River Drivers back home with finals tied 1-1

By Jean LeBlanc

BERLIN — The battle for the Federal Hockey League's Commissioner's Cup resumed Friday night (results not known as of press time), after the first two games were played at the home ice of top seeded Danville in Illinois. The second seeded Berlin River Drivers won the game of the best-of-five series 1-0 behind the 37-save effort of goaltender Matt Kaludis, but fell in overtime 4-3 in Game 2. If the first two games are any indication of what the rest of the series is going to be, you want to make a point of getting to the Notre Dame Arena on Saturday beginning at 8 p.m.

In Game 2, the Dashers jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 4 minutes and 28 seconds into the contest in Game 2, in what was a must-win situation for the top seeds, when Gehrett Sargis redirected a shot past Kaludisad stopped all 37 shots he saw on Tuesday night.

Berlin scored the next two goals to take its first lead of the night at 2-1. Pavel Kubena scored a short-handed goal when he beat the Danville goalie stick-side at 9:02 Another Danville turnover four minutes later (13:22) set up Matt Fuller for a one-timer that made it 2-1 for the River Drivers.

The Dashers tied the game at 2-2 before the first intermission when Andrew Harrison backhanded a shot over Kaludis with 2:46 left in opening period.

In the second period, both teams thought they had scored only to have the on-ice officials not awarded either team a score.

Kubena made it 3-2 for the River Drivers with his second goal of the contest with 10:40 left.

Once again, the Dashers tied things up on a goal by Jonathon Juliano with 3:36 left in the second period.

Neither team scored in the third and Berlin had two of best chances in the overtime before Brian Soskin netted the game-winner.

The River Drivers actually had a golden opportunity to take a 2-0 lead in the series, but they couldn't convert a pair of five-on-three situations — totalling 1 minute, 37 seconds — early in the third period.

"That was one big thing,'' Niec said. "We should have scored on one of those five-on-three situations.

Both teams are looking to earn their first league title, but what makes this story special is that Berlin is just in its second season. The River Drivers won just 11 games in their inaugural campaign, but this season under the guidance of Coach Andre Niec, Berlin battled to finish second overall.

BRDfinalsHead Coach Andre Niec applauds his approval during a recent win for the Berlin River Drivers. The River Drivers will play Games 4 at the Notre Dame Arena on Saturday night for a chance at winning the Commissioner's Cup. (JEAN LEBLANC PHOTO)

The fans in the area have fallen in love with their local hockey team and the Dashers may not be ready for the seventh player they will face Saturday night. The smaller venue allows the fans to be right on the ice. They have witnessed several times this season late-game heroics by their beloved River Drivers. Hopefully on Saturday, things will remain the same.

Veteran Pavel Kubena (3-4-7) has put his game into high gear leading the Drivers with seven points in four playoff games. Kubena skates with Jiri Pestuka (1-3-4 and scored the lone goal in Game 1), and Dominik Synek (0-2-2), the Federal Hockey League's Rookie of the Year recipient.

"It will be great to be at home," said defenseman David Brancik. "The fans support the team like no other." "I am excited to be home for the next two games," said Kubena on Thursday. "The fans love their hockey and love their River Drivers."

If a fifth game is necessary, it will be back at Danville's home ice.

The Federal Hockey League contributed to this story.