Portland, ME – It was all quiet in the locker room.
There was no celebrating, the atmosphere was very subdued and player’s tone was serious when they spoke. You could have easily made the assumption the Portland Pirates had just been bounced from the playoffs.
Instead, the Pirates had just won one of their biggest games in franchise history in such dramatic fashion.
Behind an amazing 49-save performance from Pirates’ goaltender Olaf Kolzig, Kent Hulst scored 81 seconds into the second overtime to give the Pirates a 2-1 win, putting a stranglehold on the best-of-seven Calder Cup Finals, 3-1, against the Moncton Hawks.
“We still know the job’s not done,” said Pirates head coach Barry Trotz in a Press Herald interview. “We know we have to win one more.”
It all had the look of a hockey team on a mission. This was just one-step toward the ultimate prize – the Calder Cup – and now the Pirates were within one game of capturing their first in franchise history.
“That means absolutely nothing,” said Pirates defenseman Brian Curran. “Teams that are in the finals have got there for a reason and a lot of it has to do with character.”
It would be that character that propelled the Pirates to the 3-1 lead against the Hawks.
With Portland leading 1-0 on a goal from Michal Picard, who in the first 20 seconds of the game, John LeBlanc tied it for the Hawks at 6:53 of the third period.
Portland could have folded up shop; it was Moncton who carried much of the play, especially in the second period, outshooting their opponents by almost 2-to-1, but after LeBlanc’s goal, it was almost as a sense of relief. They could play their game with a stifling defense and solid goaltending that they were known for.
“As far as I was concerned, we were going to OT,” Kolzig said. “I knew they weren’t going to score on me.”
He was right.
Kolzig stopped Ross Wilson and Russ Romaniuk, not once, but twice with point blank saves in the waning moments of the third period. It was all about confidence and Kolzig was beaming with it.
On offense, Picard could have ended it for Portland with six seconds left in the game, but Hawks’ goaltender Stephane Beauregard did his part as well to keep the game tied at the end of regulation.
After a scoreless OT, Trotz sensed his player’s were tiring and they needed to end this game early in the second OT.
Pirates’ forward Martin Jiranek snapped a wrist shot on net where Beauregard swiped it behind the net, Mike Boback in Jiranek’s jet stream picked up the puck from behind the net and skated to the left post, looking for an open player. Boback, spotting Jeff Sirkka trying to get into the dirty area, threw the puck across the crease where it was Kent Hulst got his stick on the loose puck, sliding between the legs of the Moncton goalie.
“I never saw (Hulst) until the last second,” said Boback, and then I didn’t know if he could get free.”
The goal, scored 1:41 into the second overtime, left the energetic crowd of 4,512 in a stunned silence as the Pirates stormed Hulst in the corner.
“That’s the biggest of my career, by far,” Hulst said. “It was unbelievable that it went in.”
Portland would go on to win the series against Moncton in six games to capture their first Calder Cup in team history. Kolzig was named the winner of the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy, which is given to American Hockey League playoff MVP and the Harry “Hap” Holmes award along with Byron Dafoe for outstanding goaltending tandem. Kolzig went on to a fruitful career with the Washington Capitals, leading to a berth in Stanley Cup finals as the NHL’s Eastern Conference champions. In 2000, he would win the Vezina Trophy as NHL’s top goaltender.
Hulst, one of the heroes in Game 4, also went on to productive AHL career spending 13 years in the American Hockey League including eight of them with the Portland Pirates. He was Portland’s captain for five seasons, making him the longest tenured captain in franchise history. Hulst is the all-time franchise leader in several categories during his time in Portland including games played (473), goals (147) and points (360) and also has a franchise leading 19 game-winning goals. He’s appeared 67 playoff games, more than any other Pirate and has 22 playoff goals, making him the all-time playoff goal-scoring leader. He’s also tied with Andrew Brunette for playoff points with 51.
Hulst retired from professional hockey after the 2001 season, becoming the head coach for North Yarmouth Academy, a position he still holds today.
10.) Ebright saves hockey in Portland
9.) Pirates look within to eliminate Bruins
8.) Pirates’ Brochu wows the crowd in Binghamton
7.) Pirates set a franchise record for the quickest two goals in a period
6.) Pirates put up a dozen on the Bruins
5.) Boback rolls a seven in Albany
4.) Pirates and Bears engage in epic battle