Perhaps it was the Hockey Gods looking down upon the Over-30 league that influenced the two teams playing for the spring 2012 Finals. Call it fate or karma, I Padrini and the Lunchpail Kids both felt they had unfinished business left over since last December’s winter 2011 Finals. Whatever the reason behind it, these were the top two teams in the Over-30 league who both deserved to be playing in the Finals. The Lunchpail Kids featured their consistent level of play every week during the regular season that was rewarded by finishing first-place overall in the standings; I Padrini by overcoming a horrendous start to the season and earning the title of the Over-30 league’s most hottest team, by winning seven out of their last eight games, to finish in second place. Even more amazing was the Lunchpail Kids playing the first half of the season without Joe Shannon and not losing a step by going 4-1-1 during that time; while I Padrini played most of their season short-handed and undermanned and missing Franco Grutti for the first four games of the season.
I Padrini had a commanding edge in the head-to-head season series with the Lunchpail Kids, winning all three games played between them by an 11 – 5 goal differential. To say that I Padrini had the Lunchpail Kids number was an understatement.
It was reminiscent of the series long series during the winter 2011 season with almost identical numbers. Amazingly, factoring in the winter 2011 season and Finals results, the Lunchpail Kids had never beaten I Padrini in a head-to-head game. As was the case in the winter 2011 Finals, we expected a low scoring contest dominated by the goalies and defense. The consensus coming into this game was for I Padrini to have their defensemen trigger and utilize their balanced offensive attack by constantly running and wearing down the older defensemen of the Lunchpail Kids; while the Lunchpail Kids would counter with their ball control slow down style, finding Joe Shannon for that one-timer as often as possible, and keep the ball away from Dave Curcio. What everyone forgot to factor in was the play of Derek Shaw from the Lunchpail Kids, along with the competitive desire to motivate the older veteran players on the Lunchpail Kids to gain some younger legs and run with, and at times, out hustle their younger opponents.
Unlike the winter 2011 Finals where each team was missing a key offensive player, each team would have full rosters for this game. A winner takes all contests where the better team would prevail.
The first period was played wide open by each team, with hustle and a strong fore-checking mindset, with each team trying to apply constant pressure on the other team’s defense? What caught this reporter’s eye right from the second shift of the game was the outstanding hustle by the Lunchpail Kids Gary Goodwin, not only to get in deep and fore-check the defense of I Padrini, but, to also be the first one back into his own defensive zone. This determined effort by Gary had a rippling effect on the rest of his team and EVERY player ran hard and gave everything they had on each shift. At 4:11 of the first period, Gary’s efforts were rewarded as he received a pass from Tony Bono and turned from deep in the right faceoff circle and fired a shot that beat the goalie. This was just what captain Dan Broderick had preached to his team mates before the game, to get that first goal and make I Padrini open up their game plan. After one period, the score favored the Lunchpail Kids 1 - 0, while they held an 8 – 5 edge in shots on net.
At the start of the second period, I Padrini made a tactical move by putting Pat Pirone on defense to add some depth to their defensive corps, and the move paid off immediately, as Pat scored off a slap shot from the left point, set up by passes from Dave Curcio and Franco Grutti. The goal came at the 9:03 mark of the second period. Everyone expected a strong momentum push by I Padrini at this time, especially from Dave Curcio and Franco Grutti. After all, everyone was talking prior to this game how Franco owned goalie Jeff Deharo in net and had his number. The numbers did not lie as Franco seemed to always score at least a goal or two against Jeff each time he faced him. The momentum push did come but not as expected from either the players or team that was expected to provide it. Just under a minute later at 8:14, rookie Derek Shaw found himself open in the high slot as a result of a shot from the point by Dan Broderick that Joe Shannon collected the rebound in the lower left circle to find Derek for the one-timer that beat the goalie to the low far side. The goal gave the Lunchpail Kids the lead once again at 2 – 1 and was a quick strike response to the earlier tying goal by I Padrini. Watching this game, one could sense that things would be different this Finals than the previous one last season.
From this point on, the Lunchpail Kids played a textbook shut down game, playing flawless defensive zone positioning, collapsing into the center to deny I Padrini’s centers the ball, back-checking as if their lives depended on it, keeping any quality shots on goalie Jeff Deharo out to the sides, and being the first team on the ball in both ends of the rink. It was quite a sight watching an entire team buy-in to the defensive zone strategy and always be first on the ball. This smothering team defense was starting to wear down I Padrini’s offense and their relentless fore-checking game, led by Gary Goodwin, was starting to pay off as I Padrini’s defense was getting tired and didn’t seem as composed as during the regular season. This game plan paid off in a big way late in the second period, as the Lunchpail Kids scored two goals in just under a minute. The sniper who put away I Padrini was not Joe Shannon, but, the new Over-30 league “superstar in the making” rookie Derek Shaw. Looking more like Brent Hull in his heyday of finding some open space on the rink and releasing his shot before any defensive player could cover him, Derek did just that. He very subtlety moved from the left faceoff circle to the high slot and was set up by an alert Mark Stickney as Derek once again beat the goalie to the low short far side of the net, scoring at 4:04 to put his team up 3 – 1. Not finished, Derek completed his hat trick, scoring at 3:17 of the second period as he was set up once again by Mark Stickney along with Joe Shannon to give his team a commanding 4 – 1 lead. Game, set, and match essentially. After two periods, the Lunchpail Kids held a 4 – 1 lead, as well as a 17 – 11 shot advantage.
Heading into the third period, you can never count I Padrini out of any game, as they have proven many times before that they can score goals in bunches. The first three minutes of the third period would be crucial to determining which team would emerge victorious. As expected, I Padrini made their push, but every time they did, there were the Lunchpail Kids en mass as a team to collapse down and shut off the center while only allowing shots to be taken from the outside. As soon as I Padrini worked the ball into the Lunchpail Kids defensive zone, the defense of the Lunchpail Kids made sure to get the ball back out. When I Padrini did manage to get off a scoring opportunity, it was one and done and not a flurry of shots from rebounds.
It was classic shut-down textbook team defense played by the Lunchpail Kids, especially in the third period. They would not let Franco Grutti or Dave Curcio is the players to beat them. It would have to come from someone else on the team. But, it never did. The Lunchpail Kids sent line after line onto the rink; they ran and played solid position for 45 seconds, swarming I Padrini and preventing them from generating any offense in the third period. What stood out for this reporter from the halfway point of the second period right up until the end of the game was the hustle of veterans Mark Stickney and Joe Shannon (yes Joe actually ran) as they outran their younger opponents back into their defensive zone to take the ball away from them. In addition, looking at the bench of the Lunchpail Kids, every time the players changed on both lines, they never sat down. Rather, all five players stood up the entire time they were on the bench, ready to go out for their next shift. At the end of the third period, the final score was 4 – 1 in favor of the Lunchpail Kids, as they outshot the I Padrini by a 23 – 19 margin.
This was a very well played Final by two equally matched teams. With only one penalty called in the game, the players concentrated on playing this game the right way, with intensity and hustle, and not allowing any of the extracurricular nonsense to factor into the outcome. For the Lunchpail Kids it was a well earned victory with a performance for the ages. They proved the experts wrong in turning back the age clock for one game and played the entire game with youthful enthusiasm. For I Padrini, they came up just short, coming within one game of joining that exclusive back-to-back championship teams club, proudly competing as a defending champion. For first year captain Dave Curcio, a special league acknowledgement goes out to the outstanding job he did all year with this team.
On the way to the Finals, the Lunchpail Kids pulled out a tough grinding win over Coochie Coochie Coo, as Derek Shaw (him again) scored two goals, and Mark Stickney also scored, breaking open a very close game in the second period and emerge with a 3 – 0 victory. Goalie Jeff Deharo played a solid game in net in turning aside 23 shots on net for the shutout. For I Padrini, even though the score did not reflect it, they had a tough time reaching the Finals as Dave Curcio (him again) broke this game open late in the second period, on some great individual efforts, scoring two goals in just under two minutes to break the backs of Game Day, in winning 5 – 1.
For his efforts throughout the playoffs, especially in the Finals, rookie Derek Shaw lit it up, accounting for 5 of his team’s 6 total goals scored to unanimously win the Playoff MVP award for his timely goals. Congratulations also goes out to Ed Nigro for once again reclaiming his place atop the most championships won in the Over-30 league pedestal with 11 championships. Kudos also goes out to first-time jacket winners in Derek Shaw, Umberto Baldassarre and Ric Marino. For the great Dan Broderick, this championship was a long time in coming, as he waited 17 years (taking a 4 ½ year sabbatical from playing) since 1995 to win his third championship jacket.
Congratulations to the Lunchpail Kids championship team whose players include: Captain Dan Broderick, Mark Stickney, Joe Shannon, Ed Nigro, Gary Goodwin, Tony Bono, Tom Bardascino, Derek Shaw, Umberto Baldassarre, Ric Marino and goalie Jeff Deharo.