Iguanas Shut Out Wolfpack to Claim First Ever Sanley Cup Title
By Benjamin MartinSan Angelo TX The San Antonio Iguanas were no strangers to the Kirby Park Rink. It was only a year ago that they made their first appearance as a unified roller hockey club on the north side of San Angelo. They lost last year in the playoffs to the Jesters and had to settle for third place in the tournament. Since then they have built a South Texas hockey institution with a city-wide league that leveraged tournament wins in McAllen, Houston, and Round Rock. Their trophy case had begun to fill by the time they returned to the place where it all began a short year ago. Now they were back in San Angelo for another shot at the West Texas title. The San Angelo Wolfpack were right back in the thick of a championship game much like the previous year, when they were again the underdog to an undefeated team. The sweat from the semifinal match was still dripping down their face shields as they sat on the visitors bench preparing themselves for the Sanley Cup Finals. The team captain Scott Talley encouraged the timekeepers to forego warm-ups and start the match early, so that the Wolfpack could take advantage of the adrenaline rush they were still feeling from vanquishing their bitter rivals only half hour earlier. The Wolfpack goalie took one last drag from his cigarette before flicking it towards the already full trash can. Trey Duncan pulling his goalie helmet back over his messy hair, remnants of the long day of hockey that had brought them full circle into the annual championship game.It was the dynasty of the metropolitan juggernaut against the destiny of the cow-town hockey club that wouldnt say die. It had been a long year of practicing in the hot sun, staying late to shoot around, and skating sprints on a makeshift tennis court that had brought each of the 16 players onto the rink that day.There were other tournaments in the state of Texas, but only one of them was born out of the red dirt of West Texas. It was time to play for the Sanley Cup, and a glimpse of small-town hockey immortality. The puck dropped and the Iguanas took control. They skated with a smooth serenity that exuded confidence by a group that knew what their strategy would be. The Wolfpack by contrast played aggressively and with purpose, strung along by the exhilaration of the finals while also aware of the fatigue that lay in wait in playing a back to back game to end a long day of hockey. If San Angelo was going to win, they knew they had to get out to a fast start.There was a three on one advance by the Wolfpack at the 13-minute mark, but while crossing the zone, Scott Talley of the Wolfpack lost the handle on the puck. It was then scooped up by David Penn who drove into the San Angelo zone with a three on one San Antonio attack. But at the last moment, the puck skipped off the stick of the San Antonio forward and bounced toward the Wolfpack goalie who swatted it away with contempt, diffusing what could have been an early disaster.The Iguanas would own the point on the fore-check, constantly blocking and recycling the puck into the Wolfpack zone. The Iguanas defense was effectively corralling the Wolfpack into their own zone while letting 2 skaters at a time to rotate attacks on the Wolfpack goal. It was an effective tactic that forced the Wolfpack shooters to work defensively.There were flashes of attack from the home team. Wolfpack captain Scott Talley launched a long pass across the rink, barely missing the stick of Austin Scroggs as he broke free into the Iguanas zone, gone what could have been a crucial scoring opportunity for the Wolfpack. The Iguanas were isolating the Wolfpack offensive push by bottle-necking the offense with the players at the top of the zone. The Wolfpack would get a breakaway that would be stymied by the goalie, then the puck would be controlled by the Iguanas in sustained attacks down the middle with their star forwards like Brandon Conder, Brian van Vlymen, or Gary Burdge before being buried in a corner and passing it back out to the top to start all over again.Cycling the puck was working, it had begun to wear out the Wolfpack defense as they found it hard to substitute when the puck stayed in their zone constantly. The pressure was mounting, and the frustration was building for the San Angelo team until their worst fears were realized, and San Antonio Iguanas forward Brian van Vlymen passed the puck to Gary Burdge across the face of the Wolfpack goalie who put a wrist shot up, over and into the net.The whistle blew, the goal horn sounded, and the Iguanas had taken a one goal lead at the 6:30 mark of the first half.The Wolfpack responded with a frenzy of shots for the next 2 puck possessions, flooding the zone with all the red jerseys, trying to flip the strategy back on the visitors. But the fatigue was beginning to set in and passes were deflected, shots went wide, and even a magnificent performance from their goalie couldnt stop what was about to happen next. Iguanas forward Gary Burdge brought the puck into the zone and crossed it to Brandon Condor who immediately sent it back to Dan Ryan directly in front of the goal. The Wolfpack goalie didnt even see the puck as he frantically kicked his left leg outward. It was the second goal of the half at the 3-minute mark, and the Iguanas were building momentum.With a little more than a minute to go in the first half, the Wolfpack cleared the puck out of the zone. The gravity of the cycling San Antonio strategy saw the puck fall right back in and make its way toward the San Angelo goal yet again. There, a slap-shot by Brandon Conder ricochet off the blocker of Trey Duncan, who managed to fall on the puck stifling the play. The face-off in the Wolfpack zone saw the puck taken again immediately by Brandon Conder who skated out of the zone and back in with the puck. This effectively took 2 of the Wolfpack defenders out of the play before taking a shot 20 feet from the net. The puck was blocked but rebounded onto the stick of Brian Van Vlymen who backhanded the puck across the face of the goalie to land another blow to the Wolfpack.Wolfpack goalie Trey Duncan stayed crouched on his knees for a moment after the players cleared the crease. He was playing his heart out for his city arresting 20 shots alone in the first half. But for the first time he was feeling the exhaustion of a long day of hockey start to creep in.The score at the break was San Antonio Iguanas 3 San Angelo Wolfpack 0.Halftime had come not a moment too soon, and the home team that was denied a year before was desperately trying not to let another championship opportunity slip away. The frustration and fatigue of the home team could be felt during the five minute break, as the determined face of Kurt Beuker barked strategy at a San Angelo team that was reeling from the oncoming tide of the opposition. Weve got to be more aggressive, we have to make better decisions, we cant get caught playing their game! spittle was flying from his lips as he tried in vain to bring his team back into the fight. The game wasnt over, but the energetic optimism that had existed 15 minutes before had long since evaporated into the hot Texas sun. On the opposing bench the calm demeanor of the visiting Iguanas felt completely different. The players were talking and smiling, passing around water bottles while they verbally relived the glory of the previous half of game play. It was clear that the Iguanas had worked for this moment, and they were no longer the slapdash amateurs who shared a tennis court on the weekends in downtown San Antonio. They had come with a purpose, and it was being realized by their domination on the rink.The second half started much the same way the first half ended, with the Iguanas attacking the Wolfpack zone. A kick save saw Austin Scroggs make a dash down the boards before he was cut off by two defenders, effectively emasculating the fastest player in the city and ending the threat. It happened again a short moment later, almost in an act of desperation, as the San Angelo star forward was again cut off by the San Antonio defense before he could get a shot off.The Iguanas used their defense to control the flow of the game, as the San Antonio Goalie would only see two shots on goal for the remainder of play.At the 8-minute mark the frustration for the Wolfpack began to boil over as Lenny Christo put his hips into Dan Ryan and shoved him over. It was roughing on San Angelo, and the Iguanas would go onto the power play. San Antonio played the puck back and forth along the top of the zone as they waited for the Wolfpack defense to break, but the 3-man penalty kill team in red jerseys didnt give an inch.Moments later play was bogged down in the corner as Wolfpack defense-man Kurt Beuker and Iguanas forward Brian Van Vlymen fought over the puck on the boards. The ferocity of swinging elbows and shoulder blows echoed off the hot cement as if in this very moment the game hung in the balance. It was Van Vlymen that skated out of the corner with the puck, behind the Wolfpack goal, and took a shot back across his body. The deaf player from San Antonio couldnt hear it, but the puck clinked bar down for what would be the final goal of the afternoon. The Iguanas lead had extended to a commanding four goals, and the Wolfpack could not respond.The remaining time was controlled by the consistent offensive push of San Antonio punctuated with random offensive charges from the now exhausted San Angelo squad. The Wolfpack had been outplayed, and it hadnt been particularly close. The man who had become the San Angelo enforcer, Lenny Christo, was called for another penalty at the one-minute mark of the second half. Gary Burdge skated quickly toward the crease and Lenny swung his stick hard in what was an obvious tripping penalty. The remaining minute of the power play for the Iguanas was uneventful for all intents and purposes, as they cruised to the title when the final buzzer sounded. The game was over after the first goal, and the Iguanas had staked their claim to the Sanley Cup for the 2019 season.Finals MVP was awarded to Brian Van Vlymen of the San Antonio Iguanas who was involved in 3 of the 4 goals scored in the championship match. The reigning MVP Brandon Conder was again awarded Tournament MVP as he outscored every opponent with 10 goals for the day, followed by Austin Scroggs at 7 goals. Most Valuable Goalie award went to San Antonio Iguanas goalie Taylor Newton, who gave up just a single goal over the 5 games played in the tournament. Finally, the Iguanas team captain David Penn raised the cut steel trophy high over his head, as the San Antonio squad would for the first time in club history raise the Sanley Cup in celebration.The 2019 season was over, it had come to yet another unceremonious end as the San Angelo Wolfpack players shook hands with the victors and made their way back to the bench as the runner-up. Some of them mulled about to watch the trophy presentation, others just sat quietly on the bench with their eyes closed in quiet defeat. For the second straight year, the up and coming San Angelo team had entered the championship match only to be unceremoniously turned away. The only hardware of their hard-fought victory over their heated rivals lay in the sprinkling of Jesters players gathered around the fence to watch the championship match. To be on the doorstep of greatness and to fall short was a difficult pill to swallow for the few who waited so long for the opportunity.Such is life in the tight-knit community of West Texas hockey. One day your competing for a championship, the next day youre rebuilding an amateur squad while other teams are passing you by. But there is hope in what lies ahead, bringing new players into the game, and spreading the love of hockey even deeper into the heart of Texas.People who dont understand hockey have never played the sport. Because when you strap those skates on and take a shot with that puck, it changes you. People who experience hockey grow to love hockey and are welcomed with open arms into the small but growing guild of the Texas hockey community. The great thing is anyone can give it a shot, anyone can be a part of the hockey family here in West Texas.It all starts on Sunday Morning a little after 8 oclock. The one time every week when hockey players head to Kirby park on the north side of San Angelo, where we bring our gear and enjoy one more day on this earth God has given us to be hockey players. There is still time to hit the 11:30 service at PaulAnn, but for the hockey players of the great city of San Angelo, Sunday morning is when they lace up their skates and go to church. And the best part is everyone is invited. Hope to see you there. Benjamin Martin is the Director of San Angelo Hockey Club, a professional hockey fan, and an absolute liability for the San Angelo Wolfpack on defense.Live video of hockey games can be found on the San Angelo Hockey Club Ltd. Facebook page.If you want to get involved in the squad, feel free to join the San Angelo Roller Hockey page on Facebook. Practices are Sunday Mornings at Kirby park and there is spare equipment available for anyone with a pair of skates who wants to try it out.Special thanks to San Angelo Roller Girls for their help in the development of the club and volunteering to put on the annual tournament.Check the Facebook sites for upcoming 2020 games against Abilene, San Antonio, Round Rock, and McAllen.