After a regular Bodean's Cup season of goals, broken bones, and crowds of travellers, Alexandra Palace opened its doors to the final, as reigning champions Devils South faced conference winners Devils North.
The South’s form going into the showpiece could best be described as dismal, but they’d shown the stubborn resistance of a floating turd refusing to be flushed in order to earn their spot in the final.
In contrast, the North had been the most consistent side across the whole tournament, though they had been rocked by injuries - losing top scorer Max Lerner to a knee injury, and resurgent Walter Sheloff to a broken ankle.
Donning the stripes for the contest was EIHA stalwart Phil O’Neill, while the injured Mike Brooks stepped up to volunteer for the scoreboard. Brooks resisted the urge to play DJ for the night despite a battered Now 55 CD just begging to be played between faceoffs. In any case, Brooks’s t-shirt was making enough noise...
The game faced off with both sides skating hard, and both goalies making key early saves. It was the North who took the lead early on however, as James Mulligan blocked a shot on the point, skated down the right wing and fired the puck at Shane Kemp's glove, only for it to bounce up and roll over the Silvertown stopper’s shoulder and down his back into the net. Agonising for the South, but a deserved lead for the high-tempo North.
Buoyed by Russia’s 5-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the World Cup earlier in the day, the South’s Moscow connection had their tails up. Gennadi Yufit shouted da, da, da as he broke down the right wing and beat North's stand-in keeper Adam Veg to even things up on the shorthanded play.
In the final seconds of the first period, a sloppy North clearance fell to Ryan O’Marra in front of goal, but the big Canadian was to be denied by the acrobatic Veg.
It had been a solid opening stanza for both teams but by no means a classic - the soft Palace ice made sure of that. O’Neill retired to the penalty box for a rest, water bottles were replenished, and Brooks kept an eye out for the fashion police.
If the first period was cagey, the second opened up a little with both teams creating a few more chances. The North took the lead again with five minutes gone as James Hepburn speeded down the right wing, deked Kemp and roofed his backhand with aplomb. It was a fantastic finish from the good doctor, but the South didn’t lie down and hit back straight away, as O’Marra danced around four players at speed and buried the puck into the bottom corner for 2-2.
The goal appeared to suck the wind out of the North’s sails, and South began to enjoy their best spell of pressure. It ended with a deserved goal as Richard Veinot pinged in a clapper from the point to give the South the lead for the first time in the game.
The joy didn’t last long as old stager Richie Clark picked up the puck with speed in the neutral zone, reached the top of the circles froze the D-man, then found the top corner with a lovely wrister that left Kemp stranded.
After two entertaining periods of hockey, all that was needed to give the Bodean's Cup finale its final piece of the puzzle was a period break mid-ice BBQ of burnt ends, pulled pork and that lovely orange mayonnaise they do.
Instead, the entertainment consisted of Frank trying to show Brooksy how to work the clock, and both O’Marra and O’Neill deciding that the room wasn’t big enough for two guys with O’ in their surname.
With the final period poised at 3-3 it was no surprise that the final twenty minutes would be a tense and at times nervy affair. Kemp and Veg both made great saves across the twenty minutes, which was concluded with no further score.
And so the script was written, the final would be decided on penalty shots.
First up was Mulligan for the North. The flame haired, smooth talking Canadian took full advantage of Kemp charging out of his net at speed, and deked him to his left, backhanding the puck into the net.
O’Marra was next up for the South, no doubt getting the eye from his new pal in the zebra suit. The Canadian attempted to slip it 5-hole after deking Veg but the Hungarian got the pad down to make the save - much to the delight of the North bench.
The North made it 2-0 through Richie Clark, who made everything look easy all night. Clark is the sort of guy who needs to be tested assembling an Ikea self-assemble sofa bed to see if his composure can be broken.
The pressure was on Mike Fox-Higgins to score for the South, and he did exactly that. He moved Veg out of position thanks to a mazy skate towards goal that would have made Eugene proud, and ended it with a lovely finish off the post.
Next up for the North was Hepburn who had clearly impressed the coach with his finish earlier in the game. Luckily for the South, he failed to replicate it and indeed his shot probably killed a few pigeons on the roof on its way to Muswell Hill.
South captain Veinot had to score to keep his team in it but Veg cut off any angle and stopped the powerful wrister, sparking scenes of celebration from the North.
With both teams exhausted from one of the tightest Bodean's Cup games in history, a hasty handshake followed as the pub beckoned. The Cup headed back to the Highgate Inn for scenes even Ovechkin couldn’t imagine. -D. Carr
Devils North: Scoring
James Mulligan (S. Wroe)
James Hepburn (unassisted)
Richie Clark (unassisted)
Devils North: Penalties
L. Gryzbon (2min check)
J. Mulligan (2min trip)
J. Hepburn (2min trip)
Devils South: Scoring
Gennadi Yufit (I. Williams)
Ryan O’Marra (unassisted)
Richard Veinot (G.Yufit)
Devils South: Penalties
N. Bowman (2min interfere)
M. Fox-Higgins (2min cross-check)
N. Bowman (2min trip)
North: Mulligan - goal
South: O'Marra - saved
North: Clark - goal
South: Fox-Higgins - goal
North: Hepburn - missed
South: Veinot - saved
The Devils had a night to forget as the Rangers showed they were not going to go down without a fight in the best of five series. The Rangers scored early and often and the game was pretty much finished after the first period. In fact, the score might have even been more than 13, but most at the rink lost count. The Devils' series lead is now 2-1 and game four is being scheduled as we speak.
London Devils: Scoring
Frank Walshe (J. Alcock)
Gennadi Yufit (B. Frioux)
Mike Fox-Higgins (G. Yufit, M. Neizvestnov)
London Devils: Penalties
C. Fonte (2min rough)
J. Mulligan (2min rough)
C. Fonte (2min trip)
In a scene straight out of Youngblood, both teams enter the Lee Valley Ice Centre to a freshly cut pad and a slight mist. Instead of receiving a pep-talk from an American farmer with a glass eye, both teams know that they’re here for 72 minutes of white hot Bodean's Cup action.
First some background: East-West need to win by four or more goals to progress to the final. Anything else, and the South will book a spot in the final and earn the chance to defend last year's title. Only an out-of-form South stands in EW's way of a date with the North and they look confident. Last game, these two played out a 5-5 tie with less than two lines on each bench, but East-West have clearly had a rallying call this time round and have three lines with a lot of depth. Did Captain Chebator send a threatening email to increase attendance? Possibly.
The tone of the comms has clearly unnerved star forward Phillipe Mueller who strides past skate hire in a training jersey to gasps.
“What would Frank say?” utters a voice from near the lockers. The Swiss man stops dead: “I didn’t realise we were in white and I did read the email” he pleads, quickly ducking out of the way of the CCTV in case the Devils committee manage to get hold of the footage.
Thankfully, the kind hearted and all round good guy Dave Carr offers his freshly laundered white number 36. As he puts it on, the scoring touch and aura of Mueller immediately fades – Carr shows a knowing smile.
Also smiling is referee and friend of the Devils, Jurijs Solovjovs. It’s his birthday and the hockey gods have spared him the historic and sometimes volatile front of net match up of Maguile and Reid (or indeed anyone). He is so excited to drop the puck, he doesn’t even wait for the scoreboard to start and resultantly adds a couple of minutes on to the game.
The match starts with East-West on the front foot but Gorelik spurns an early chance as he pings one off the bar with Kemp stranded. South’s game plan of clogging the middle and keeping a guy high is working well as the chances that follow fail to really test Kemp. Down at the other end, Mike Fox-Higgins unleashes a cannon straight to the chest of Beast. The big Estonian falls to the ground before composing himself, thus negating the earlier added time from the period.
The breakthrough finally happens when the energetic Baptiste Frioux manages to somehow carry Russian tank Gennadi Yufit into the zone on his back, beat the defenseman and poke the puck past Kemp to make it 1-0 East West.
Emil Von Bulow, Chris Huston and Frioux all have further chances to score but South hold firm for a one goal deficit at the first buzzer.
The second starts as the first did, with the South holding their position and looking to break on the counter. Both sides have chances to score with Beast pulling off two point blank saves from Richard Veinot and Paul ‘Mr Fulham’ House, then Kemp denying Reid from close range.
East-West are having the better of the play and they extend their advantage with five minutes remaining in the period thanks to a clapper from Matti Konsala, who fires past a screened Kemp from the point.
At 2-0 down with a period to play, the tie is set for a big finale. The last thing the South want is to concede an early goal - but that’s exactly what they do. Huston feeds Hurwitz in the corner, and he steps out unopposed in front of net and buries the puck through Kemp’s five hole. 3-0
East-West now have 20 minutes to get the "winning" goal and their chances look good when Misha Neizvestnov takes a charging penalty followed by a Fox-Higgins tripping call. A 5-on-3 advantage looms.
This is the moment for East-West. The chance to play in their 10th Bodean's Cup Final, the chance to sup Staropramen out of the glistening trophy at the Highgate Inn once again. The chance to silence the unsilenceable Paul House.
The puck falls to Frioux - of all people - in front of net, Kemp is scrambling across goal, the prolific Frenchman drops his shoulder, the signs are there, and those present have seen this played out many times before. Frioux has the Londoner beat, he is going top-shelf, just where he keeps the croissants and Babybel.
The South team on the bench are already thinking what to do with their unwanted long weekend upon elimination. Maybe a trip to Center Parcs for the affluent, or perhaps a ski trip to a European glacier resort for the less affluent, or a blow out in the Dam with Fluffy.
The puck spins and pings deafeningly - as it did for Gorelik - straight off the upright and clear of danger. The failure to score on the PP has sucked the wind out of East-West and then the unthinkable happens...
Veinot picks up a clearance off the boards and skates down the right wing before firing top cheese near post past Beast. South have clawed back a vital goal and effectively end the resistance.
South have their tails up and score almost straight away again as House jams home the puck after Fox-Higgins has fired off the side of the net. With five minutes remaining in the game, East-West know that scoring three more goals is unlikely and the game fizzles out to the delight of the South.
The South will now take on the North in the final on 14th June at Ally Pally. Good seats still available. -D. Carr
Devils East-West: Scoring
Baptiste Frioux (unassisted)
Matti Konsala (W. Tusz)
Rick Hurwitz (C. Huston, J. Foster)
Devils East-West: Penalties
Devils South: Scoring
Richard Veinot (P. House)
Paul House (M. Fox-Higgins, R. Veinot)
Devils South: Penalties
M. Neizvestnov (2min charge)
M. Fox-Higgins (2min trip)