Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2001 Lewis Cup Finals

For the first time in a decade, the 2001 Lewis Cup finals would be a battle between the two conference champions, as the defending champion Kansas City Twisters met the Philadelphia Redshirts. CBC commentator Graham Helm summed up the series; “The Redshirts are looking for their first title in 79 years while the Twisters are looking for their first in almost 365 days.” Right from the start, the Twisters looked just as good as the team that had won it all a year earlier. Brett Delaney had a goal and an assist on Jeremy Kitchen’s goal in a 2-0 Twisters win. Game two was closer, with Philadelphia giving up two leads throughout the game as it went into overtime. After the teams remained tied after one overtime, Alex Leblanc scored early in the second to win the game for Philly and tie the series.

Game three was in Philadelphia, where the Redshirts had lost only one game the entire playoffs. They got off to a quick start in this one too when veteran Jonathan Stafford opened the scoring just 1:23 into the first period. Philadelphia played a strong defensive game while Pierre Noel was solid in the net until midway through the third period, when a Scott Drayton point shot found its way through everybody and into the net. Just minutes later, Travis Watson put Kansas City ahead, then Mike Singer sealed it with an empty-net goal. “We need more offense” said Redshirts head coach Clint Allen. “Pierre has been great for us but we need our forwards to give him more to work with.”

Kansas City was now in the driver’s seat, having taken back home-ice advantage, while the Redshirts continued to struggle finding ways to score. In game four, All Philadelphia could muster was a goal from Brendan Carnes late in the second period. Luckily for the Redshirts, Pierre Noel played the game of his life, stopping 59 shots for a shutout as Philly won the game 1-0 to tie the series. The Twisters were confident that it was still their series to lose heading into game five back in KC, but now it was their turn to struggle with scoring. Philadelphia twice early in game five and a Brett Delaney goal halfway through the second period was the best Kansas City could do. Noel stopped 41 shots this time as the Redshirts stood just one home win away from finally ending their drought.

In the 1922 Eastern League championship, the Redshirts relied heavily on a young goaltender named Herb Schmidt to backstop them to the title. Schmidt courageously played on a broken foot and stopped 63 shots in the final game for the win. Now 79 years later, 25-year-old Pierre Noel was faced with a similar challenge. Early in game six, Noel took a hit that shook him up, it appeared he had injured his hand. Nevertheless, Noel made save after save in the first period as the Twisters applied pressure early. Even when Kansas City had a powerplay, Noel shut the door. Halfway through the period, Brendan Carnes scored to give the Redshirts the lead. The crowd cheered, but nervously. Philly fans knew their history, in 1953 the Redshirts gave up a 1-0 lead in the final moments of game seven, ultimately losing in double overtime. In 1958, they gave up a 2-0 lead before losing to Toronto. This time, the Redshirts nursed their delicate lead until early in the second, when Alex Leblanc made it 2-0. This time the PhillyDome erupted. The way Noel was playing there was no way the team would lose this time. With the clock winding down, Jared Baxter, who had not scored all series, passed the puck to 22-year veteran Jeff Waters, who slid it into the empty net. The building shook as the crowd celebrated and the referees had to keep the Philadelphia players from spilling onto the ice with 22 seconds to go. Finally, the clock counted down to zero as the players mobbed Noel and the fans went wild. For the first time in their long PHL history, the Philadelphia Redshirts were the Lewis Cup Champions. Commissioner Darryl Byrd presented the cup to Jeff Waters, who had waited to hoist the cup as a Redshirt since 1979. “I honestly can’t believe this is actually happening” said Waters. “We’ve all waited so long for this, and it’s finally here. I’m just so thankful to actually be a part of it.”

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