Saturday, November 25, 2017

2000 Lewis Cup Finals

There was no shortage of motivation for either participant entering the 2000 Lewis Cup Finals. The Washington Generals had a history of incredible runs ending in disappointment. In the early 80s, the Generals lost two consecutive finals, while more recently, in 1998, they lost again to the Minnesota Lumberjacks. “I was in the building for all three losses” said 62-year-old Martin Ryan, a Generals fan since the first season. “I don’t intend to see them lose again.” For the Twisters, it a beloved veteran player without a championship that gave them all the motivation they needed. Dave Mack had played 20 seasons in the PHL with Nova Scotia and Kansas City. He played in two finals in 1987 and ’97 but had never won a cup. Not only were the fans in Kansas City cheering him on, fans across Atlantic Canada, and specifically Nova Scotia also cheered on their hometown hero.
Game one in Washington was hard-hitting right from the start as both teams tried to establish themselves early. “You usually don’t see physical play like this at the start of the final, these teams are both showing us how much they want it” said CBC play-by-play man Graham Helm. The Twisters would draw first blood, winning game one 4-2. Washington would then even it up again in game two thanks to two goals from Igor Zharkov. Jason Lind was the hero for Kansas City in game three, as the veteran goaltender earned a shutout to give his team a 2-1 series lead at home. Washington now felt the pressure. Desperate to avoid heading home down 3-1, the Generals came out hitting once again in game four. Their physical play would cost them, as captain Rob Wentzel went down awkwardly after hitting KC defenseman Brady Kyle in the second period. Wentzel left the game and did not return while the Twisters took the game 3-1 to lead the series by the same score. “We have to find a way to score goals” said Washington head coach Doug Sharp.

The Generals took their coach’s words to heart in game five, with the Lewis Cup in their building. Wentzel still suffered from a lower body injury but played anyway, scoring Washington’s second goal. The game was tied 2-2 when Dave Mack gave the Twisters the lead. As the minutes wound down, the commentators talked about the possibility that Mack could have the cup winner in his final game. Then, with just 1:34 left in regulation, Brant Brown deflected Justin Hill’s point shot into the net to tie the game. The Twisters were devastated at being so close, and were unable to recover in time for overtime. Just 22 seconds into the extra period, Geoff Collier scored for Washington to send the series back to Kansas City for game six.

The KC Sportsplex was packed for game six. The last time the Lewis Cup had been in the building, The fans had to watch the New York Civics carry it around the ice. Now their team had an opportunity to win it all at home. Washington, meanwhile, was determined to spoil the party. Four minutes into the game, Scott Whitmore gave the Generals a 1-0 lead. The lead held until the third period and it looked like the series could go to a seventh game, when JC Girard, another Twister veteran potentially playing his final game, beat Jake Borman to tie it up. Only a minute after Girard’s goal, Brett Delaney, who had been Kansas City’s best player throughout the playoffs, gave the Twisters the lead. With just over a minute left, Washington pulled Borman, desperate to tie the game. After Lind was forced to make a few big saves to preserve the lead, Travis Watson found himself on a 2-on-1 with Dave Mack heading for the empty net. Watson slid the puck to Mack, who sealed the win and the championship with 18 seconds left. The Twisters spilled off the bench and mobbed Mack while the officials scrambled to get things back in order so they could play the final seconds. When the puck finally dropped, the crowd counted down the last ten seconds as the Twisters celebrated a second time. Delaney was named playoff MVP, while captain Scott Drayton immediately handed the cup to Mack, who took it for a lap with tears running down his face. “I can’t imagine a better way to end my playing career” said Mack, confirming his retirement. In only eleven seasons, the Twisters had gone from lowly expansion team to Lewis Cup champions.

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