North-East Champions headed to National Finals in Meudon!!!
There couldn’t have been a sweeter ending for the Puckers in their quest for the Trophée Loisir Division Est Championship title.
In a real thriller final game at home in front of an enthuastic crowd, the Puckers withstood the onstorm of a stacked Epinal squad and claimed the North-East crown with a 3-3 tie after having won the away game 5-2 a week earlier and made history by clinching their first spot ever in the French National Final of the Trophée Loisir.
With former Magnus League goalie Mathieu Perrin in net and snipers Ludovic Thomassin and Jonathan Gury back in the line-up, defending champion Epinal clearly had the intention to come and reverse the series and take the title back to Epinal. But a disciplined Puckers team thought otherwise.
The line-up for the Puckers was the same than the previous Sunday, except for the sick defenseman Bronislav Vahalik who had to sit out his last home game as a Pucker. “Bruno” will move back to Czech Republic in the summer. Matthias Rainer was back in the net for the Puckers.
But it was Perrin who got tested early with the Puckers first line of Lutov, Donzel and Vallée swarming around the Epinal net on their first and second shift. And it was then also Charles Vallée who drew first blood for the Puckers on the powerplay, banging home the rebound after Mladen “Momo” Lutov created havoc in the slot. It took a bit under 8 minutes for the scoreboard to show the 1-0 for the home team.
But Epinal was not ready to give up on the title and after a bad pinch by a Puckers defenseman, Ludovic Thomassin used Niclas Lundberg as a screen to absolutely laser a shot past Rainer to tie the game just 3 minutes later.
Just like in Epinal, the game was tied after the first period.
And Epinal came out with what seemed fresher legs to put some pressure on the Puckers. It paid off when Thomassin scored his second of the night just four and a half minutes into the period. But unlike in previous seasons, the Puckers showed mental toughness and stayed in the game. Rainer made a couple of fantastic saves to keep his team close, notably one save on a breakaway followed by what seemed an impossible save on the rebound. Wave after wave of attacks on Epinal’s Perrin finally paid off when David Donzel converted on a pass from Vallée at the 28:32 mark and less than 90 seconds later, Nick Aubin used one of his now infamous dekes to get around the Epinal defenseman and roof a backhander past Perrin for the Puckers 3-2 lead. It provided the set up for a gripping final period.
In an absolute nailbiter of a period and in front of a cheering and screaming crowd, Epinal’s Thomassin completed the hattrick at the 43:25 mark and tied the game. Epinal felt they had life and had a few more chances to get the go-ahead goal. They needed at least 4 goals in the period to take the series and the title. But the Puckers played a very tight defensive game and had an excellent Rainer between the pipes. With short shifts, all three Puckers lines took away time and space from a deflated Epinal team. It also did not help that Epinal spent half of the period playing short-handed with 5 minor and one misconduct penalty. Even though things got a bit chippy towards the end, the Puckers kept their cool and did not engage in any altercations with the guests. The scoreboard was all that mattered and as the minutes and seconds wound down, all the Puckers wanted was to get the sweet taste of victory after a long and successful season.
With the horn blowing, gloves, stickes and helmets flew in the air and Puckers Nation gathered and celebrated in front of their net to a crowd of fans that had gone wild. History has been made, the Puckers are headed to the National Finals in Meudon!
Yves Barthels the Captain