The North Stars celebrate after winning the Goodall Cup for the first time since 2008. Picture: Mark BradfordSEVEN years of heartache ended for the Newcastle North Stars on Sunday night when they were crowned Australian Ice Hockey League champions for a record fifth time.
It took a Brian Bales penalty shot three minutes into overtime for the North Stars to defeat Melbourne Ice 3-2 in front of the latter’s home crowd at the Icehouse.
The North Stars certainly tested the nerves of their supporters.
The minor premiers almost failed to reach the decider when they were down 3-0 in the second period of the semi-final against Canberra Brave on Saturday.
A goal to Robert Malloy and a hat-trick from import Geordie Wudrick got them home 4-3.
There was more drama on Sunday when Wudrick and fellow import Jan Safar put Newcastle ahead of Melbourne twice only to concede equalisers shortly after through Thomas Powell and Mitchell Humphries.
Safar’s goal in the third period, assisted by Beau Taylor and Scott Swiston,had the North Stars with one hand on their first Goodall Cup since 2008 with one minute and 43 seconds remaining. Melbourne pulled their goal tender, Alex Leclerc, and with 31 seconds left Humphries knocked in a Jason Baclig pass to send the Victorian crowd into raptures. Bales had played in three of the North Stars’ four final defeats since 2008 and admitted he was sensing more heartbreak.
‘‘To be completely honest I was like ‘Crap, I thought we had it in the bag and here we go again and we’re going to lose another close one’,’’ Bales said.
‘‘I didn’t have a lot of confidence, but you pick yourself up, have a squirt of water and see what happens.’’
What happened was Bales had the chance to become the hero. The former import made a break three minutes into golden goal overtime and was one on one with Leclerc.
Melbourne defender Todd Graham brought Bales down from behind and the North Stars were awarded a penalty shot for hooking.
‘‘All year the coach has been trying to get me to take penalty shots,’’ Bales said.
‘‘Every time I’ve been saying, ‘I don’t want to do it’, and we’ve actually had a few arguments on the bench.’’
Bales again refused to take the penalty shot but was over-ruled by North Stars coach Andrew Petrie.
‘‘I went to the centre of the ice and had a little chuckle and wasn’t really nervous and thought this was like the end of a movie script, and the rest was history,’’ he said.
Bales sent Leclerc the wrong way to bury the championship-winning goal.
North Stars captain Rob Starke was the sole survivor from the 2008 triumph and experienced the final defeats of 2009 and 2011-13.
All season the North Stars were the dominant team and expectations were high the Goodall Cup drought would end.
Before the game, Starke spoke of embracing the favouritism.
‘‘We’ve developed a really good team culture, a great leadership group and great depth and we’ve really become one,’’ Starke said.
‘‘That’s what it’s all about, great teammates getting together to get the job done.’’
Wudrick was awarded the most valuable player in the AIHL and the play-offs after a record 48 goals and 48 assists in the season.
Safar was named most valuable defenceman.