The stage was set on Sunday evening. It was the IIHL Playoff final and the conclusion to the 2007/2008 IIHL season. The Dundalk Bulls had decimated the Latvian Hawks 26-4 the previous day to book their place in the final. The Dublin Rams on the other hand had fought an extremely hard battle against the Flyers I.H.C. and come out on top with a 4-1 victory. The final couldn’t have been better set. The Bulls have been the best all season and deserved their place. The Rams were the only team to inflict defeat on the Bulls and must have been the only team who were considered to have a chance at upsetting the Bulls in the final.
The game was well attended with a strong crowd of at least 150 people coming out to support both teams. The majority of the Junior Dundalk Bulls were present as were members of the clubs other teams, the Dundalk Bulls Ladies and Dundalk Bulls ‘B’. For the Rams, their support was mainly given by friends and family but they were just as vocal as the Bulls’ fans. The play got off to a frantic pace and it was extremely physical from the start. Players were skating hard and finishing every check. However, as a result of this physicality both teams found themselves down a man within the first 2 minutes. Ross O’Driscoll drew the first penalty for the Rams at 1:07 for interference. 43 seconds later, Sebastian Wachowski found himself in the box for charging and blew any chance of getting an early powerplay goal. However, this wouldn’t be the last opportunity they had on the powerplay as both teams traded penalties throughout the period.
The Rams found themselves down another man at 2:45 with the Rams being undisciplined and getting penalised for too many men on the ice. However, the Bulls were unable to capitalise on this as a result of excellent penalty killing and some even better goaltending from Tobia. While both teams traded penalties and successfully killed them off, each team enjoyed some great scoring chances. They each even had partial breakaways which both Christian Ajnesjo for the Bulls and Tobia for the Rams confidently turned aside. It was the Rams who made the initial break with a powerplay goal from Tomas Pajtina at 13:08. Hunter Cape assisted on the goal and it was a bit of a scrappy goal but the Rams will definitely take the 1-0 lead. The Rams were absolutely delighted with their efforts while the majority of the crowd were in shock and silenced.
The Bulls then upped their game and came back 5 minutes later with a powerplay goal of their own at 18:17. Bill McKiernan got the goal of a feed from Eric Hogberg with Michael Minarech picking up the 2nd assist. The teams were now tied at 1 apiece and the teams were having an equal go of each other. The action was end to end and neither team was letting up. The Bulls then got a second with less than 30 seconds left in the period against the run of play. Hogberg finished off the pass from McKiernan to make it 2-1 going into the 1st intermission. Everyone had just witnessed a fantastic period of hockey and everyone was eager for the 2nd to start. The score was 2-1 to the Bulls; they also led in shots on goal 15-9. However, the Rams led in penalty minutes 14-10 and you couldn’t help but think that if they stayed out of the box, they would be leading the Bulls in scoring.
The 2nd period started with a very load cheer from the Bulls’ fans; they were extremely vocal and would have even silenced the Latvian Hawks fans. It’s just a pity they didn’t attract this support throughout the season. However, they were silenced after only 58 seconds. Hunter Cape got an even strength goal with both of his line mates getting assists. The game was now tied at 2-2 and the game continued in the same manner as the 1st. The teams were playing so physical and were so undisciplined with their sticks; each team took penalties for slashing and hooking. As well as these infractions, each team served time for roughing after the whistle as tempers were running high. Despite all of these penalties, the Bulls went on to score 4 unanswered even strength goals. The first came from McKiernan, followed by Hogberg and Grochowicz and lastly Mats Ajnesjo.
The Bulls now had a 4 goal lead after 33:14 minutes played. However, they were undisciplined again with Sean Dooley letting his temper get the best of him; receiving 4 minutes in penalties and the Rams took full advantage of the powerplay. Bret Dilabbio got the goal with Andrew Moriarty getting the assist. The deficit was only 3 goals now and the Rams were getting ready for a comeback in the 3rd period. All they needed to do was stay out of the penalty box. They had 26 minutes in penalties in the 2nd period to the Bulls 14. The Bulls again led them in shots on goal 18-9. The Rams knew that they had to play very disciplined hockey in the 3rd period and stay out of the penalty box and the chances would come. For the Bulls they just needed to do the simple things and they’d get the breaks and build on their lead.
The 3rd period was again another fantastic period of hockey. It was fast paced and hard hitting. However, neither team was able to stay out of the penalty box. It was the same as the first 2 periods with constant breaks for stick infractions and roughing during the stoppages. Tempers were flaring and all that was missing from this period was a goal. The goal just didn’t come despite the Bulls having 16 shots on target and the Rams having 7. The keepers just weren’t willing to give an inch. Tobia was doing everything in his power to ensure that his team had a chance right to the end. Christian Ajnesjo at the other end was just trying his best to guarantee the win for his team. The period finished with no scoring and the Bulls receiving 71 minutes in penalties and the Rams receiving 22 minutes in penalties. The reason for those high numbers was because of how the game ended.
With 6 seconds left on the clock and the score 6-3 to the Bulls, the players on both teams became embroiled in some serious fighting. All of the players on the ice came together just inside the Rams defensive zone and plenty of pushing and shoving ensued. The result was the ejection of several players as well as many minor penalties being given out. The final 6 seconds were never finished as the referee had to make a decision looking out for the well-being of the players. It was an absolute shame that such a fantastic game had to end this way. The players and management of both teams should re-think about their future behaviour in games as there was a huge crowd their. The majority of this crowd were young aspiring ice hockey players. Some of the Dundalk Bulls’ players are considered role models and these children look up to them and they certainly should not be exposed to scenes of this manner, especially in the IIHL Playoff Final. Although it should be noted that both sets of players showed true sportsmanship by shaking hands before the Dundalk Bulls were presented with the IIHL Playoff Cup.
Anyway, that brings a close to the inaugural IIHL season. I think it’s fair to say that it has been a success too and the IIHA will now look at ways to improve for next year by ironing out any little kinks which they have encountered along the way. The 2007/2008 IIHL season is now closed and over the next few weeks the National Team will take centre stage as they prepare for the 2008 IIHF World Championships Division II A in Romania. Once that is over, all eyes will be on the IIHL Development Division which is currently in full swing.