Salak who tapped it home just 35 seconds in to seal the Thunderbirds' first championship in the FHL.
Christian Pavlas got the win with 17 saves on 20 shots. Nick Niedert took the loss with 43 saves.
3 Stars of the Game: