April 20, 2017 - Federal Hockey League (FHL) - Danville Dashers
DANVILLE - The best season in Danville Dashers history wouldn't quite be the same without the FHL Commissioner's Cup title.
Danville, which set a new league record with 129 points, proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that it was the best team in the Federal Hockey League.
The Dashers claimed its first-ever FHL title with a 4-1 victory over a tough and scrappy Berlin River Drivers in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the Commissioner's Cup series before 1,154 at the David S. Palmer Arena. Danville won the series 3-2.
"Absolutely,'' said Danville forward Andrew Harrison. "We wanted to prove that the regular season was special, but our goal was the championship all along.''
And this title had a little extra importance for both Andrew Harrison and his father/coach Steve Harrison.
"This is my first as a head coach,'' said Steve Harrison, who had won multiple titles as a player. "It means to much because of the guys in our room and the relationships that I've had with some of these guys for the last three years or just this past year. This was a really special group of guys.''
But, the tears could be seen trickling down Steve Harrison's cheek when Andrew Harrison gave him and his wife, Laura Harrison, a big hug after the victory.
"It's pretty special to be able to coach your son and it is especially great to win a championship with him,'' Steve Harrison said. "But it's really the relationship that I've had with all of these guys that makes this so special to me. It's been a long year and we have reached heights that teams haven't reached before.
"We were able to cap that off tonight.''
Danville did something in Game 5 that it hadn't done in the previous four meetings with Berlin.
The Dashers scored first and held that lead at the first intermission. Daniel Turgeon got things started the right way with a breakaway and score past River Drivers goalie Matt Kaludis.
"We executed our game plan, perfectly,'' said Turgeon. "I think we had a little more intensity than they did tonight.
"That team battled us, but I think we had a little extra going for us.''
Playing with a lead is something that Danville did a lot this year and the Dashers knew exactly what to do.
"When we scored first, you could feel the energy on the bench jump up,'' Steve Harrison said. "And when we got that second goal in the second period, I had a feeling that we were on our way.
"We didn't have it clinched at that point, because that's a great hockey team we were playing against and Andre (Niec) did a great job with them. But, we've been really good playing with a lead this year.''
That second goal for the Dashers came from Justin Levac, who also had a couple of big defensive plays to maintain the lead.
"That was the great thing about this team. I've asked guys to do some things that were not normal to them,'' said Steve Harrison, who moved Levac from a forward position back to defenseman before Game 4. "I moved a lot of guys around all year, and the guys have all done it, saying we just want to win.''
While Steve Harrison admitted that he made personnel changes during this series and during the season, he said the key to win the title was not changing their style.
"I'm sure the guys got sick and tired of hearing me say this, but 'we don't change our philosophy'," he said. "We stuck to a system and we never wavered from it. These guys did a fantastic job and they deserve all of the accolades that they are getting.''
Forward Gehrett Sargis, who had three goals and two assists in the series, was named the MVP of the championship series.
"It's hard to put into words, but I couldn't be more happy,'' Sargis said. "A lot of us have been here for the past three years.
"Being named the MVP is an honor and it's very humbling.''
Sargis admitted the experience that Danville gained two years ago, losing the FHL Commissioner's Cup in a Game 5 loss to the Watertown Wolves, helped them this time around, but there was another major difference.
This time around the Dashers, by virtue of its best record during the regular season, had home ice advantage.
"The home crowd is what really helped us out,'' he said.
Turgeon, who earned the game's No. 1 star for his two goals, said the fans definitely played a role.
"You can hear the fans and it can really get you going,'' he said. "This is not only huge for the Danville Dashers, but it's also huge for the city.''
The Dashers were less than 20 minutes away from seeing the title go to the River Drivers. Berlin had a 2-1 lead in the series and a 1-0 advantage in Game 4, but Danville scored twice in the final 13 minutes to force the fifth and deciding game at the Palmer Arena.
"We knew that we just had to give it everything we got in that third period,'' said Turgeon. "We couldn't jump too far ahead and we just took it one shift at a time. Like coach says, 'we didn't change of philosophy,' and it paid off big for us.
"I think our win deflated them a little bit.''
Berlin coach Andre Niec admitted it was a rough ending for his River Drivers.
"My boys worked hard all season. They went through hell but they kept battling and I thought they deserved to win,'' Niec said. "Danville got the upper hand on us tonight and give them all of the credit.
"But, my boys are champions in my eyes.''
The only goal for Berlin came from John Celli in the third period, but Danville had already built a four-goal lead at that point as Brian Soskin scored for the Dashers with just under 16 minutes left in the game. Soskin also had the game-winner in Danville's overtime victory in Game 2.
With the Dashers winning the 2017 FHL Commissioner's Cup they become the 7th different team to win the cup in the FHL's seven-year history. Previous winners were the Akwesasne Warriors (2011), New Jersey Outlaws (2012), Danbury Whalers (2013), Dayton Demonz (2014), Watertown Wolves (2015), and the Port Huron Prowlers (2016).