The Amarillo Bulls and Wenatchee Wild faced each other in the NAHL Robertson Cup National Championship on Monday just one day after the Wild dominated the Bulls in the round robin portion of the tournament. On Sunday Wenatchee hung a seven spot on the league’s stingiest defense and allowed the league’s most productive offense only 18 shots on goal in the shutout.
Because of the odd tie breaker rules in the tournament giving the number one seed to the team with the highest goal differential and second seed based on head to head play, Amarillo actually benefited from the lopsided score. With a +9 goal differential Wenatchee was a lock and since Amarillo had defeated the Bismarck Bobcats in overtime the scenario was set up that the only way the Bulls would not advance was for Bismarck to win their final game by 10 goals. The total collapse of the team that had paced the league in goals per game and goals allowed per game led many in the online blogosphere to speculate that the Bulls had indeed tanked the game in an Olympics Badmintonesque attempt to insure a shot at the title.
The conspiracy theorists also point to the odd tiebreaker of determining the second seed, added as a note to the bottom of the tiebreaker rules, as evidence of an after the fact league attempt at stacking the deck for Amarillo. “Important Note: In the event of a 3 way tie at the conclusion of round robin play, the tiebreaking procedures listed above will be utilized to determine the #1 team. Next, the results of head to head competition will be used to break the tie between the remaining two clubs, with the club that won the head to head matchup advancing on, if applicable.”
I do not know that I am ready to fire up the black helicopters just yet. There would be just too many people involved with players and coaching staff in the Amarillo locker room to keep this quiet. On the league’s supposed complicity, teams are given the tiebreaker rules before the start of the tournament and explaining away a late addition to coaches and players of the teams blocked from the championship game is just too much for me to buy into. Regardless there are those on both sides that no matter how much “evidence” or reasoning you try to apply to the situation, they will never be convinced.
So let’s just take a look at what happened in the game and you decide for yourself.
The Bulls came out to play from the opening faceoff and were putting pressure on the Wild from the get go. Joe Grabowski (Clint Carlisle) sent a blast from the point through traffic that broke open a scoreless tie with Amarillo on the power play thanks to a Wenatchee checking from behind call. Time of the goal was 7:32 of the first. At 14:19 Tyler Deresky (Matt Sieckhaus) added to the Bull’s lead as he took the puck down the far side and sent it over Robert Nicholsright pad. Amarillo was feeling thing going their way as they kept pushing and took a two goal lead into the first intermission.
The second period was all Ryan Cole. Cole (Omar Mullan) scored a short handed goal at 12:30. The play was set up by a turn over at the Wenatchee blue line that Mullan controlled before feeding Cole as they went into the zone two on one. Then at 14:56 another Wild turn over sent Amarillo streaking into the zone two on none. Cole (TJ Sarcona, Tyler Deresky) potted his second of the game on a nice drop pass from Sarcona.
Up by four entering the third the Bull’s amped up the neutral zone trap they play so well keeping everything from Wenatchee to the outside. Mullan (Sieckhaus) closed out the scoring with just under five minutes to play and the Amarillo Bulls hoisted their first Robertson Cup National Championship trophy.
Shots on goal were 24-16 Amarillo and the Bulls had the lone power play goal going 1-4 while holding Wenatchee to 0-3. Nichols made 19 saves on 24 shots for the loss while Paul Berrafato stopped all 16 he faced for the shutout win.
Conspiracy theories aside, those of us who follow teams in the NAHL South Division had to see this coming from early in the season. Regardless of personal feelings toward the Bulls, they were the a force to be reckoned with from early on as they racked up 99 regular season points with a 46-7-7 record to win the NAHL Regular Season Crown. The Bulls had only three losing streaks of 3, 2 and 2 games during the 60 game regular season and were shutout only once by Topeka on the road. Amarillo has 13 players on the roster holding NCAA commitments with 11 of those being to DI schools. All points that the black helicopter crowd will point to as evidence when the loss to Wenatchee Sunday is the subject.
Following the game the NAHL announced the Easton All-Tournament Team. Naturally it leaned heavily toward Amarillo and Wenatchee.
Forward: Ryan Cole –Amarillo (3G-0A)
Forward: Stanislav Dzakhov –Bismarck (3G-0A)
Forward: Chris Kerr –Wenatchee (2G-3A)
Defense: Joe Grabowski –Amarillo (1G-0A)
Defense: Dylan Abood –Wenatchee (1G-4A)
Goalie: Paul Berrafato –Amarillo (3-1 / 1.37GAA / .931SV%)
In addition to being named to the All-Tournament Team, Cole was named the Tournament MVP.