The scene in the Florida Panthers dressing room could best be described as restrained exuberance.
Strains of the Queen song, “We are the Champions,” could be heard echoing down the corridors of the Robert Guertin Arena in Hull, Quebec. But there was no celebratory champagne to drink and only the odd holler of excitement was discernable from the rest of the post-game noise after the Panthers beat the Ottawa Senators in a shootout to capture first place at the rookie tournament in Hull, Quebec.
Instead, most of the players quickly packed away their gear and waited to hear from team management about whether they would get an invite to the team’s main camp and a chance to crack the NHL squad.
Josh Olson, whose only two goals of the tournament happened to be the tying goal in regulation and the clinching goal in the shootout, agrees an invite to the next camp would be the best way to celebrate the win. But he thinks the team will find some way to mark the occasion.
“I guess we’ll have to figure something out when we get back to the hotel,” he says with a laugh.
As all deciding games should, the championship match went down to the wire. Olson’s goal with eight seconds left sent the game to overtime and an eventual shootout, where he was again the hero.
Panthers goaltender Billy Thompson, often the team’s saving grace through the tournament, stopped attempts by Antoine Vermette and Tim Gleason, forced Jason Spezza to shoot wide and gave up his only goal on a beautiful fake by forward Brooks Laich.
Scoring for the Panthers were Stephen Weiss and Lukas Krajicek, before Olson put a fake on Senators goalie Ray Emery and went five-hole.
“I knew Emery was a bigger goalie so I tried to get his long legs to open up,” says Olson. “I kind of watched what our first three guys did and then it’s just where natural instincts take over more than anything.”
It was the first time the Panthers have won the tournament, whereas Ottawa has been in the final all four years it’s existed and won it twice. For Senators coach Perry Pearn, this was exactly the kind of game he was hoping for, even if the result wasn’t in his team’s favour.
“You really want tough games like today,” says Pearn. “I think this was the first time we were really faced with adversity.
“Their team really impressed us over the tournament and they really improved over the week. You have to give (coaches) Paul Baxter and George Kingston full marks for that.”
Laich, the lone scorer in the shootout for the Senators, says he would’ve liked the game to be decided by the team, rather than by individual players.
“Every player on our team would’ve liked to finish it off as a team game, rather than four on four or in the shootout,” he says. “But if you don’t want to be in that position, you shouldn’t be playing hockey.”
Pearn says it’s not easy to decide which players to put out on the ice in a shootout situation, but admits he should’ve been better prepared for the possibility of one.
“There are a lot of things to prepare for a tournament like this, and believe it or not, we weren’t prepared for a shootout,” he says.
Florida opened the scoring midway through the first period when Greg Watson hustled by a defenceman and centered a pass that Toni Koivisto deflected behind Emery for his fifth goal of the tournament.
The Senators tied the game at 7:41 of the third period on a goal by Scott Dobben. Derrick Byfuglien’s point shot was stopped, but Dobben curled in front and slammed home the rebound on his backhand.
Matt Poapst collected his fourth goal of the tournament for the Senators less than three minutes later as Jeremy Swanson sat in the penalty box for tripping. A clearing attempt by Weiss failed to leave the defensive zone and instead landed on the stick of Gleason at the point. His shot was blocked but Poapst picked up the loose puck and fired it top-shelf on the outstretched Thompson.
A pass from the corner by Koivisto deflected off of Olson’s stick and in for the tying goal. That deadlocked the game at 2-2, sending it to overtime.
The overtime saw several opportunities for both teams, but neither could capitalize. Koivisto’s run down the ice with a minute left may have been the best chance for either team, but after blowing past the defender and starting his drive to the net, Emery met him with a pokecheck to end the rush.
Koivisto continued his strong play in the tournament, capturing player of the game honours for the Panthers, while Jan Platil took home the honours for the Senators. Ottawa outshot Florida 23-18 in the game.