One of the great things about sports is you never really know what you are going to see.
In hockey, there are a few things you can bank on. One goaltender is going to earn the victory. One skater, whether in regulation, overtime or the shootout, is going to bury the game-winner.
What I’m willing to bet you’ve never witnessed is the same individual accomplish both feats in one game, all while stopping 48-of-49 shots in the process.
Goaltender Colton Phinney’s (pictured right) Islanders Hockey Club and the Jersey Hitmen were locked in a 1-1 tie with 1:58 remaining in the first period of their best-of-three championship series in the EJHL when one of the referees signaled a delayed penalty against the Islanders. As is customary, the Hitmen, who had possession of the puck, pulled goaltender Chris Funkey off the ice and replaced him with an extra attacker.
The Hitmen put heavy pressure on Phinney who was keeping his club in the game with save after save. During the furious assault, a Jersey shot rang off Phinney’s post and landed directly onto a Hitmen winger’s stick in the face off circle to the left of the netminder. The winger passed the puck back to his defenseman at the Islander blueline, however, the puck managed to get past the Hitmen blueliner and slid down the ice toward the Jersey defensive zone.
The puck looked to be skimming wide of the empty net then suddenly, it appeared to hit something in the neutral zone and stood up on its side and continued to roll down the ice. As the puck made its way toward the Hitmen zone, it began to curve and proceeded to come to a stop inside Jersey’s open net, thus becoming a goal for the Islanders.
The Islander bench and fans broke into pandemonium as the goal gave their team a 2-1 lead. The only question was who would receive credit for the goal. The period ended without an announcement and the speculation was that since Phinney was the last Islander to touch the puck before the Hitmen mishap, he should be named the goal scorer. This was confirmed when the second period was about to begin and it was formally announced to the crowd that the puck-stopper was, indeed, the goal scorer. Naturally, when the public address announcer informed the crowd of this, pandemonium struck again.
Phinney helped his cause by stopping every shot he faced for the remainder of the game and received help in the way of goals scored by teammates Ian McGilvrey and Michael Doherty (Reading, Mass.) in the third period to send the series to a third and deciding game.
In a postgame interview, Phinney, who has an assist and a goal in his last two games, said he and his teammates enjoyed the moment but did not lose focus on the task that remained.
“Well, I didn’t touch (shoot) the puck so it’s not really the game-winning goal, but I got credit for it, so it’s nice,” the Princeton University recruit said. “The ref came up to me and said they were going to give it (the goal) to me. Between periods, I told the boys in the locker room and they were laughing saying, ‘no way,’ and that it could be the game winner and then it happened to be. It’s pretty sweet.
“After that, I knew we were up 2-1 and that it would be pretty much up to me because if they don’t score, we win. I just tried to stay focused, stop the puck, cover the rebounds and steer everything else to the outside. After the game, I started thinking about the goal. It’s pretty cool.”
Upon the end of the contest, Hitmen coach Toby Harris was still in disbelief but laughed as he spoke about Phinney’s lamplighter.
“I bet a thousand people in this building saw that goal tonight,” Harris said. “And I bet no one has ever seen one like that. It was going wide then all of a sudden, it was in the net. I mean, we should have been on the power play in a 1-1 game. It happens, although we may never see another one like that for a long time.”
Islanders coach Sean Tremblay felt Phinney received an assist from a little fan who could not be at the game. Avalanna Routh, whom the world came to know as “Mrs. Bieber,” was a fan of the Islanders Hockey Club and they were big fans of her.
Sadly, the 6-year-old little girl lost her battle with a rare form of brain cancer last September but the Islanders have kept her memory alive by hanging her jersey on their bench at every game since her passing.
“Kyle Williams, who is at the University of Maine (after having played the two previous seasons for Tremblay with the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs), texted our guys today and said, ‘There is a little angel watching you, win it for her.’ That was Avalanna’s goal. She scored that for us,” said Tremblay
The third and final game of the series will take place Friday at the New England Sports Center in Marlboro, Mass. at 2:20 pm and if a certain little Islander angel has anything to do with the game, she will give the hockey world something new to talk about.