Having lost Game One of the Championship Series last weekend, Dynamo Duluth needed to run the table on Saturday in order to capture the Gunnar Cup, and the 32nd USA Bandy Championship. After losing in the finals the previous two seasons, Duluth was determined not to go home empty handed this year. The third time would indeed be the charm, as they were finally able to find success, beating Mississippi Mojo in Game Two by the score of 4-3, and then winning Game Three convincingly, 5-1.
The weather was perfect both for Bandy, and for spectating, as a large crowd was on hand to witness the matches. Sunny skies, very little wind and temperatures in the mid-thirties made for ideal playing conditions. Mojo's top guns, Mike Hosfield and Scott Arundel, felt that their team had a great opportunity to close out the series, by playing the same style that they had in their Game One win. In winning 5-4 last Saturday, Mojo used a tough defensive shell, and took advantage of Duluth's turnovers on their many long rushes.
Both teams came out flying, but it was Duluth that got on the board early, as Midfielder Evan Richardson opened the scoring with a low hard shot into the far corner of the net. There would be a long scoreless stretch after the opening tally, as both teams played tough defense, and the Goaltenders held their own. But that would change midway through the first half, when Mojo tied it up on a Mike Hosfield blast from just inside the penalty arc. Shortly thereafter, Hosfield would be a part of Mojo's second goal, firing a shot on net that was redirected by teammate Kevin Huck in front, and through the legs of Duluth Goalkeeper Derek Melander for a 2-1 Mojo lead.
After seeing their lead vanish, Duluth regrouped and pressed hard. Their relentless pressure would finally pay off when Brent Palmer was savaged on his way to the net, and awarded a penalty shot. He converted on his opportunity, beating Mojo Goalkeeper Erik Kraska to tie the score at two. Not long after, Dynamo Duluth would take back the lead on a corner stroke goal by Fullback Dave Moline from David Plaunt, and would carry their 3-2 advantage into the halftime break.
Duluth would begin the second half the way they ended the first, pressing hard on the Mojo end of the ice. But they were consistently turned away by Kraska, to keep Mojo in the game. Finally, Duluth fullback Dave Moline, who had made numerous spectacular long rushes all day, scored his second goal of the game, giving Duluth a 4-2 lead.
The Mojo came back hard as the clock began to wind down, but Duluth was able to block several shots, and clear their zone before the Mojo could strike. Steve Strampe of Mississippi Mojo finally scored with about 45 seconds left in the game, but time would run out on Mojo, as Duluth held on for the 4-3 win.
The Duluth victory sent the series into a Game Three mini-game to decide the title.
In the decisive Game Three, the two teams would play a 30 minute match to determine a series winner.
Right from the get go, Dynamo Duluth seemed to have more gas in the tank than the Mojo. And with no fewer than nine current or former national team players on their roster, Duluth was able to use their veteran experience to get things rolling quickly on goals by Dave Moline and Brent Palmer, giving them a 2-0 lead, and forcing Mojo to take some chances on offense. With Mojo now sending more players forward, it allowed Duluth to penetrate deep into the Mojo zone on turnovers, leading to goals from Jake Smith, and Palmer. For Palmer, it was his second goal of the match, and third of the day.
Duluth held a comfortable 4-0 lead, but there was no quit in Mojo. They finally scored to make it 4-1, but that would be the end of their offense. Tom Sawatske added another goal late to make it a 5-1 final, and at long last, Duluth was able to bring the Gunnar Cup home to the shores of Lake Superior.
After the match, Duluth Dynamo Player/Manager Rick Haney said he was relieved, and very pleased. "To finally win it all after the frustrations of the last two years is a huge monkey off our backs. I'm excited to bring the trophy north, and hope we can keep it there for a few years".
League officials named Brent "Hermantown Express" Palmer as playoff MVP. Palmer was a dominant force on offense, scoring four goals in the Finals, including three goals on Saturday.
Finals MVP Brent Palmer