The Clouded Leopards staged a comeback from 0-3 down to snare the Taipei Ice Hockey League championship title at the Iceland Arena on Friday night.
They entered Game 3 coming off a 7-2 thrashing to the Black Bears in the previous matchup and failed in the early stages to match anything near their dominance in the 7-3 hiding they handed out in Game 1.
Some messy Leopards defending handed the Bears a couple of chances, although the first period saw no goals scored. The Leopards had chances with a couple of goal-mouth scrambles, but the best shot was probably from the Bears’ David Merrifield, who had a long-range shot tipped away by Leopards goaltender Alex Sjostedt.
Photo: Ian Kuo , Taipei Times
The second period saw some scoreboard action after 5 minutes, 8 seconds, following some attacking raids sparked by Steve Clark. The Bears’ go-to man shut down a two-on-one situation in defense, pinched the puck and made a run down the ice to set up a scoring chance that was denied. However, he soon afterward picked out Mark Hong, who, with help from Mal Turner in front of goal, scrambled the puck past Sjostedt.
Then a sloppy clearance by the Leopards handed the puck to Clark on a platter, who fed Chris Chen to make it 2-0.
Dylan Liu then lost possession to Merrifield, who shot wide, and later Chen had a breakaway chance that was shut down.
Photo: Ian Kuo, Taipei Times
Chen made his first visit of the night to the penalty box soon afterward, but Eric Shen could not capitalize on the situation, shooting right into the goaltender’s pads with the Leopard’s best chance of the power play.
Then Clark scored while they were still short-handed, stretching the difference to three.
The Leopards pulled one back with 30 seconds left in the period, with Liu deflecting a pass in off Andy Shen, but at 3-1 down going into the final stanza, a win looked unlikely.
The Bears’ Chen made his second trip to the penalty box, this time for tripping, but his return saw him take to the ice right behind Eric Shen, able to steal the puck and make a breakaway, which he could not convert.
Hubert Wang brought life to the contest, putting the puck past the goaltender’s right shoulder from just across the blue line after being set up by the Shen brothers, who stepped up their efforts in the closing stanza to take control of the game, although the Leopards were still a point adrift.
Another sloppy clearance almost cost them, handing the Bears the puck behind the Leopards goal.
Then Eric Shen stamped his mark on the game. The defensive player intercepted an attempted clearance and blazed in from near the blue line through traffic past and to the right of the goaltender to lock the scores with 7 minutes, 46 seconds remaining.
Tony Yin had the winning goal with 4 minutes, 25 seconds remaining, and although the Leopards had a player sent to the penalty box and the Bears pulled their goaltender, they could not find a way back.
“Happy” was Andy Shen’s response after the game.
“We came back strong,” he said.
He said the key was in their mindset.
“Don’t think negative, think positive,” he said, when asked what was going through his mind at 3-0 down in the second period.
“I knew we can do it; we are all young; all fast,” the First Star said. “I can see that they are tired, so we can out-skate them and get it back.”
Leopards captain Dennis Chou said the team felt “pretty bad and frustrated in the beginning, because of some bad goals.”
He said Andy Shen was “of course” their best player.
“I think the assists [Andy Shen provided] are [more impressive] than goals,” Chou said.
Sjostedt said they “got through as a team.”
“I was a little bit worried; we got a few bad bounces,” the goaltender said of the early setbacks. “I thought we played definitely the best game.”
“They were three-nil up and I was saying to myself: ‘Alright, I’m going to shut the door now and give my teammates a chance to battle back,’” Sjostedt said.
“If they [teammates] manage to score three goals, then all I have to do is shut the door [to my goal],” he said. “And they scored three goals. Then I thought: ‘All right, now this is ours, because I’m not letting one more in.’”
League organizer and referees manager Andrew Yin was confident that the league was getting better, adding that the league is hoping to expand the number of teams.
“So far we have four teams, but we’re looking to have five teams next year,” he said.
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