|The Penrith Bears celebrate with the Goodall Cup.
The Penrith Bears ended a tumultuous season on Sunday with the best possible ending, winning the Goodall Cup before a home crowd at their new rink at Penrith Ice Palace in overtime.
Teetering on the brink of financial ruin at the beginning of the season, the Bears were able to solicit a new home at Penrith and financial backing to give themselves the opportunity to celebrate their 25th anniversary. With few resources and an uncertain future until 3 days before the beginning of the AIHL season, they continued their fairytale run when an unexpected loss by the Brisbane Blue Tongues in the final round allowed the Bears the opportunity to play for Australia's greatest ice hockey prize and avoid the embarrassment of missing out on playing in the finals series in their own home rink.
The Bears showed their intent in their semi-final, defeating the first-placed Adelaide Avalanche 4-1 in the semi final, and finding themselves matched up against the Newcastle North Stars. Newcastle despatched the Melbourne Ice 6-3 in their semi-final. The North Stars were aiming for three Goodall Cups in a row having won 2005 and 2006 finals, and included the league's top scorer Brad Wanchulak.
From the beginning of the final the North Stars took control, and a sequence of thrilling end-to-end rushes began. Two early penalties took away Newcastle's momentum and gave the Bears the advantage throughout the first period. The frenetic pace continued scoreless for much of the second period, until Vlad Rubes squeezed the puck by North Stars goalie Matt Ezzy on a wrap-around attempt. The situation looked dire for Newcastle when the Bears struck again in the second period, Warren Jaywardene celebrating his second goal in consecutive games.
A fightback by the North Stars quickly gave results, Brad Wanchulak converting a pass from a pinching Rob Starke to put the North Stars back into the game. The Bears held tight to their lead playing cooly and tactically until Captain Murray Wand was penalised in the final three minutes. A rocket wrister from Darcy Corcoran from the top of the circles put the North Stars even with the Bears and the Goodall Cup final into overtime for the first time since it was designated to be the prize for the AIHL champions in 2002.
The OT didn't last long. After an initial exchange of chances, contact between the North Stars goalie and a Bears forward, the benefit of the doubt was given to the Bears player, and the North Stars were penalised for hooking. After winning the next faceoff, the Bears set up their umbrella attack and sent the puck out to Czech-born defenceman Rob Pasminka, who hammered home a huge one-timer from inside the blue line. The bulging of the netting and blowing of the whistle signified a magic end to the season for the Bears, their first Goodall Cup since 2002. A fairytale ending for a team who had it all to lose. Bears Finnish import goalie Pekka Kankaanranta won the Final Series MVP.